While last-minute crisis communications situations frequently leave leaders perplexed, a recent Baltimore Ravens press conference proved that organizations can also needlessly choreograph PR blunders well in advance.
At a recent mandatory pre-NFL Draft press conference hosted by General Manager Eric DeCosta and Coach John Harbaugh – an annually occurring event required of every team – a reporter from WJZ-TV Baltimore named Alex Glaze asked DeCosta about how the potential departure of star quarterback Lamar Jackson would impact the team’s draft approach.
For background, recent months in Baltimore have been dominated by discussion of deadlocked contract negotiations with the MVP quarterback. The discussions have already become public, with Jackson recently revealing in a tweet that he had requested a trade from the team on March 2.
It was as obvious of a topic to inquire about as asking a prosecutor about an indictment he had just secured. And Ravens leadership undoubtedly knew this question would come up.
But instead of planning a response that minimizes risk to a predictable inquiry, the team played duck and cover. They disallowed reporters from asking questions pertaining to Lamar Jackson, with a Ravens PR official stepping in to cut Glaze off after he had begun asking his question.
Such a heavy-handed approach made the team appear shaken and tense amid the negotiations – weakening their hand and giving off the appearance of turmoil. Watch a clip of the conference at the link below:
While setting the parameters for questions at a press conference isn’t uncommon – and does have a place in some circumstances – jumping in to halt a reporter’s question regarding the most significant topic facing the team only added to the contract saga. This is especially true considering DeCosta opened the press conference by alluding to the situation himself, saying that “the offseason has had its set of challenges in different ways, but we’re excited about where we are as a team.”
Everyone in the room knew what the “challenges” were. And it wasn’t finding a new kicker.
In this situation, as in most, failing to even acknowledge the key question surrounding the team only created more questions, such as, “Are they hiding something?” In fact, team officials have publicly discussed the situation for months now, raising the question of why the Ravens PR staff didn’t plan better for the press conference.
If the Ravens didn’t want to give an honest assessment of a negative situation, an evasive non-answer would have at least prevented stories about press conferences run amok.
A more effective statement could have acknowledged that the team would continue to work toward a fair agreement for all sides, and even complimented the skills of an unquestionably talented athlete. This approach would have displayed less of a defensive public posture, and turned a press conference the team apparently would have rather skipped into a non-story.
Failing to follow such a public relations strategy created an entire news cycle devoted to more coverage of the Lamar saga and the press conference itself, with headlines like “Ravens PR awkwardly scolds reporter” and “Ravens sidestep questions about QB Lamar Jackson.”
These negative headlines should be a lesson to any organization moving forward, whether it be an NFL franchise, business, or governing body: preemptively disallowing certain media questions in public rarely works out in your favor.
If your organization is planning for a media event or is facing a crisis, Xenophon Strategies can help with preparation and planning to hone your message. See our services and reach out for a consultation today at xenophonstrategies.com/contact.