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Crisis Communications Advice For The New England Patriots And DeflateGate

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deflategateAround midnight last night EST, ESPN broke the news that 11 of the 12 game balls used by the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game this weekend were inflated significantly below the NFL’s requirements. Immediately, Twitter, Facebook and the media went crazy with accusations of cheating.

“We are not commenting at this time,” said Greg Aiello, the NFL’s senior vice president of communications. Fair enough, they are the investigating party.

[Patriots] “have been in complete cooperation with the league and will continue to do so,” Patriots spokesman Stacey James issued in a statement. Great job here.

This is no doubt a crisis for the Patriots, who have been accused of cheating before. With the Super Bowl right around the corner, the Patriots are going to be under fire for more comments. Here are six other tips we recommend to Mr. James and the team as they deal with this crisis:

  1. Coach The Coach – Given his usual prickly demeanor, is Bill Belichick the best spokesperson for this issue? He definitely needs to speak, but we recommend the Patriots work very closely with him on how he reacts. His typically defensive behavior could balloon this issue even further if not closely managed. He needs to be consistent and accurate with details, and keep his emotions in check when asked questions he doesn’t like. He needs to be reassuring to the fans that the Patriots are not cheaters. He needs to accept that detractors are going to rattle him, and not show it.
  2. Thank The Fans – Continue to acknowledge and thank the fans for their support, but don’t jump on their memes or rants. Keep it clean and professional.
  3. Speak Up On Social – As of this post, the Patriots have not at all acknowledged the issue on Twitter or Facebook. Again, ignoring the big pink elephant in the room is uncomfortable for everyone. Even just to reiterate their cooperation and do #2 above, the Patriots should say something. May we recommend something along the lines of, “Thank you to our loyal fans who know how and why we win. We’re working with the NFL to investigate the recent accusations and believe that the truth will come to light. We’re focused on the Super Bowl and another win from our talented team. #GoPats”
  4. Get A Game Plan Together – No doubt there’s going to be a long road to regain trust in the NFL, and among fans. The haters gonna hate, but even some fans are wondering just what’s going on. The Patriots are going to have to work very hard – regardless of the outcome – to overcome the “cheater” label (again). Their “brand” needs to be humanized – give us something emotional and positive to connect to - and don’t disappear after February 1. The players should plan to put in some off season time to be more visible doing good things – coaching kids, donating time to charities, bonding with the city of Boston, etc. Although it’s the end of the season, their second job has just begun, thanks to DeflateGate.
  5. Tote The Party Line – From today on, get players on the same page and ensure they have a solid, consistent comment to provide when asked about the issue. The comment may change over time as the story develops, but the communications team needs to ensure they get everyone in the organization on the same page, to avoid further blowups on the issue. That includes players!

What advice would you give to the Patriots to overcome this PR nightmare?



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