Thursday, February 24, 2011

Public relations disaster locked and loaded for Texas State Legislature

 "It's strictly a matter of self-defense," said state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio. "I don't ever want to see repeated on a Texas college campus what happened at Virginia Tech, where some deranged, suicidal madman goes into a building and is able to pick off totally defenseless kids like sitting ducks.”
This is the main reasoning given to those who doubt the gun bill legislation being pushed through the Texas State Congress. The bill would allow students and teachers to carry guns on campus, making it the second state, behind Utah, to enact such legislature. However, would a shootout on campus be a good idea? And how will the state legislature be able to avoid being voted out of office if and when a shooting occurs on one of Texas' 38 campuses.
The Department of Public Safety's public information (pr) should at this point already be working on a contingency plan for when this bill backfires on them. First, legislators better be ready to go to every university campus, and address real fears and concerns over the new legislation. The number of students concerned with the bill are numerous, so any spokesperson or representative sent to a college campus better be ready to answer many questions. The majority of students oppose the bill, saying the wouldn't feel any safer in classes and would actually be more fearful knowing a classmate has a gun on them. Let's note that the maturity level and emotional IQ of some college students is not there. Parties and guns do not mix under any circumstance. Republicans in Austin are failing to communicate with their public, the first rule of pr, and are simply not listening to countless students say they are uncomfortable with a gun on campus.
Second, the legislators better have some kind of contingency plan when an emergency occurs. If a shooting occurs in the next fours year on a Texas college campus, the majority of representatives will be voted out of office. This might be a prime opportunity for Democrats to claim the governor's seat, which has been in Republican power since 1994. That year George W. Bush beat Ann Richards, ending the Democratic party's hold over the Texas legislature.
Finally, whether or not a shooting does occur, Rick Perry and his cohorts in Austin will have to answer to a large voting demographic, young voters, who will be outraged over the legislation he has signed off on, and rightfully so. This is where legislators need to write op-ed pieces, and the DPS needs to be releasing news release and facts sheets.
Whatever the result is, and as hard as it is to keep my opinion out of this, Republican legislators have a huge public relations debacle on their hands already and not a single shot has been fired.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Fighting Chance

When Micheal Haley scored his first NHL goal on February 11, you would figure it would be the highlight of the night. However, the goal by the enforcer who was called up from the minors was just a side note. The 9-3 beat down of the Penguins also resulted in 346 total penalty minutes between the two teams, 15 total fighting majors and 4 all-out brawls. The reason? Nine days before, Pittsburgh back-up goaltender, Brent Johnson, dropped the Islanders' franchise goalie Rick DiPietro with one punch, breaking bones in his cheek. Later in the game, Islanders' left winger Matt Martin took down the Penguins' Max Talbot in a similar retaliatory fight. The game left the Penguins even more injury-ridden while the perennial bottom-dweller Islanders gained a surge of confidence and many young players with promising careers ahead. However, the game left bigger questions on the table.
Fighting in hockey, although not the cornerstone it was before the lockout in 2004, is still a major part of hockey. Fighting is used by enforcers to protect skilled players and make opposing players think twice before laying a lick on the their star players. Fighting can either spark a fire for a team or leave it demoralized. No matter how essential fighting is to hockey, the NHL still faces a public image problem.
As far as fans go, there are two types. There are T-shirt fans who like hockey but love the fighting. They are not concerned with the defensive strategy or how effectively a team does or doesn't use the dump and chase (or Hitchcock hockey). Then there are true fans. Those that understand hockey, have played hockey, and have a respect for the game. Unfortunately, few NHL fans truly understand the game, due to the fact that the geographical distribution of NHL cities has most teams in warm weather markets, such as Tampa Bay, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Raleigh. The result is many fans grow up playing other sports because there is no readily available ice rinks as there are in the Northeast and Midwest. Fans in these regions are not drawn to the game because of the players' ability to stick handle or defensively shut down the offense. They watch for the fights.
On the other end are people not associated with the sport calling for an end to fighting in hockey. Some call it barbaric, although I might note hockey is the only sport where players formally shake the hand of every opposing player after a playoff series. And what if the NHL answered these concerns by banning fighting? Would the NHL have an influx of fans, especially with a lockout looming over the most popular sports league, the NFL? No. Hell no. The anti-fighting activist who come to the surface after an instance such as the Penguins-Islanders brawl would simply disappear. They have no stock in the game, they don't understand it, nor have they ever played.
So should the NHL change its game? No. Should it change its image? Yes. Hockey players are some of the most skilled, coordinated athletes on the planet, many of whom learn to skate before they can walk. Sell this to prospective fans. In fact, in past seasons the NHL has done a great job of selling young stars such a Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and Steven Stamkos. Recent rule changes have been made to open up the game and increase scoring chances for an offensively friendly game, similar to how the NFL changed its rules. Of course there will always be instances where the league will be questioned for its fighting, and it doesn't help when former NHL superstar and Penguins' owner Mario Lemieux criticizes the NHL for how it handled the recent brawl. However, since 2005, the NHL has been building its image and attracting new fans. All while fighting has been legal.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Concussion Crisis

The NFL is at a crossroads. The league continues to be extremely popular (nearly 68,000 spectators attended games in 2009), extremely profitable (the league brought in nearly $7.8 billion dollars in 2010), and extremely dangerous (concussion rates have gone up nearly 30% since the 2008 season). The most dominant professional sports league teeters on the brink of uncertainty. Much like the former Soviet Union, the NFL is self imploding. A certain player lockout hovers on the horizon but is the least of the concerns for the league. It is the recent discovery of the physical impact the game is having on thousands of former players that threatens the culture of America's game, and only a massive public relations push can save the league from collapse.
The American Public has seen how tarnished a league can become when faced with both a lockout and a culture change, Major League Baseball being the best example. The leagues become damaged. Baseball, once crowned America's Pastime, now plays second fiddle to the football. It is this reality that faces the NFL. The Collective Bargaining Agreement, set to expire on March 3 at midnight is but a quarter of the problem. It is the concussions and studies showing their effects that have finally showed the dark side of the league.
The problem: many former players are coming forward with injuries not seen in the general public. Outside The Lines, ESPN's investigative show told the story of former NFL lineman Tom McHale, who played nine seasons in the league. In 2008, at the age of just 45, McHale died, leaving behind a wife and two young sons. Autopsy reports showed that McHale suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, at the time of his death, which is caused from repeated blows to the head.
William “Refrigerator” Perry, the Chicago Bears defensive tackle famous for his “Super Bowl Shuffle”, is nearly immobilized as a result of a bruising career.
So if the problem is the physical toll, how do we solve the problem of the warrior mentality that has long been a part of the game?
It starts at the lowest levels. The NFL needs to seriously consider doing a public information campaign where parents are alerted to the dangers of playing football at a young age but that football can easily be picked up once the player has matured. The NFL needs to offer and promote flag football leagues that work more on the skill of the sport than the hitting. Furthermore, if young children do decide to play football, coaches need to be held legally liable to teach correct tackling form and the NFL needs to reinforce then in order to ensure the public they are doing everything they can to reduce injuries.
But more than enforcing good tackling form, it is important to let the players know that if they are hurt, especially head injuries, they can sit out a practice or game. Growing up, the sports culture has always been to play hurt. Be a man. Warrior Mentality. But at what price are we willing to sacrifice our bodies to playing a game? It comes down to coaches and parents understanding their kids and not pushing the kids to play hurt. The league must pass this culture down to college, high school, and pee-wee players through its pr department.
Second, Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the NFL, needs to put down his foot on the idea of and 18-game season. What kind of message does that send to players and fans to subject the players to extra games while “trying” to reduce concussions? And if the league does have a lockout, even more efforts will have to be made in the pr department in order to ensure that the NFL does not suffer the same fate as the MLB.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Value of PR

So after surviving the great Snowcalypse 2011 and the cabin fever that came along with it, I have emerged this bright Sunday afternoon to write this blog. The creative juices seem to hibernate with the blizzard that occurred but have now emerged from the long winter to write, so here we go.

This past week, a shoot-out occurred in the downtown district of Amarillo. Granted, 100 years ago, this would not be as alarming, although a gun fight in any time period is not something to brag about. The altercation resulted in one man dead, one arrested, four officers on administrative leave, and more than 40 rounds exchanged between the two sides. What the city council of Amarillo must figure out is how to control the PR dilemma that they are now facing. Serious questions are being posed by citizens, asking whether the downtown district is safe. However, Amarillo is not the only city facing this crisis. Cities across the country have either faced this problem or teeter on the brink of chaos when a bank robbery or high-speed chase. And it’s not just the immediate danger citizens are put in. It’s the aftershock that city officials must learn how to deal with. Any city with half a brain has an ad hoc plan for this type of situation but that is not always the case. Dallas recently had to review its high-speed chase policy after the wreck ended with the pursed car colliding with another civilian car .

 Cities constantly have to put forward a huge PR effort to convince citizens they are safe, especially in downtown regions.  It all comes back to the saying, perceptions is reality. You can have the safest town in America, but if it is perceived to be dangerous, you won’t have visitors, investors, new businesses, etc.  So while we can’t ensure people will be 100% convinced, Amarillo City Hall would be very wise in developing a communications plan specifically designed to inform citizens about the safety of the downtown area.  It doesn’t have to be expensive brochures. It can simply be a press release, city hall meetings, or social media that can put the citizens at ease. Whatever the tactics may be, the city council members should know that every dollar spent towards an effective PR plan is worth it.