What a busy week it’s been for Nebraska football – both its fans and especially its coach. After a disappointing loss to UCLA last weekend at home in Memorial Stadium, attention quickly turned away from the game itself to Bo Pelini, who was first targeted by a tweet from former standout Tommie Frasier and then the viral audio of a secretly-recorded rant from 2011 as posted on Deadspin Monday afternoon.
As PR pros, we’ve watched the situation unfold eagerly, noting both missteps and best practices along the way. Some examples of good and bad PR we’ve seen over the past several days:
1. Employees are a direct reflection on your brand. We all know that Bo doesn’t necessarily come across as warm and fuzzy. He can be gruff and definitely speaks his mind during media interviews, especially when answering to a loss. But like it or not, he’s an ambassador for Nebraska – the state and the university. In fact, some of us at Albers have noticed that he’s been more personable lately and wondered if he’s had some coaching of his own. Take for example the Harlem Shake video from spring practice in May, or the movie prank he pulled on his team back in August. These both went viral, created some buzz around Nebraska Football before the season started and made Bo look a little less cross. Unfortunately, the audio recording from this week turned recent efforts into a “two steps forward, one step back” situation. That brings us to lesson #2.
2. Watch what you say, especially when you’re mic’d up. When Albers prepares our clients for a media interview, we always include some basic rules of the road. A couple noteworthy items come out of Bo’s recently released recording: First, nothing you say during an interview is off the record; only tell a reporter the messages you want included in the story. If you stick to your talking points, you won’t be surprised when a fact you didn’t intend to be public is reported. Also, anytime you’re wearing a microphone – or are sitting in the vicinity of one, for that matter – treat it as if it’s recording. Many times audio levels are being tested or additional video is being recorded for later use. And in a live situation, there’s always room for human error.
3. React rationally during a crisis. As twitter feeds, Facebook timelines and traditional media filled with links to Bo’s explosive audio recording, the public expected Pelini and the University of Nebraska to respond. In this case, they provided a united front and addressed the issue with timely written statements from Bo himself, former Athletic Director Tom Osborne and a joint response from Chancellor Harvey Perlman and current AD Shawn Eichorst. Each acknowledged Bo’s mistake, stressed the change in his attitude over the past two years and focused on moving forward with the season. By issuing the written statements, they didn’t open themselves up to further questioning and were able to stress the main point: “We are prepared to put the matter to rest.”
It’s likely the buzz surrounding this media frenzy won’t disappear as quickly as Nebraska or Pelini would like, but by sticking to the main message – that the past is the past and NU’s moving forward – the collective focus can return to the rest of the season, and Nebraskans can go back to cheering on the Huskers as they do every Saturday in the fall.