Did you hear it? It was almost audible, the sound of Milwaukee Brewers baseball fans breathing a collective sigh of relief this week as Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun won the first-ever appeal of a Major League Baseball drug test.
But there was also another sound, the sound of implied guilt. As Mr. Braun said in his press conference on Friday, the scrutiny he endured is just the opposite of what is found in the American legal system: Guilty until proven innocent.
Point taken, Mr. Braun. Let’s take this opportunity to look at what you’ve done right in this unfortunate situation, and what you and your PR team should be thinking about going forward. Ultimately, what happened at the press conference and in the future days are what will decide your standing among the public. And therein lies the value of not just good, but great PR advising.
First of all, you hit a home run with your press conference, maximizing the best opportunity you will ever have to restore your image. You were genuine, believable and articulate, and you needed to be. You avoided legalese and simply stated when you couldn’t elaborate. Others in your position have taken a very defensive stance; that doesn’t play well with the media or with the fans.
You thanked all the most important people, most critically, your fans. Instead of a “woe-is-me” attitude, you acknowledged how difficult this challenge has been for you, and rightly so. No one, not your fans or your detractors, would disagree with that.
In your early comments, you said you would willingly have taken on responsibility for the situation … had it been appropriate. And you proved that by taking responsibility for some of the more personally unfortunate rumors that have been circulating, addressing the STD issue clearly and succinctly.
Your advance preparation was outstanding, and you were able to give some level of detail, including dates, putting the media on your side. The media have a story to write, to flesh out with those details, and your side of it will get more coverage than if your advisers had suggested a more limited approach.
You won people over with specific, quotable statements: “We won because the truth is on my side.”
Keep up that pushback; it’s an active way to manage your image rather than waiting for someone else to define it. This also helps you to avoid the impression that you used performance enhancing drugs. It’s not about that anymore; it’s about your innocence and the breakdown of the testing process.
Yet, going forward, never go back to this level of detail. It’s not necessary. Keep your comments on the issue to general statements, and regardless of the situation, never be defensive. The best way to prove your point is through your play on the field.
Others can answer those questions. Be prepared though: Your abbreviated question-and-answer session didn’t answer everything, and anything you haven’t addressed will now be answered by others. But that was an understandable sacrifice that needed to be made.
The decision awarding your appeal was based on another great quotable phrase “the process broke down.” And you stayed on that message. You assaulted the process and made that the issue. With this press conference, you’ve changed the perspective.
So what’s ahead, Mr. Braun? I think your words will be buttressed by the arbitrator’s report, which will only serve to affirm the points you’ve made. That’s no mistake, either. That, along with the rest of the work you and your people did today, is the work of a top-notch PR firm. Having a winning strategy is something that all organizations can learn from, not just those dealing with messy issues in the sporting world.
Jeff Blumb, a partner at Milwaukee-based Nation Consulting, has more than 20 years of PR experience in professional sports, including a long stint as director of public relations and top spokesperson for the Green Bay Packers. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org