27 August 2012

Yes, Red Sox fans, PR does matter

Color me unimpressed with the Red Sox, despite the huge gift they got last week.

The local media wrote off the season, with more than a month to go.  Plenty of fans have complained about overpaid, underachieving divas on the team, but plenty of professional sports teams have those.  They remain upset about last year's historic collapse, but if you know anything about Red Sox history you know these guys have been snatching defeat from the jaws of victory pretty much since the day Babe Ruth walked out the door.

I'm more interested in the PR and communications failures that demonstrate an organization in disarray and will definitely make it harder for this team to compete in the future. This trade did nothing to address those failures.

Hell yeah, they like beer
The first warning sign should have been when the team's starting pitchers filmed a cameo - in uniform and in front of Fenway Park's iconic "Green Monster" left field wall - in a country music video called "Hell Yeah, I Like Beer."  It was sophmoric and relatively harmless and in the big scheme of things not that big a deal, except for one thing -  you need permission from the team and the league to appear in uniform or use team property for extracurricular stuff, and the players didn't ask.  This is pretty obvious, and the players should have known that.  If, say, a bunch of Popeye's Chicken employees suddenly showed up in that video, in a Popeye's store, wearing Popeye's uniforms, laughing and singing about beer, they'd be fired immediately.  However, these pitchers weren't disciplined - which demonstrates a lack of institutional control.

Then the crisis PR team should have jumped the day manager Terry Francona TOTALLY WASN'T FIRED (but was actually fired) and said:
To be honest with you, I’m not sure how much support there was from ownership. You’ve got to be all-in on this job. It’s got to be everybody together, and I was questioning that a little bit.
Instead of quickly falling over themselves talking about the "Terry Francona legacy," team leadership showed fans what a lack of support looked like.  The Boston Globe quoted "team sources"  suggesting Francona's sub-par performance was related to problems with his marriage and a possible addiction to prescription painkillers.  The team's leadership then said nothing about the Globe story for nearly three days. It was only after the public scrutiny was unbearable that the Red Sox principal owner showed up to a local sports radio talk show unannounced to deny he was the leak and said the Globe reporter had ruled out the ownership group as sources. The reporter, however, never did any such thing.

And with that nearly every legitimate potential replacement for Francona immediately realized they never, EVER want to work in Boston.  Most could handle primadonna pitchers who leave games early for fried chicken and beer but still look for the "snitch" months later. But gossiping about marriage trouble is just low - and leaking health information is potentially illegal.

Fast-forward to 2012, and the Red Sox hire a guy who hasn't been in the bigs for nearly a decade to manage the team, and their record will be worse than it was last year.  When they're not busy losing games the players are apparently mocking their manager by texting pictures of him sleeping, or calling ownership to question his in-game decisions.  Ownership continues to enable the players (who, by the way, still love beer) by ignoring many of the substantive points of the chaos and instead starting their spin with this gem:
First of all for more than a decade we have had a code among players, staff and ownership that our meetings are private and do not leave the room. There is one reason for that. It enables all of us to openly discuss important issues. For more than a decade not one person in any of those meetings has gone to the media with private information.
That's right - the media runs an "inmates are running the asylum" story and the official response starts with a statement that is demonstrably false.  The Red Sox want you to know that what happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse - unless, of course, you're Terry Francona, who is no doubt wondering where omerta was when the topic was his health. Or if you're Carl Crawford and you learn the owner of the team was against hiring you all along.

Speaking of Crawford, one has to wonder how team doctors can tell him not to play, only to have his manager tell him to ignore the doctors.  I can't think of another workplace in America where an employee, represented by a union, can be told by his supervisor to ignore what that company's doctor tells him - and then not see the union file a nasty, public grievance or see the executives in that company come down hard on that supervisor. Unless, of course, the whole story is fake.

So next year's (mediocre) crop of free agent players now understand Fenway Park is like Romper Room.  They realize ownership's PR strategy in a crisis is to just make stuff up. Thanks to this comedy of errors, Boston has become a less attractive place to play - which means great players aren't as likely to come, and average players will have to be overpaid.  Further, next year there won't be an anniversary or shiny sideshow to distract attention from wins and losses. Barring another "blockbuster" trade - one that brings talent INTO Boston, as opposed to the one that just sent talent packing - there's no reason to see any major improvement next year.  One thing is for certain - you will hear Sox fans using the term "most expensive ticket in baseball" a lot more next year.

So the real question - what to do?   I won't presume to be an expert in baseball operations, but I can give them two simple words of advice for everyone on the team.

Stop lying.

Stop lying about your "code of silence."  Stop lying about your leaks.  Stop lying about silly things, like who actually sent a text message.  Or that pressing issues kept you away from a Boston icon's funeral. Or that it's no big deal that players blew off that funeral. Or that you have some historic sell-out streak.  Or that doctors have limited an outfielder's play to four games at a time.  Or that the GM supported hiring the manager.

When you lie to the media you insult the intelligence of your customers.  If you mess up, just apologize and say why it won't happen again.  Do that and your customers will start focusing less on what you say and more on what you do - which, supposedly, is what you want.

1 comment:

BFrey said...

I should read your blog more often. Great stuff. Keep it up....and after 4 times, I finally proved I'm not a robot. I was told there would be no math.