Ethics in crisis communications & Deflategate



The New England Patriots and NFL are in full crisis communications mode and I have to say, it’s been fascinating to watch. From the coach and Tom Brady press conferences to the lack thereof by the NFL except for a brief statement, the scandal raises discussion points about public relations ethics in general.
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady’s press conferences were a necessary exercise for the Patriots, who most certainly have done issues management sessions and have a public relations crisis communications plan and handbook. At least I think they do. And while both men stood in front of the press and took a lot of questions, their answers seemed to lack detail, which in a media relations situation, just pours gas on a fire. Whether the two men practiced their messages and underwent a rigorous crisis media training session before their press conferences, I don’t know. However, their messaging was not cohesive and Belichick threw Brady under the bus.
While I watched the press conferences, I wondered about that and then I wondered, if it’s true that they cheated, were they media trained or were false messages that are lies created by their PR team? Would an ethical PR person, beholden because they work in-house for the team, do such a thing? Does the PR person for the Patriots even know the real truth or is he/she not at the table for the internal discussions regarding the situation and is training them on talking points he/she thinks are true? It’s a jumble of ethical things to consider, particularly as the team is a complex organization and the NFL even more so.
On the flip side, the NFL’s statement regarding their investigation and no press conference by Goodell is a major mistake. With the earlier scandals this year, particularly with Ray Rice, Goodell is already on the bubble and needs to get out front of the story. Instead of issuing a statement, he should have given it at a full-blown press conference, detailing all ball handling procedures so journalists can be refreshed on them and those unfamiliar will learn them.
Either way, it will be a public relations and media relations case study for years to come and is still evolving in real time.

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Audrey Strong has more than 20 years combined experience as both a public relations professional and television news person. Her hybrid background makes her an expert in media relations and one of her favorite things is to introduce and get exposure for clients via longtime, trusted media relationships. Her specialties also include media training, crisis communications, issues management, messaging, press kit creation as well as audio/video production.

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