In the last couple of blog posts, we’ve touched on the notion of reputation management – the day-to-day management of your brand and reputation, the key themes people associate with your brand, and how important it is to be proactive in what you want your brand to represent.
We touched in the last blog around AFLW, and the lack of care taken in their reputation management, which has now lead to crisis.
AFLHQ were negligent in the day-to-day management of the reputation of AFLW, emboldened the trolls by disrespecting the sport and not defending it, and have created an us against them mentality that sets the league backwards.
That’s an example where, over time, a lack of care of reputation management has led to crisis.
Crisis management is normally much more sudden when it lands on an organisation, it normally comes out of nowhere, by definition of a crisis.
By definition, it’s unusual to see repeated poor communication and management like has happened with AFLW be the root cause of a crisis event.
Usually, a crisis event is much more sudden in its impact.
As a prediction, there will be a point sometime soon Nicole Livingstone or Gil comes out with a patronising “we appreciate the passion of the feedback” type statement. We digress.
In the immediate aftermath of Andrew Gaff breaking the jaw of Andrew Brayshaw, the West Coast Eagles were obliged to begin a strategy of crisis management – one that came out of nowhere, but one you would imagine clubs would have some training and preparation for.
To pick up some threads in regards to communication, the first tone that was jarring came in the immediate aftermath of the incident, not long after initial replays had gone around social media and the story began to pick up steam.
No more than 10 minutes later, commentator Nick Riewoldt and David King were having a conversation around Gaff being a “good bloke”, how it was “out of character” and that Gaff was “a leader” off the field.
Post match, Adam Simpson said in a press conference (reported in a since deleted tweet) that West Coast would “throw an arm” around “Gaffy”, and that he wasn’t sure if the incident was intentional.
Later, on Bounce, somewhere around the Golden Fist or someone doing laps in a go-kart, Jason Dunstall cut in to throw to David King interviewing Gaff, an interview that opened with King asking how out of character the incident was, closed with David King giving Gaff a hug, and then was tailed with a throw to an in studio to Cam Mooney saying “that doesn’t represent who Gaff is”
By the time Luke Darcy inexplicably mused on radio “it might not have been a punch”, there was an interesting thing going on and an interesting narrative developing.
To deal with all of this, it ties into a piece of communication that happens sometimes, and we’ve referenced it before, around the “good bloke” defence.
In the immediate aftermath of one of these incidents, the commentators will immediately turn the conversation into one of two narrative paths – mostly it revolves around out of character for player X, or of course, how player X should have the mythical book thrown at him.
In the fall out from last years Bachar Houli/character reference story, there was a lot of discussion about how awful the good bloke defence was and a dog act was a dog act, and yet in the fall out of the Gaff incident, the good bloke defence was in full effect.
They present this good bloke defence almost as factual information, like there is a secret guide they all have, a plot chart of who is a good bloke and who isn’t.
To give an example, when it came to Lindsay Thomas David King was emotional and non negotiable that Thomas had to serve a suspension, that there was “no grey area”, but with Gaff he was upset and emotional about what a good guy Gaff was.
What was interesting in this – we’ve dealt before that stories in the AFL very quickly become out narrative. That’s how the AFLM media works, opinion is where the money is.
The narrative that was coming out in the immediate aftermath – peddled even in the opening bars of a Fox Footy comedy show – that Gaff was a good bloke/victim was fascinating to see.
It was fascinating from a communication point of view to see that narrative be utterly rejected in real-time on social media – there’s a disconnect between players and media and fans, and on this occasion it played out in real time.
David King even intoned today about social media needing to go easy on Gaff, when his role as a football commentator is to be hard to individuals for far less.
Provoke strong opinions is part of the reason he’s employed. That’s an interesting discussion point for another day, how people in media insert themselves into the story.
In terms of pure PR and communication, if there was a mutual attempt, however reflexive, of the Fox Footy narrative to shift to “Gaff is a good bloke”, it didn’t work, it made the situation far worse.
To launch into a “good bloke” defence as your same broadcast was showing the ambulance with Brayshaw in it being driven away from the stadium should cause some self-reflection on how quickly commentators attempt to drive the narrative and influence the unfolding story.
The good bloke defence being utterly rejected, as we said above, in real-time on social media, was something to see – in terms of PR, the rejection of an imposed narrative and forcing media to take more responsibility for their words has been a strong development as more cynicism with the AFLM MSM has crept in over the last few years.
It’s food for thought as media wants to take more control of the pre game and post game shows, and take people “inside” the game, and continue to seek out “provocateurs” like Kane Cornes.
They have to be prepared for stories to leave them behind at times – for narratives to unfold around them, and for social media to take their ideals and what they want to promote away from them.
Believe me, that scares them immensely…it scares them that their narratives are challenged, that the old ways are routinely debated away from them.
Even with the defensive strategy of “oh well, it sparks conversation”, it worries the MSM more than people could know, worries their PR departments how media narratives are now developing without their example.
To circle back, AFLW now exists outside of any official “barrier busting” narrative, with a much stronger alternative media presence than any official documentation.
This story went down a similar path. Good bloke? Didn’t stick, didn’t work….
And speaking of narratives getting away from people…
More sense than talking to human beings
It’s possible to examine the messages and narratives that took place on Sunday night of course, and even then, to discuss them in terms of people being in shock and not being prepared.
Since we’ve talked about reputation and crisis management on this blog in the last few posts, lets look at the brand of the West Coast Eagles going into today – one of their best players had broken an opposition players jaw, there was discussion about Gaff getting a standing ovation from the Eagles fans, and Adam Simpson hadn’t nailed the post match press conference.
If you take the brand of the West Coast Eagles, taking all pre-conceptions out of it, it was time today for some strong crisis management. It was a day to take control of the narrative and impart a clear message.
In terms of pure communication, the Eagles social media team had already got the day off to an interesting start, through tweeting out a rather joyous tweet about waking up after a big derby win.
While it’s easy to understand that the West Coast Eagles Twitter feed would by definition want to impart a positive message to its supporters, it was a mis-step in terms of reading the room and the tone they wanted to impart across the day.
There were more skilled ways to discuss the win, a better strategy to go with than that.
Controlling the narrative is, of course, a basic public relations skill. Even if the West Coast Eagles had by this afternoon lost control of the narrative and the King/Gaff interview came off badly, there was still time to regain some control of the narrative with a strong press conference today.
In the last blog, we spoke about Gil and his poorly thought out thought bubbles, how people weren’t sending Gil out prepared for questions or with the ability to sell his strategy in an articulate fashion.
Communication – yes, you can call it spin – is important because in both things we’ve talked about, Gil and the West Coast Eagles were through different circumstances late to the party in terms of getting their point of view out.
In terms of crisis management, they were coming from a way back – Gil had to respond to Daisy, West Coast to circumstances and a botched attempt (out of their control) in the aftermath to portray Gaff as a good bloke.
The narrative as we discussed above had got away from the Eagles – by the time CEO Trevor Nisbett stepped to the podium, it should have relatively easy to nail a coherent communication strategy.
That after all is what strong brands dealing with crisis management are prepared for. To think what they want to say through
There was almost only one option to be honest.
That strategy? We’re sorry, we’re really sorry, did we mention we’re sorry…
What unfolded was a terrible piece of communication, centred around two poorly constructed responses.
The first was a declaration from Nisbett that Gaff and Brayshaw were mates who had played golf 5 days ago.
So….that’s worse isn’t it? It was an un-necessary revelation to impart, since it now turns out he punched someone he’s friends with?
Trying to unpack how that actually helped anything or made things any better is hard to do. Why would you want your brand to be saying something like that?
It was a horrible thought bubble, an attempt to soften Gaffs reputation that failed miserably. It was a truly awful piece of PR that should never have been brought up on any level.
The second was the implication that Brayshaw was in “reasonable shape” – which anyone of course knows is not true.
Or it could have been the moment Nisbett couldn’t comment on which was a more serious loss, Brayshaw losing his season or Gaff losing his Brownlow chances. Either or…
So to break it down a little bit, and again, taking all pre-conceived notions about West Coast out of it, this was not the communication strategy they needed to go with.
The golfing story and any indication of a friendship between Brayshaw and Gaff is not the path down which to go when dealing with crisis management.
For one thing, it becomes the headline takeaway of the press conference, the narrative lead.
That should absolutely have been a clear focus on Brayshaw, his health and the extent to which West Coast are enquiring for his health and well-being.
Whatever strategy you wish to take, press conference, statement (not an Instagram story obviously, we covered that), whatever you wish to come up with, the narrative lead and the communication strategy is about your care for Brayshaw.
When you leave that room, that should be what you want your fans and people reading to leave with. When the golf anecdote is the front ending story, what people think about, the communication has failed.
Strong communication management should establish a position on the issues – a clear plan for your brand, and a strategic vision on what you want to sell to the public.
When the lead story out of your press conference, presented in the clear light of day, when the lead narrative is he actually punched his mate, it’s hard to think how your communication strategy could have gone much worse…