People who’ve read me for a while know I like golf.
Back when I was just learning tennis and spent my weekends fishing with my grandfather, the other thing we shared was watching golf on TV. Of course, this was pre-Tiger. Nonetheless, the whole story about his “transgressions” has gripped me, but only because it’s made me think about self-image and the way we brand ourselves in this digital age and how some folks think they can control the story when it runs amok.
Whether you’re a fourth tier school in a town that no one outside of your local area cares about; as far as the media in that area are concerned, you’re the big dog on the block and some intrepid reporter is going to get the scoop. It’ll just continue to get worse, but we’ll accept it more and more as the tools become more insidious.
Is this is a sign of our declining times or a triumph in historical proportions? I don’t know.
I do know, that not everyone can manage authenticity. For every person who is able to communicate themselves in a manner that allows them to reach wider audiences and tell great stories; to share in a manner that gives their readers or followers a true feeling of connectedness, there are lots who’ll haven’t the foggiest clue how to do that. Authenticity is about being yourself and you simply can’t fake that. You can change your culture, while staying true to your values.
That’s what Team Tiger needs to realize right now. You might want to stay silent, keep your mouth shut and let the company line do the talking. After all, whether it’s three women or three hundred who come out and say they went to the zoo with Tiger, it’s going to sting the same and the scrutiny won’t be any less. Sometimes a crisis can be an opportunity to break the impulse to continue with business as usual within an organization
Your school might probably doesn’t have the brand of Tiger Woods, but you can learn from his disaster. The inclination to believe that internal problems should stay internal makes sense. And some stories just have legal implications that prevent you from really putting much out there. If you’ve built relationships and try to capture the goodwill of whoever you fanbase is; you’ll be able to find ways to create opportunities from even the most horrid situations. You have to remember that the dust will settle eventually and you’ll have to move on from whatever the circumstance is, so the sooner you put a plan in place to do that, the better off you’ll be.
Rather than detail what Tiger Woods ought to do (simply put: re-brand himself as a real person, rather than an automaton. Oh and win a Grand Slam.) let’s talk about something a bit more topical:
Binghamton University men’s basketball comes off its best season in school history, then crisis strikes:
The scandal at Binghamton highlights the way intangible sports benefits so sought after by university administrators — like increased visibility and buzz — can backfire. The university is facing an investigation by the State University of New York into accusations that it bent its academic standards to build a competitive men’s basketball team. Three of the team’s players have been arrested in the past three years, including one in September on charges of selling crack cocaine. This fall, six players were dismissed from the team. The athletic director has resigned, the basketball coach has been placed on paid leave, and university administrators have been accused of retaliating against an instructor who said she was pressured to show grading favoritism to athletes.
So far, the web site strategy seems to be “focus on other programs besides men’s basketball.” That’s smart. But how are the coaches supposed to recruit with a team under turmoil?
Here are a few ideas:
– Establish your values publicly and stick to them. The language on the basketball site should communicate the values of the program loudly. If it’s clear there were none before, you establish some and demonstrate your commitment to them throughout the year. It gives you fodder for the entire season and while it could be something that could be program-wide for all sports, having it reflect on the sport that everyone is paying attention to, helps your recruiting effort by giving parents ease that you’ve weeded out the “bad apples” and you’re heading in a new direction and gives potential recruits a sense of ease they’re heading into a ship that’s steadying, rather than inking their signature to join the Titantic.
Side note: One of the reasons I hate the trend of schools using their big-box athletic web site CMS is they lack the flexibility to do much of anything beyond the standard package of 1) post news stories 2) post scores 3) post bios and pictures. If the sites were more nimble, you’d have the ability to brand to the individual sports and adapt the pages more fluidly for all sorts of situations. But I’ll save that bully pulpit for another post.
– A basketball team blog that features players and coaches.
Highlight the good things going on, how hard they’re working and ultimately, reconfirm why they’re glad to be where they are. For a regional public university, you’re not tapping on tons of people to begin with. But you do have an audience and you are actively pushing your message out. And for better or worse, the negative publicity you’re getting is going to drive traffic to your site. Use it as an opportunity to tell your own story, rather than letting media reports and press releases do all of the talking.
– The 13th Man: A viral show Unless they’re sports fans, students don’t really connect with student-athletes. Athletes tend to run in their own cliques at most schools, save for the few who branch out and students don’t really understand a lot of the sacrifices made by top-level college athletes. So you announce a new promotion. At each home game, a student would suit up and become the 13th man. They’ll practice with the team once or twice, dress for the game, sit on the bench and participate the whole experience. It’s like fantasy camp (no, they can’t play) but with a personal twist. Students would sign up in droves for the experience, too. Video-tape the whole deal and showcase it on your site. Maybe have them blog about their experience. This might be considered a mockery, but when things are a complete mess anyway, I don’t see how it could hurt anything and it’d be fairly easy to do, even if you didn’t do at each home game, but only a few times during the season.
I realize these sorts of ideas can’t happen overnight. They also require a lot of buy-in and commitment from the team at large, that taking a bold approach to marketing is going to solve the PR issues that come from a crisis that causes your program a black-eye. It requires support and when there’s a cloud hanging over a program and the last thing some people want to do is smile for the camera. But if you’re paying them, you have leverage and if they won’t, someone else will seize the opportunity.
You have to do something. The days of stonewalling in the hopes of making a story go away are over. In the end, it’s far better to be on offense when you can, because once you’re defending it’s hard to turn the tide back before you’re consumed by it.