Sunday, January 25, 2015

Can Tom Brady Read the Media as well as He Can Read a Defense?

When a quarterback steps up to the line before the ball is snapped, he is the team’s chief communicator. He is the chief signal caller.  As such, his focus is not on the center, the ball, his own line or his receivers.  His teammates know what they are supposed to do, where they are supposed to be and when.

Rather, the quarterback’s focus is on the other side of the line, the defense. The unknowns, the things he cannot control but must anticipate.  He reads linebackers and safeties to see where they are positioned, where they are leaning, how their bodies may be slightly turned.  He looks into their eyes.  It’s the mental part of the game before the ball is snapped.

Many a quarterback will tell you that success is as often as not determined in these moments before the ball is snapped.

This is what New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady does very well.  He doesn’t watch his team.  His expectations have already been communicated to his teammates before this.  They know what is expected.

Instead, he scans the field for weaknesses, vulnerabilities, opportunities.

It’s important to remember this when watching the news unfold surrounding the New England Patriots’ latest communications crisis - “deflategate.”

When Brady, in his press conference last week, said he didn’t tamper with footballs, and he didn’t know what happened to them when he went back into the locker room before the game, that may have been factually true. As factually true as how he doesn’t know where his receivers are when his focus is on reading a defense before the snap.  But that’s not the full story.

What he does know is to assume things are where they need to be, and will be there when and how he needs them.  Rarely is it the case when he and his teammates are not on the same page.  Very rarely is there miscommunication between the quarterback and his team.

So, when Brady pleads ignorance on the specifics of what happened to 11 of 12 footballs in that AFC Championship game, he’s only addressing his direct involvement.  He’s not addressing issues like his specific expectations of those footballs, how those expectations have been communicated, and how the organization may work to meet his expectations.

In Brady’s press conference, he seemed to contradict himself.  He said he couldn’t tell if the footballs were under-inflated or not, yet in that same press conference, he stated he likes the balls at a very specific weight that was within NFL rules.  It would seem that if you know what you like with such specificity it would be hard not to tell the difference on game day.

In the same news conference, Brady skirted the whole issue of how he communicated his expectations to the team’s equipment managers.  He pleaded ignorance on who may have had custody of the footballs in his absence, and what was done to them when out of his sight.

This doesn’t sound right to others who have played quarterback in the NFL.

Hall of Fame quarterback and Fox Sports announcer Troy Aikman said it’s obvious Brady knew what was going on.

Former NFL quarterback Mark Brunell was another Brady doubter and got into a tremendous level of detail on how he vetted footballs before games.

Chris Simms, a former NFL quarterback and son of Phil Simms, the New York Giants’ Super Bowl-winning QB, found Brady's claims a bit incredulous as well.

So, what lessons are there for PR? 

It means that when your organization or certain members of your organization find themselves on the hot seat, there can be a temptation to tell only part of the story for a certain amount of time, hoping a controversy goes away.  PR consultants call this the strategy of appeasement, and ultimately it doesn't work.

Or to put it in football terms, this could be a strategy of trying to run out the clock.  As we sit here, interest in the Super Bowl is rising.  All this week, Patriots’ press conferences will be packed. This story alone will drive interest in the Super Bowl like hasn’t been seen in a while.

Whether fans watch the game for the football, the commercials, the spectacle itself, or if this issue draws another level of viewers, the NFL and its advertisers stand to benefit from millions of new eye balls.  But that’s just for the short term.

In the long run, the NFL knows that it must protect the integrity of the game.  It must do so to preserve and grow what it’s built.  It understands what hinges on that integrity, from the explosion of Fantasy Football across the country (and the millions of dollars that flow as a result), to the other economies that are driven by a healthy NFL.  There is simply too much at stake.

I doubt the NFL, the Patriots or even Head Coach Bill Belichick would make serious sacrifices to save the reputation of one player, even if that player is Tom Brady.

So for this week, the NFL will conduct a comprehensive investigation that will be completed sometime after the Super Bowl hangover wears off.  Probably at a time of year when people are paying the least amount of attention to football.

But if you’re in Tom Brady’s shoes, at some point, you may find yourself looking back at last week, at that press conference, and wondering if it was right to follow a PR strategy that had more to do with what he thought that people would accept, rather than just lay out the full story.  

When Brady spoke at his press conference last week, he looked across the line, only this time instead of peering into the eyes of linebackers, he was looking into camera lenses and the stares of curious journalists, some of whom because they weren’t sports reporters, may have been new to him.

As good as he is at reading defenses is he as talented at reading the media?  Because in the news cycle there is no final whistle when time runs out. For Brady, this story probably won't go away soon enough.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Do You Want Publicity? Answer These Two Questions

Whether they ask these two questions or not, on the minds of any reporter or editor, when you suggest any story are: Why do a story?  And, why do it now?  Any good publicity expert must anticipate these two questions if he or she wants to effectively raise the profile of an organization.

That is why when planning any sort of media relations or publicity project, large or small, I start with those two questions.  The entire media relations strategy must be built on the answers because these are the same questions individual reporters must answer when they pitch a story to their editors.

When a reporter wonders whether he or she should do a story, the reporter wants to know if the story warrants diverting time, energies and resources from other stories.  That can determine whether the event, information or development is worth the time and attention of readers, site visitors and viewers.  This is what old-school journalists called “newsworthiness.”

The second question, “Why do it now?” centers mostly on whether it makes sense for the journalist to put off an diversion of resources for a later time.  If the story is not so timely today that it can be delayed, it will be, and the longer it is delayed, the less newsworthy it will become.

If a company wants to create visibility for a new headquarters complex to be built a year from now, that can wait.  If the ribbon cutting for a new building is tomorrow, that’s more newsworthy.

More often than not, however, the lines are not so clear. In our publicity efforts, we have to make sure that when we approach reporters we have news and that it’s timely.  We have to answer two questions.  “Why should I do a story?  And why do it now?”

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Is the National Enquirer Gaining Credibility?

Full disclosure:  I normally get my full share of celebrity gossip when I’m standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, and that’s only by reading the front page of a tabloid from about three feet away.

So like many, when I think of tabloids like the National Enquirer, I think of front pages with claims of UFO sightings, or Bigfoot, or celebrity diets, or gossip about the drama that goes on behind-the-scenes in Hollywood.  Like many, my feeling has always been how can you believe anything from such a publication?

Still, in recent years what some may not have noticed is that, along with those outrageous and oftentimes trivial stories that still populate the pages, the National Enquirer has also been the first to break some news stories that eventually make their way into the mainstream.

Here’s the common cycle when it comes to the tabloid and its breaking of major stories.  The National Enquirer somehow learns something about a famous person that may be newsworthy, and it verifies its facts.  Then it doggedly tracks and sometimes stalks the central figures in the story until in the end, it gets a more full story, warts and all. Sometimes the details appear so extreme they are hard to believe at first.  Then at some point, the story turns a corner.

It could be that when the initial story breaks in the National Enquirer, it’s so hard to believe that the traditional media just won’t bite.  Sometimes, however, it comes out that reporters from other more respected journalistic organizations did learn about certain stories around the same time as the National Enquirer, but for any number of reasons they decided not to pursue.

To be sure, there are instances when a National Enquirer story, aided by amplification on social media, actually pressures traditional media outlets to cover something.  Sometimes these stories have ramifications that go beyond Hollywood and gossip.   Sometimes political figures and respected journalists find themselves in the National Enquirer spotlight.

A classic case of this was when the National Enquirer broke the news that one-time presidential hopeful John Edwards had an extra-marital affair.

Then more recently, there was the story of CBS News and 60 Minutes stalwart Steve Kroft.   The National Enquirer first reported that the news man engaged in his own extra-marital affair, which led to the usual social media buzz, then traditional media coverage, and then Kroft himself acknowledging the situation with an apology.

What makes both of these situations relevant to the larger PR landscape is that the National Enquirer has at times emerged, if not consistently, as a credible source, willing to break stories that the traditional media did not. While some of these stories have their share of R-rated details, they also carry with them other ramifications.

Before the National Enquirer broke the John Edwards story, he had a viable political career and voters knew a very different man than the one who emerged after the story broke.

The Kroft situation is a little different.  Like Edwards, Kroft was reported to have engaged in a steamy extramarital affair that became public.  But Kroft remains a highly influential journalist.  This is the same reporter who built his reputation in some part as the reporter who in 1992 confronted then presidential candidate Bill Clinton over allegations of his womanizing.

The irony doesn’t stop there.  Perhaps the real irony is that the National Enquirer is using facts and the truth to enhance its credibility while public figures like Kroft lose some of their own standing in the same process.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Don't Make Resolutions, Make Plans

At the start of this New Year, it’s tempting, if not compulsive, to come up with a series of New Year’s resolutions that will help 2015 be better than last year. We do this on both personal as well as professional levels.  I can’t count how many times I resolved to start t a new diet or allocate more time for professional development, only to have my most well-intentioned resolutions fall by the wayside.

I think one of the reasons resolutions fail is because we view the very first breach to be a sign of total failure.  In other words, if we resolve to avoid all chocolate candy in the New Year, the first time we stray, we assume we’ve failed, and that justifies a return to old habits.

The same holds true in our professional lives.  Perhaps we decide that in the New Year, we will read one career-enhancing book per month, or we commit to attending a certain number of industry-related networking events.  Then as the demands of the job take over, we find we don’t meet our targets, and we give up on that resolution.

But we do have it in us to succeed, and the key to that success could be as simple as changing a word.  What if instead of calling them “resolutions” we call it a “plan?”  And instead of coming up with 10 or more resolutions, we structure our New Year’s plan around three or four achievable items?

Most people can be very effective at executing well thought-out plans and here’s the reason why.  We don’t penalize ourselves when we miss interim goals in plans. Typically, we double-up our efforts the next week, the next month or the next quarter when we work our plans.  Or maybe we simply just jump back into the plan and try to do better.

We tend to allow for the occasional lapse in our execution of the plan, but we keep our focus on the larger goals, strategies and benchmarks that in the long run will come to determine the plan’s overall success.

I have a recommendation for 2015.  Instead of coming up with a long list of New Year’s resolutions, try to achieve the same goals through a concise and achievable plan.  And then begin work it and don’t view the first obstacle along the way as cause to abandon the effort.  In that way, you’re structuring your new chapter around success, regardless of whether you give in tomorrow and have that piece of chocolate.