(bought to you by FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com*)
[Update, Feb. 23: An important addition to this Feb. 14 blog commentary regarding the University's overlooking the lessons in the "crisis communications playbook" when handling the hospitalization of 13 Hawkeye football players on Jan. 25, headlines all the local papers this morning [Feb. 23].
I closed the Feb. 14 commentary with:It's UI President Sally Mason's call as to how, when, and with whom to draw on what I call the "crisis communications playbook." But Heldt reports that "When asked if athletics crisis communications might be moved to the office of the UI's vice president for strategic communications, Tysen Kendig, Mason said it doesn't matter who reports to whom."It now turns out I was right to call for an instant replay. What the replay shows is that "who reports to whom" was a major part of the problem.
That's one call for which I'd recommend a challenge and instant replay.
The Des Moines Register got hold of the emails that were flying around the campus in late January -- they are "public records" under Iowa law -- and all the papers are reporting on what those emails reveal about the Iowa's "chaos in crisis communications."
See, Tom Witosky, "Documents cite U of I concerns on what to release about hospitalized athletes," Des Moines Register, February 23, 2011 (also in Iowa City Press Citizen's HawkCentral); Erin Jordan, "UI releases emails showing response to hospitalization of athletes," The Gazette, February 23, 2011 ("Even the University of Iowa’s top communication official disagreed with the Athletics Department’s handling of the football player hospitalizations in January, according to e-mail communications released Tuesday by the UI."); Jordan Garretson, "UI rethinks PR approach after football hospitalizations," The Daily Iowan, February 23, 2011.]
Last Wednesday [Feb. 9] The Daily Iowan's Alison Sullivan reported the University of Iowa's Athletic Director, Gary Barta's analysis of the University's recent bad national press over the hospitalization of 13 football players -- the "negative attention directed at the University of Iowa football program."
"He [said] the national media and the public reacted too quickly to the recent hospitalization of 13 football players. The instant negative publicity resulted from what he described as the media’s mentality of getting information fast in the Internet era, even if 'facts be damned.'” Alison Sullivan, "Barta: Football media attention has been difficult," The Daily Iowan, February 9, 2011.
The paper maintains an online edition where readers can post comments. I contributed the following:
"The national media and the public reacted too quickly to the recent hospitalization." The other possibility? Maybe the AD [Athletic Director Gary Barta] and [football] Coach [Kirk Ferentz] reacted too slowly.This morning [Feb. 14], The Gazette's Diane Heldt reports the University may now be digging out and dusting off that "crisis management" playbook. Diane Heldt, "UI considers changes to crisis communication; experts offer tips," The Gazette, February 14, 2011, p. A1: "University of Iowa officials are discussing ways to improve how they communicate in a crisis, after the university’s response to the recent hospitalization of football players garnered bad press across the nation."
There's a public relations playbook for "crisis management" that's seldom read and less often followed -- whether any president's White House, corporate CEO, or athletic team -- and was ignored in this crisis as well.
As Ferentz acknowledged: "Ferentz . . . acknowledged he erred by leaving campus to recruit while the players were hospitalized." HawkCentral, Feb. 2. [Andy Hamilton, "Ferentz Says He Erred, but Defends Program," HawkCentral, February 2, 2011.]
Had he briefly returned, expressed the concern, announced an investigation, and made the statements he made later, that "negative attention directed at the University of Iowa football program" would not have been eliminated, but it sure would have been significantly balanced and softened.
Admittedly, some journalists jumped without facts. I've deliberately not blogged about the hospitalization because I don't have the facts either.
But focusing on the media's faults may not be the most constructive or efficient way to identify, and respond to, "the problem."
My son, Gregory, calms his computer customers' frayed nerves by beginning virtually every instruction for them with the line, "There are three steps" -- which he then proceeds to reveal.
So it is with Crisis Communications 101. Heldt reports, "Experts in image consulting and communications say immediacy, transparency, honesty and empathy are key when an organization is hit with a crisis and the public and media are demanding information. 'When you let there be a lag time, that can be perceived as lack of concern or avoidance,' said Kate Loor, vice president with Frank Magid Associates, speaking about crisis communication in general."
OK, four steps. But it's pretty much what I was saying in my little comment on the DI's story. It's not rocket science. It's kind of common sense.
According to Heldt, Barta is still focused on medical details instead of PR basics. "UI Athletics Director Gary Barta said when news first broke of the 13 hospitalized football players, UI officials didn’t have a lot of information and their No. 1 concern was for the players’ safety. 'We felt that was all the information we had at the time,' Barta said of the initial UI response. 'In hindsight, maybe I would have done things differently, but we went with what we knew at the time.'”
So, you don't know the medical details. OK. The "four steps" -- immediacy, transparency, honesty and empathy -- still leave you with a lot of things you can say and do (rather than saying nothing while playing golf in Florida).
Heldt reminds readers that Coach Ferentz acknowledged on Feb. 2 that "it was 'bad judgment on my part' to not return immediately to Iowa City to be with his hospitalized players or take part in the news conference" (which neither he nor Barta attended). (Coach Ferentz was tending to one of his top priority responsibilities: recruiting players for next season's team, with national "signing day" looming before him in 10 days.) That's the confession of someone who "gets it." That's class. We all make mistakes; we don't all acknowledge and take personal responsibility for them, without excuses and blaming others. (He's displayed equal character on occasion when blaming himself, rather than his players, for the loss of a game.)
It's UI President Sally Mason's call as to how, when, and with whom to draw on what I call the "crisis communications playbook." But Heldt reports that "When asked if athletics crisis communications might be moved to the office of the UI's vice president for strategic communications, Tysen Kendig, Mason said it doesn't matter who reports to whom."
That's one call for which I'd recommend a challenge and instant replay.
Addendum, For the Record.
I subsequently elaborated on my first comment on the DI's page.
Following my original comment, an "Ed S" said, "Nick 52 is right on the money with his comments. If the AD does not understand the problem he has created than who in the world does? . . .."
This prompted an "FlSven" to come to the AD's defense. In the spirit of the FCC's repealed "Fairness Doctrine," I reproduce his comment in its entirety:
All way off base, this truely is the result of the "instant news, screw the facts, just tell me something, anything" culture and mentality we've slipped into.In response, I commented:
Can you imagine the 'outrage' by these analyzing experts if quick, inaccurate statements were made by Coack Ferentz .. omg!!
All these University individuals are very honorable Gentlemen and this has been validated by the new recruits and their families who didn't waver in their committments and the existing players who are all looking forward to more HAWKEYE football.
I'd suggest getting over yourselves and recognizing the hype and exaggeration that the media and some fans of other teams have blown up over this accidental event that was handled professionaly by the University.
Please let go of the jealousy that surrounds the monies made by successful individuals discussed, it's not very attractive and is often the vehicle of the wannabies and unsuccessful.
Seldom would I respond to a comment here. Such 'tis-'tain't exchanges too often escalate into dialogues neither constructive nor civil. And I'm not even sure FISven had my earlier comment in mind. But to remove any possible ambiguity as to what I was trying to say:_______________
- I also noted "some journalists jumped without facts" and that "I've deliberately not blogged about the hospitalization." Of course the media bears much of the blame for how the media handled the hospitalization.
- No one's suggesting that Ferentz should have, or would have, made "quick, inaccurate statements." What I suggested was that had he "expressed the concern, announced an investigation, and made the statements he made later" the "outrage" FISven (and I) wish to avoid "would have been significantly balanced and softened." His choices were not limited to (1) delaying saying anything, and (2) making "quick, inaccurate statements."
- I absolutely agree with FISven that "all these University individuals are very honorable Gentlemen." I've described Coach Ferentz as perhaps the best coach in the country -- pro and intercollegiate -- who runs a class program.
- However, both Coach Ferentz and I seem to disagree with FISven's characterization that the public relations and media relations aspects of this event were "handled professionally by the University." He's publicly acknowledged as much -- being the classy guy that he is. I agree; and because of my affection for the University of Iowa, offered the suggestion that it might be institutionally advantageous for the University -- and its major programs in the spotlight, UIHC and athletics -- to anticipate, and give a little more attention to, what I called the "public relations playbook for 'crisis management.'"
* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source -- even if I have to embed it myself.
-- Nicholas Johnson