An opportunity to turn a negative into a positive

When the director of marketing walks into the meeting with senior management on Sunday evening, he will be fearful, at best, on the verge of panic, at worst.There may be calls from some of these conservative executives to scrap the marketing...

When the director of marketing walks into the meeting with senior management on Sunday evening, he will be fearful, at best, on the verge of panic, at worst.

There may be calls from some of these conservative executives to scrap the marketing campaign immediately and cut all ties with the tainted baseball player.

What a mistake. The director of marketing and his public relations consultant must persuade management that this would be far more damaging than the original barroom brawl.

Here is an opportunity to turn a seemingly negative incident into a positive public relations exercise.

Here is a chance to show the company is responsive and responsible; to raise its corporate profile in a positive and professional way.

How? Through a well-planned and proactive crisis management plan devised by an outside public relations expert.

First, let’s remind the managers that they supported the company’s new and bold marketing campaign which, so far, has reaped impressive rewards.

The goal of the campaign has not changed. Nor has the public image of the star baseball player been necessarily tarnished. Yes, there has been an incident. But it is an isolated one.

The facts will show the player is innocent of any wrongdoing. He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. He still has the same values that made him the ideal spokesman for the company.

The company must stand by its spokesman and its campaign. To do otherwise would be irresponsible and tantamount to admitting guilt.

Once management agrees to this basic principle, it is time to act quickly and proactively in order to neutralize the negative publicity generated by the incident and the absence of the player on the preceding Saturday morning.

The media must be provided with the facts needed to cover the story fairly and reasonably without any attempt at interference. This is no time to be reactive and defensive, or to allow rumors to spread and fester.

Press releases will be sent by newswire Sunday night, preferably on behalf of the baseball league, convening a news conference with the baseball player at the hometown stadium at 10 a.m. Monday.

All media will be invited. Special efforts will be made to attract sports reporters who have already come into contact with the baseball player.

Based on the player’s past co-operation, these reporters are likely to have a positive impression of him and a tendency to handle his situation in a sympathetic manner.

Before the news conference, the player will be rehearsed by professionals of the public relations firm to put him at ease, avoid any unnecessary comments and prepare proper answers to questions likely to be asked during the press conference.

He must be advised to stick only to the facts of the Friday night incident.

The player must start by apologizing for disappointing the group of youths during the weekend. He must then give the facts: he was not present when the fight broke out; he later simply tried to break it up with the best intentions in mind.

He should steer away from placing blame for the incident on bar patrons, or from making any suggestions there were racial overtones to it.

Questions will certainly be numerous, most of them concerning the incident, not the company. If asked about the racial side of the incident, the player should clearly present his position on the matter.

After the player’s statement to the media, a representative of the baseball league could say a few words, which would be followed by the director of marketing’s statement.

He would present the company’s position and answer any questions that might follow on the partnership between the player and the company.

The director must state clearly that the company has full confidence in the baseball player, who it believes acted responsibly in a tough situation.

It intends to continue to feature him as the main endorser of its fine confectionery and believes he continues to represent values held dear by the company.

While regrettable, the barroom brawl has not changed the company’s strategy nor shaken its faith in the fine young athlete.

The director will also announce that the special appearance promotion that had been cancelled will be replaced by a series of similar events as soon as possible.

Among the young people invited will be the disappointed youths who attended the first event.

What’s more, special draws will be held, with the first 25 winners invited to a special baseball clinic featuring the baseball star. The media will be welcomed to cover this story.

In conclusion, while explosive if not defused, the situation does not justify a change in the overall marketing strategy of the company.

Josette Massy-Forget is president of Montreal-based Massy-Forget communications.