Is the NFL Digging Its Own Grave?

A guest post by Erin Feldman

The NFL is no stranger to PR crises and controversy, but its lackluster answers to the ones it currently faces is worrisome. Fickle replies and behaviors do the brand no good; neither does a lack of response.

PR crises require answers and action. The NFL’s absence of both raises a question: just how many PR poundings can a brand take before it faces an inevitable financial hit?

Crisis One: Dosmetic Violence

Ray Rice

Original Image by Keith Allison

When the world heard that the Ravens’ Ray Rice was to be suspended for just two games because of domestic violence, the world started a firestorm. It had a valid reason; abusing another person is not something to be punished with a slap on the wrist.

That’s what seems to have occurred with Rice despite the NFL’s commissioner’s attempts to assuage the public:

You [Ray Rice] will be expected to continue to take advantage of the counseling and other professional services you identified during our meeting. […] I believe that you are sincere in your desire to learn from this matter and move forward toward a healthy relationship and successful career. I am now focused on your actions and expect you to demonstrate by those actions that you are prepared to fulfill those expectations.

While the commissioner, Roger Goodell, owns the nickname “The Enforcer,” his judgments of late have cast the name and subsequently the NFL in doubt. A number of reporters pronounce his judgments erratic and not in keeping with the crimes committed as evidenced by the chart below.

Goodell's Record

In addition, he has remained silent on the Rice matter since announcing the suspension. Adolpho Birch, the NFL Senior Vice President of Labor Policy, has become the public face of the NFL, a move that has raised questions and caused more misgiving and criticism.

The silence and inaction on the part of the NFL and Goodell could prove detrimental to perceptions of the brand as well as sales; the brand claims a large female audience. It even has sought to cultivate that relationship through its “Fit for You” women’s apparel. Those women may show their displeasure by boycotting NFL products and events or ceasing to support the brand altogether.

The NFL could keep those relationships intact, but it would require Goodell and Birch to change their words and actions. Howard Bloom, a reporter for Sporting News, advises the brand to do more than change its disciplinary practices.

He says, “The fallout from the Rice decision affords the NFL a unique opportunity to right a wrong and make a statement about domestic violence.” Bloom offers some recommendations; he suggests that the NFL annually donate a percentage of its “Fit for You” sales to victims of domestic abuse, which would keep current fans happy and possibly attract new ones.

Crisis Two: The Redskins and the Browns

Washington Redskins

Original Image by Keith Allison

The Washington Redskins have been repeatedly asked to change its name but to no avail. Goodell and the NFL either have been relatively silent on the subject or have tried to put a positive spin on it. The team’s owner, Daniel Snyder, has not used either tactic. His unswerving support of the Redskins name has been termed “defiant” by some sports reporters.

While the name might not be offensive to some, that doesn’t mean it’s a non-issue. James Brown, CBS newscaster, says:

If […] the name is offensive to a group of people, then do the right thing and change the name. It’s as simple as that.

I know people will engage in an argument and say, well it hasn’t been an issue all this time. Yeah, well, the civil rights issue was one where ‘that’s just the way it was’ for a long period of time, right? So that holds no basis and substance to me. Do the right thing.

The NFL’s insensitivity is problematic and pervasive; it isn’t isolated to the Washington Redskins alone. Goodell has been mysteriously silent about the Cleveland Browns’ owner, Jimmy Haslam, who faces fraud charges while the NFL has gone so far as to call Haslam a “man of integrity.”

Silence sometimes is the best and wisest course, but it is not in these two cases. An answer is needed. More than that, an honest one is needed if crises are to be averted.

Crisis Three: Concussions

Injury on the Field

Original Image by John Martinez Pavliga

The NFL is plagued with injuries, specifically head injuries, and how could it not be? It’s a violent sport in which hulks hurtle against each other. Even so, the NFL faces a potential crisis with its ongoing litigation and inconsistent implementation of new concussion protocols.

PBS’ FRONTLINE has studied the concussions in more detail only to make perturbing discoveries. Injury reports often are inaccurate because of the way they’re reported. Many athletes aren’t missing any games despite suffering a concussion.

New rules, such as moving up kickoffs by five yards and penalizing hits to the head, have had mixed results. In 2013, the number of concussions dropped, but the number is still higher than in 2010 when the rules were first introduced.

Winning a settlement might seem cause for celebration, but it’s not. The few players, current and retired, who have won say the win is “the best of several bad options.” The outcomes of those settlements often are unclear; the most recent one leaves many players wondering what exactly the NFL will cover.

To restore confidence in the brand, the NFL needs to follow through on its commitment to better concussion care. The NFL also should seek ways to care for its players and their families and, in some cases, their widows. Some of those women face large medical bills because of their husbands’ neurological conditions, many of which were caused or exacerbated by their time on the field.

PR crises can be overcome, but they have to be dealt with quickly, honestly, and openly. If they’re allowed to linger and multiply as they have with the NFL, it’s only a matter of time before they impact audience sentiment and eventually the bottom line.

What do you think?

Whittle: How To Write a Novel

The following is a guest post by Rob Whittle, who recently published his first novel Pointer’s War. I know Rob from the local DC marketing community (he is CEO of Williams Whittle), and the book looks awesome. Any book that features both Lucky Lucciano and Nazis has to be interesting.

Periodically, someone will ask me how to write a book, especially since publishing Exodus. So when Rob suggested this topic, I was delighted to publish his guest post. Here you go!

How To Write a Novel (Or, At Least How I Wrote One)

by Rob Whittle

My novel, Pointer’s War, was published this month. Friends are uniformly amazed, asking a) how did I find the time?; b) how did I know so much about World War II?; and c) had I always wanted to write a novel? Answers: less sleep; research; and sorta.

I write a blog on my agency website www.williamswhittle.com called “Tales of a Mad Man”. These are stories of my experiences as an ad guy and are usually only tangentially about advertising. They are more in the vein of human interest.

For example, one is called “Gore Vidal and Me” about the time I was traveling in Bangkok and was at the hotel pool reading Vidal’s latest book, Hollywood. I felt eyes on me and peered over my shades to find Gore Vidal watching me read his book. Another is about Dr. Atkins and the Atkins Diet, which was our PR client for a few years during the height of the Atkins Low Carb diet craze. It’s about how the Atkins business side tried to screw me—but I had the last laugh.

My most popular blog by far was “Mad Men Battle the Elements”, the story of my partners and me sailing through the edge of a hurricane from the Chesapeake to Bermuda. It’s a harrowing tale. My niece told me that halfway through the story she thought I was going to perish in the storm. Before she caught herself.

That got me thinking. Could the story of four guys sailing to a far off port be turned into a book? A novel?

My first idea was that the hero and his significant other would sail to Sicily as a vacation. There would be adventures along the way, but what they wouldn’t know is that the hero’s father had killed a Sicilian in WW II and the son who was a Mafiosi had gotten wind that my hero had landed in Sicily and there would be hell to pay. A real vendetta!

That idea didn’t go anywhere, but what if I combined the Sicilian Mafia with the World War II invasion of Sicily? Hadn’t I read somewhere that the infamous Lucky Luciano had helped the Allies in their invasion of Sicily? Yes! That’s it!

And so, the beginning of the story took shape. All I had to do was invent a hero, mix in real historical events, throw in some treason and a love affair, mix it up with famous people (General Patton, FDR, Wild Bill Donovan, and some bad-ass Nazis), add a dash of humor and I was off and running—or writing.

Writers will tell you that when things are going well, books “write themselves”. And that’s what happened with me.

Big plot twists seemed to suggest themselves out of nowhere. It helped that I had a real time and history arc to work with. What became Part One was all about Sicily. But I didn’t think I had a complete book, so I sent my hero to Berlin to participate in the famous Valkyrie plot to assassinate a certain Fuhrer. The plot failed so I had to figure out a suspenseful way for him and his compatriots to escape from the belly of the beast. That became the ending.

So, in less than 600 words, that’s how I wrote Pointer’s War. It’s gotten off to a very fast start, beyond my expectations. You may order it on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1492953873.

How I Moved Cross-Country Based on a Database

The following is a guest post by my friend , a hype-free social media and content strategist, author, and speaker. He just released a book called Youtility (check out my review here), and is out and about quite a bit these days. So I thought it would be nice to shed a little bit of personal light on his story. He graciously agreed.

Read on to learn about his journey and how he used helpful marketing to move across the country. Plus, get a free excerpt from his newest book, Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help not Hype.

I know a lot about Arizona. I lived there from 1970 until 2010, with residences in Lake Havasu City where I was raised and where the “falling down” London Bridge of nursery rhyme fame was rebuilt in 1973 as a tourist attraction; Tucson, where I went to college; Phoenix and various suburbs; and the mountains of Flagstaff, where one year my family and I received 120 inches of snowfall at our house.

London Bridge, Lake Havasu City

After experiencing just about all the Grand Canyon State has to offer, my wife and I decided in 2010 to consider other locations. I’m a marketing consultant, author, and speaker (which may be replacing actress/singer/model as the most common triple threat job description in America). Consequently, I’m fortunate enough to be able to do my work more or less anywhere. This realization, and the inkling to possibly act on it was the zero moment of truth for my eventual relocation.

Like many of today’s consumers, empowered by always-on high speed Internet access, I research vacations obsessively, read many product reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, and consume blog posts like Halloween candy. I draw the line at chicken sandwich investigation, preferring the visceral thrill of fast food drive-thru roulette. In short, there’s usually a method to my research madness.

So when we considered moving from Arizona, the obvious next step to me was to research our options. We created and ranked a list of desirable attributes: college town, fewer than 200,000 people, close to a major airport, in the middle of the country, good schools, decent weather, affordable cost of living, and other factors. Then, we turned to the Internet.

We used a variety of websites that compare, contrast, and recommend locations to narrow down our list. Most notable among them is BestPlaces.net, the online home of researcher Bert Sperling’s “Places, USA” software. This system, first developed in 1985, allows people to enter their personal preferences to find their own best place to live, work, or retire. Almost every time my wife and I performed these analyses, Bloomington, Indiana, was recommended by the location-finding websites. I’d never been to Bloomington, and I had only a vague understanding of where and what it was through my consulting work with ExactTarget (located one hour north in Indianapolis) and the famous film “Breaking Away” that chronicled Indiana University’s Little 500 bike race tradition. This lack of knowledge was not a deterrent. “I’m an online marketer,” I thought. “Who am I to argue with a carefully researched relational database?”

So, off to Bloomington we went, knowing nothing and nobody. We fell in love with the city on our visit, and, three months later, we sold our home in Arizona, hugged friends and family goodbye, and drove across the country with two kids, a dog, cat, snake, lizard and 12 cases of wine to start our Indiana experience.

Without BestPlaces.net there is no chance I’d have written my new book in the law library of Indiana University in Bloomington. None. In fact, friends who cannot fathom that I’d pack up and move based on a website, joke that the BestPlaces site must be a guerrilla marketing program created by the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce. Not true, but a great idea!

If BestPlaces hadn’t answered most of my questions about how Bloomington compares to other cities, I never would have gotten past the zero moment of truth. For me and my family, BestPlaces was the ultimate Youtility – marketing so useful, people would pay for it if asked.

Creating customers by answering their questions is imminently viable and carries remarkable, persuasive power. With the barrier to research approaching zero, your customers are kicking your informational tires like never before. If you think you have enough content, or if you believe you’ve answered all of your prospects’ questions online already, I can almost assure you that have don’t and you haven’t.

We used to create relationships and make decisions with interpersonal, synchronous connections. Increasingly, we’re now creating relationships and making decisions asynchronously and from afar.

What Kind of Bystander Are You Going to Be?

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The following is a guest post by my former colleague Andrea Weckerle, the founder of CiviliNation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting online hostility and character assassination. Her book Civility in the Digital Age: How Companies and People Can Triumph over Haters, Trolls, Bullies, and Other Jerks was released in February.

Every single day we see example after example of online attacks against individuals and organizations. It’s as though people have forgotten, or possible never even learned, the art of disagreeing with another’s position or point of view without devolving into personal or reputational attacks against the other side as a means of expressing their displeasure.

What’s interesting is that when we think about online attacks, we often focus exclusively on who the people or companies in dispute are. Identifying the public-facing attacker and the visible target or victim is relatively easy, whereas we tend to overlook the behind-the-scenes or hidden disputants who are represented by the visible ones.

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InstaBRAND on Instagram

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Instagram is at the forefront of the visual media revolution, challenging norms on text heavy social networks. Facebook’s acquisition of the network and its ensuing growth legitimized the visual communications revolution, and challenged brands across America to change the way they market.

My friend Christian Adams wrote an eBook on visual storytelling called InstaBRAND, and it’s pretty damn good. So I asked him to guest blog and share some insights. Here’s Christian’s post.

2013 will be the year you start to see a noticeable change in content marketing strategies. Are you prepared for the shift? When I started writing my eBook, InstaBRAND: The Ultimate Guide To Visual Storytelling Through Instagram I felt there was something missing in the world of content marketing and integrated marketing campaigns in general. An imbalance of sorts.

There seemed to be a tipping point starting in 2012 with a little bit of a backlash from marketers who were tired of public relations and social media types owning and pushing content marketing strategies. Which led to the information overload we have today. Pushing content without consistency or context is not a lead generation strategy. It is a diluted/watered down version of a brand’s core storytelling experience.
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Why Your Marketing Stinks and How to Fix It

Trees in the Park
Image by Lune Rambler

The following is a guest post by Erica Mills. She created a low cost tool called the Marketing Tree that forces you through a strategy process. I thought it was pretty cool, and asked her to blog about it.

Please welcome her. Bonus miles, the three best comments will get a Marketing Tree process mailed to them.

Since we don’t really know each other, it’s probably rude of me to say that your marketing stinks. Fair enough.

The thing is, I’ve taught thousands of organizations and businesses how to do effective marketing and here’s what I can say: your marketing might not stink, but you’ve probably got some Extreme Marketing Mayhem going on.

Why the mayhem? Because if you’re like most people, you head straight for the latest, greatest shiny objects and skip over all that boring planning and strategy stuff.
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