Finally, the bitter divorce has ended. Legendary NFL quarterback Brett Favre and his partner of 16 years – the Green Bay Packers – are going their own ways. While this protracted drama may have been interesting only to football fans, we at NOISE believe marketers everywhere can learn a few lessons about crisis communications from the messy way it all played out.
Let us count the ways:
1. Anticipate your crisis. Brett Favre retires, then decides to unretire. Why did this turn of events seem to catch Green Bay Packer management unprepared? This isn’t the first time, or second time, or even third time that Favre has waffled on retiring. Just like Packer Nation, you as a marketer should be able to identify your looming Brett Favre. Would it be product failure? A consumer lawsuit? A management shakedown? A force of God? Identify your vulnerabilities and prepare an action plan, in the sorry event they become realities.
2. Articulate your key messages. Just like any other form of branding, marketing or advertising, working your way through a crisis involves articulating your key message or messages, staying on message, and repeating repeating repeating the mantra. The Green Bay Packers did this for a while – "Aaron Rodgers is our starting quarterback" – yet when push came to shove and Favre came to Green Bay, the message somewhat changed to an "open competition at quarterback." What signal does a mixed message send to the public – not to mention your own team?
3. Appear (and be) sincerely concerned. When Packers general manager Ted Thompson responded to Brett Favre’s interest in returning to the team by sending him a text message stating, "I’m on vacation, I’ll get back to you," it was apparent to the football consuming public that Brett Favre was not his priority, but almost his nuisance. And public perception is reality, so be prepared to appear and be concerned about your crisis or suffer the ire of your consumers.
4. Identify an articulate spokesperson. Once again, a failure of the Packers. With apologies for beating up Ted Thompson, a reserved and somewhat shy individual with little media training shouldn’t be your go-to guy when the cameras get hot. Maybe that’s why the organization turned to Coach Mike McCarthy, as well as President Mark Murphy, when the going got tough. Make sure you identify who within your organization will speak for your organization, and do so with great success and media comfort, in a crisis.
5. Don’t hire a high-profile PR guy at the 11th hour. How bad was it for Green Bay at the end? The team hired former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer to handle the crisis. I suppose having cleaned up after George Bush, the Packers felt Ari could tidy this room. Problem? Desperate times call for desperate measures, and that’s what this move looked like.
As an aside, this is not to say that everything the Green Bay Packer corporation did was wrong, or that this fiasco was fumbled equally as often by Brett Favre. The Packers did many things correctly. But the net result is: a public relations nightmare was brought upon a brand by an outside force (in this case, an individual who in many respects is or was the brand); the organization failed to respond properly; and the brand will suffer in perception and potentially in sales, short term and potentially long term.
Are you ready for your Brett Favre?
John Sprecher is chairman and chief creative officer of Noise Branding Communications, a multi-media branding communications agency with offices in Milwaukee and Sanibel, Fla.