Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Lesson in Public Relations

The Chicago Bears held a press conference on January 5, 2010, after a dismal at best season long performance by management, the coaching staff and players. No need to go into the gory details; the lesson here is how not to handle public relations.

For weeks now, the media and public has been in an uproar over team performance. This was exacerbated by a perceived lack of indifference and arrogance by the team leadership. Clearly a crisis communications situation if anyone in the PR department at Halas Hall was paying attention.

The Press Conference

A press conference is held, they trot out the team President, General Manger and Head Coach all in that order. The President speaks, apologizes and was contradictory in his remarks about the situation being unacceptable, change is needed, mistakes were made, but things are going to stay essentially the same. He spoke for 20 minutes which was 15 minutes too long.

The GM gets up apologizes, says mistakes were made, change is needed, but things are going to stay essentially the same and I would make the same decisions the same way again. He also has a different message than the team president. Q and A ensures.

Head Coach gets up, has a different message than the other two, is arrogant and testy that he is being questioned about any of this and never admits to making any mistakes. Change is needed but things are going to be the same. He fires his entire offensive staff, demotes himself from being the defensive coordinator and life goes on.

The PR department for the Chicago Bears should be fired in mass for that performance. As a marketing and PR professional this was an embarrassment.

What Went Right?

Virtually nothing.

What Went Wrong?

Virtually everything.

Let Me Count the Ways

Lack of organizational understanding of the need to handle this as a crisis communication situation
Different, conflicting senior management messages
Testy responses to questions
Lack of preparation by speakers in understanding the seriousness of the communication
Poor speaker body language
No overriding organizational message
Organizational arrogance
Lost messaging opportunity
Appearance of offense to blame for the season
All three senior managers appearing not to be accountable
The organization furthering to anger the media and fan base

What struck me about was the similarity to how I have seen hospitals and healthcare systems handle crisis communication situations and public relations.

Is it not true that any press is good press! And the Bears are getting a lot of bad press locally, regionally and nationally.

PR Lessons for Hospitals and Healthcare Systems

Understand the nature of the situation
Be transparent
Be proactive in how you intend to address the situation
Limit the amount of time senior leaders i.e. the CEO or president speak
Make sure everyone has the same message and is on board
Develop strong organizational messaging of care and concern
Don’t scapegoat
Don’t blame others or give the appearance of blaming others
Don’t tell people things will change when things are not changing
Practice, practice, practice
Anticipate hard questions and do a strong Q&A document
Bring in an outside PR firm for another viewpoint
Understand that your reputation is built up over a long time and can be destroyed in a few short minutes
Remember that it is not just a three day story
Watch your body language
Know your facts about past performance, reporters will be prepared

I can reached at 815-293-1471 for marketing and PR consulting, or via email at the

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