Friday, August 14, 2009, 12:15 PM

Five takeaways from the Vick press conference

NFL scouts are known to scrutinize a player's performance in the 40-yard dash, but Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles just started a reputation management marathon. By signing the controversial quarterback Friday, the Eagles invited a public relations challenge that will require patience, endurance, and a strategy to guide them for more than a year.

Business leaders, take note: Vick's return to the NFL is not just about sports or animal cruelty (though they are rightly preeminent in the debate).

There are also lessons to be learned about communicating controversial news. I listened to the tape of Vick's Friday morning press conference with Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and heard 5 hallmarks of effective communications in a controversy. Regardless of one's views of Vick, his crimes, or the Eagles, anyone who toils in the court of public opinion should observe how a high-profile organization handles the enormous public debate that Vick's signing has ignited.

Here are 5 observations from Friday's press conference:

1. Contrition: No surprise here. Without contrition, any appearance by Vick would have been a failure. The same rule often applies to business executives in a crisis. In my mind, the goal is to find balance between self-defeating indifference and self-defeating blather.

2. Executive accountability: Lurie spoke at length about how he arrived at the decision to sign Vick. Lurie's decision to speak at the press conference (not a given among professional sports team owners) reinforces that the signing is about much more than football. As Lurie stated, Vick "is not being measured by yardage." Executives would be wise to remember that a mid-level spokesman can only carry an organization so far in a crisis. The earlier the executive addresses the matter, the better.

3. Third-person validation: Vick was joined at the press conference by former NFL coach Tony Dungy. Dungy, who is serving as an advisor to Vick during his transition back into society, carries great credibility due to his years working with prison ministries to help ex-offenders become productive citizens upon their release. Businesses are no different. Having credible third-parties or coalitions to advocate on your behalf is always a plus.

4. Perspective: Vick and Lurie acknowledged that the signing will anger large segments of the Philadelphia community. They didn't dismiss their critics concerns; they embraced them. When an organization damages its reputation among important stakeholders, the process of repairing it is not easy. It often begins with an honest assessment of why the crisis occurred.

5. Action: In a crisis, words mean little without a plan to prevent the crisis from happening again. Vick made clear his intentions to help stamp out dog-fighting. Lurie emphasized the Eagles commitment to partnering with the Humane Society. One could argue that becoming an advocate of animal rights now -- when the Eagles showed little interest in such causes in the past -- constitutes pandering. Perhaps, but the alternative - ignoring the root of Vick's failings and the public's anger at his crimes -- would have been far worse.

Friday's press conference was just the first act, but an instructive lesson in how businesses can communicate controversial news. Up next: Vick will appear on CBS's "60 Minutes" Sunday. I'll be watching.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vick also needs people out there making the obvious point: he made a mistake and served his time. It wouldn't hurt if they threw Donte Stallworth under the bus at the same time.

September 1, 2009 at 1:27 PM  

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