The NBA’s rapid and well-planned response to the latest (and hopefully last) controversy around Clippers owner Donald Sterling offers some valuable lessons in crisis communications. While few companies will have to deal so publicly with the bad behavior of an associate, many of them will face a PR crisis that needs an equally smart response. Here’s three strategies that stood out most strongly for us in today’s press conference with league commissioner Adam Silver:
Redirect Questions on Past Management to Present Policies
Sterling’s offensive behavior has been a recurring flashpoint for many years, and the NBA probably should have dealt with it much sooner. As a relatively new commissioner, Silver could have shifted some of the blame on his predecessors’ inaction; instead, in response to several press questions around this topic, Silver redirected the focus to what he is doing now, as the current commissioner. This shows strong leadership, and frames the conversation not on what the organization should have done in the past, but on what it’s doing now.
Make a Strong & Decisive Public Statement - But Seek Strong Internal Support First
Like most NBA viewers, we were impressed that Silver issued the maximum punishment against Sterling, and delivered his statement with strong, unequivocal conviction. We were even more impressed by his confident response when reporters questioned whether his decision would be supported by all the league owners: In fact, he answered that he’d sought their feedback and buy-in beforehand. The larger takeaway: It’s not enough to reassure the public with a strongly worded response -- it’s also important to first make sure your internal constituents support such a move. (And incorporate their feedback when crafting the decision.)
Engage the Controversy With Personal Passion
All too often, corporations respond to a heated public controversy with statements worded in the third person, and deliver generic non-apologies. Not here: Adam Silver exhibited genuine (if controlled) personal anger at Sterling and his offensive behavior. When asked if Sterling had expressed any regret, Silver responded quickly and definitively that Sterling had not -- displaying the same sense of anger we all share. In this way, he exemplified how most people were also feeling about the situation. And by speaking from the heart, Silver conveyed his passion for the NBA.
And this takes us to the most important takeaway of all: When your brand is publicly threatened by a bad actor in your ranks, be sure the world knows in words, deeds, and emotions what your brand really stands for.
Image credit: www.nba.com