How Paint Made People Lose Their Minds

HOF Pres David Baker_Cantonrep.com Scott Heckel)

Brow of Embarrassment. NFL Hall of Fame President David Baker wipes his forehead prior to an interview. Baker and the Hall of Fame had to cancel their preseason game to due poor field conditions created by using the wrong type of paint. Photo by Cantonrep.com, Scott Heckel)

This is what happens when an exhibition is supposed to be played by athletes making millions of dollars in an organization worth billions of dollars. When the game cannot take place, analysts call for others to lose their jobs, calls of ineptitude abound, and finger pointing runs rampant.

Sunday, Aug. 7 was a busy day in sports which included baseball players Ichiro Suzuki reaching 3,000 hits and A-Rod announcing his retirement,  golfer Jim Furyk hitting a PGA Tour record round of 58, and U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky smashing her own world record in the Olympics, which looked something like the image below; note: she’s on the far right.

Katie Ledecky_ESPN

She gone! U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky blows away the field in her Olympic race as she breaks her own world record.

In addition, there was a furor created when the NFL had to cancel its “Hall of Fame” preseason game in Canton, Ohio between the Green Bay Packers and the Indianapolis Colts.

The stadium was brand new, the field was brand new, and unfortunately, so was the paint, which the wrong kind was applied just 12 hours earlier. This proved to be key sticking point, literally. Players and coaches complained that parts of the field either felt like concrete or felt like running in tar. In technical terns, the paint congealed and wouldn’t allow a cleat to penetrate it. As a result, the game was canceled.

Yes, fans paid their money and spent their time to be there. Yes, the game was supposed to be the culmination of celebrating the latest Hall of Fame class of players inducted the night before. Yes, there is no excuse to not have a field ready when the date has been determined a year in advance.

When a crisis like this occurs and an audience needs to be addressed – in this case the millions watching at home and the thousands in attendance – it can be a complicated dance. However, here are three things the NFL Hall of Fame actually did well in announcing the result of their crisis, taking the hit head on*:

  1. Front and Center: Often when things go awry, it’s easy to blame outside factors or even hide your organization’s top leaders. The NFL HOF had their President, David Baker, address the crowd directly and then proceeded with follow-up interviews.
  2. Simple Messaging: Instead of listing a complicated technical explanation of why the field wasn’t ready or how paint couldn’t dry, Baker simply did the following:
    1. Explained to the crowd why the game was being cancelled (poor field conditions created by the paint)
    2. Reinforced key messages (safety is our main priority)
    3. Informed customers how they would be compensated (refund policy)
    4. Outlined what actually would take place that evening (still honor new Hall of Famers, previously scheduled halftime performance would still take place, just earlier).
  3. Rinse and Repeat: In subsequent interviews, he stayed on point – admittedly and rightfully embarrassed – to explain the situation, express regret, and vow to correct the problem in the future.

Even with these three “rights,” there was one awkward matter that still occurred. Those closest to the action were the last to know … it was announced on TV the game was being cancelled nearly a full hour before fans inside of the stadium were told. Oh well, as they say in sports, there’s always next year.

 

*Pun not intended; the NFL has serious concussion issues which is a whole other topic altogether.

Universities Miss the Mark Trying to Protect their Brand

KSU
(Photo by Ann Williamson/The Topeka Capital-Journal)

 

Universities have the challenge of constantly being in the risk management business, while trying to promote the education and advancement of its students. In the past week we saw two universities with communication missteps. Kansas State University (K-State) tried to further remind its students how it thinks they should behave at sporting events. The University of Tennessee (UT) attempted to showcase its positive athletic department culture despite being in the midst of a federal lawsuit charging them with a hostile sexual environment.

Both instances involve collegiate athletics; something that inherently stirs passion from fans, students, alumni, and those from opposing schools.

UT(Photo by Randy Sartin/USAToday Sports)

Quick Backgrounds:
K-State:
Required students to sign a sportsmanship pledge at the start of the current school year. They followed this up by banning* the fan-favorite song, Sandstorm at basketball games, due to profane chants that had been heard when playing their in-state rival. Prior to their most recent home-game against the same in-state rival, K-State issued a video, again reminding its students how to act.

UT: All 16 of its varsity coaches held a press-conference without the athletic director (who was out of town) or school president to reassure player (and more directly current and future recruits) that despite current federal lawsuit accusing the school of a hostile sexual environment, that everything is fine.

Why these were missteps:
K-State: There is certainly merit in K-State trying to establish what they deem as good sportsmanship behavior. But:

  • A “sponsorship pledge” and then repeated reminders of “you better be good” is incredibly juvenile. The additional “taking your song away if some of you can’t play nice” and a reminder video before the game were repeated reminders of “we don’t trust you.”
  • If you want a target audience to change their behavior, treat them as adults, instead of cranky 5-year-olds. Or else, they’ll act just like those cranky 5-year-olds and do the opposite of what you want them to do.
  • As it relates to your in-state rival, realize that not everyone is going to extend open and welcoming arms to them at their home games. Just imagine if they tried this at Auburn and Alabama. There are always a few bad apples…when that happens, don’t pretend it’s the whole bunch.

UT: The coaches may have had the right idea of trying to get in front of the story and insert their own narrative into the current message. But:

  • It wasn’t until later in the news conference when the head football coach –whose players were at the center of some of these allegations – finally addressed who matters most by saying, “Our hearts, our thoughts and our prayers go to out to the alleged victims.”
  • These comments should have been at the start of the news conference to express empathy. Your target audience doesn’t care what you know until they know that you care. All 16 coaches should have focused less on how great their culture is and how they have a renewed focus on protecting their student athletes and all students at the University.
  • They lauded the “culture” of the university and departments as the best it’s been, cohesive and united, despite charges that the university “enabled a culture that led to sexual assaults and then administrators influenced the handling of discipline by accused athletes.”
  • While not addressing the lawsuit may have been expected, saying everything is fine when it clearly isn’t causes your audience to roll their eyes in disbelief instead of nodding their heads in agreement with your message.

What they should have done:
K-State: Crafted an open letter to fans at the start of the year by the athletic director welcoming them to the school year, while including these “sportsmanship” parameters about what makes the students and its fans great.

UT: Never held the press conference. Now we’re talking about their misguided message which is the exact opposite of what the coaches hoped to accomplish with their “press conference.”

With these improvements, the schools’ brands can hit the mark instead of seeming misguided.

 

*The school has since reinstated the song and the athletic director thanked students for adhering to the new sponsorship pledge (even as some still did the profane chant, perhaps out of frustration and/or rebellion).

A ‘Royal’ Learning in Company Communications

Party like it's 1985...the last time the Kansas City Royals made the playoffs.  (Photo via crowncrazed.com)

Party like it’s 1985…the last time the Kansas City Royals made the playoffs. (Photo via crowncrazed.com)

The Kansas City Royals hold the longest playoff drought in professional sports. Their last playoff appearance? The magical season of 1985 when they won the World Series. Sure, there are off years, but an off quarter-century?

But what has fans in the Heartland most frustrated – in the eighth year of General Manager Dayton Moore’s eight-year plan of turning the Royals into a playoff contender – is the continual preaching of “patience” by the organization. This goes along with other messaging miscues just like the scouting, free agent, or player development head-scratchers that seem to coincide with our boys in blue.*

So when trying to turn around an organization, take these into account…and you’ll have better luck improving your perception among both internal and external audiences:

  • Be positive, but don’t proclaim premature victory. At the end of 2013, Moore stated that he felt “like we’ve won the World Series” after not even making the playoffs. As a leader, avoid making false statements, as well as ones that are either laughable or that damn near don’t even make any sense. This is why you don’t hear companies cheer victory when they miss their quarterly numbers…not even by a little bit.
  • Be optimistic, but don’t overpromise: K.C. has been hearing about the great potential of its core group of players. Only problem is they’re not producing…or hitting home runs…or providing run support. There’s a reason the phrase “Under-promise and over-deliver” has been working in the business world for years; realistic expectations are set and both parties benefit when these expectations are exceeded.
  • Be a planner, but the proof is in the pudding: If your best results of a nearly decade-long plan are, at best, average – as in a .500 ball club – either the plan wasn’t that great to begin with or this is the best the plan will produce. Either way, expect your audience to demand better results, especially your shareholders. Want an eight-year plan comparison? The tenure of Royal’s GM Dayton Moore’s began in 2006. So did Twitter.

Someday, those in the “city of fountains” hope the Royals will again sit atop the throne of the baseball world. After all, if the Red Sox can end an 86-year title drought, anyone can do it. (Although it could be worse, just ask the Chicago Cubs; they’re still cursed by a goat.) They just hope pop singer Lorde isn’t right and that they’ll “never be royals” like they were in the late 1980s. At least use the lessons above and give it to your organization straight…like a nice four-seam fastball right down the middle.

 

*For regular updates on the conundrum that can be the Kansas City Royals, do yourself a favor and follow K.C. Star columnist Sam Mellinger (@mellinger) and Dermatologist by day/Royals prognosticator by night Dr. Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli).