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“Always be prepared,” I believe, is a motto of the Boy Scouts. It’s akin to one of my father’s favorite axioms, “Anticipate problems.” The idea is, if you anticipate what can possibly go wrong in any given situation and establish contingency plans, then if something does go wrong, you’re in pretty good shape.
It’s a theory, anyway.
Take for example last night Super Bowl in the Mercedes SuperDome in New Orleans. If you saw the game, you know about the lights going out for 35 minutes, delaying the game and generally causing havoc, particularly among the media that seemed at a total loss as to what to say or do beyond seriously belaboring the obvious, i.e. "Um, the lights are out and we don't know why. Please don't change the channel."
First thing that popped into my mind was, “Well, the Mercedes PR people are probably banging their head against the wall,” particularly with those nice shots of the giant overhead Mercedes logo juxtaposed with half the stadium lights gone black.
Now, of course, Mercedes has nothing to do with the operation of the stadium or the lights or anything else. They put up some big chunk of change to have the stadium named for their company and slapped a Mercedes logo on to it. So what’s the big deal?
A propaganda tool that many PR pros used is called “transference” – it’s the reason businesses fall over themselves to sponsor things like the NFL, Major League Baseball and the Olympics. These sports have cache, they are known for being the best, and so organizations want to align themselves with these groups, to get that positive energy to rub off on them. You see this concept in play every time you see a commercial that goes something like this: “The Olympics brings together the finest athletes from all over the world in a spirit of friendly competition. Olympians are simply the best. And that’s why Bank of Whatever is proud to be an Olympic sponsor, as we strive to bring the best service to our clients!”
So, just as such sponsorships are designed to garner your client lots of positive waves, incidents like last night’s “brownout” create negative images that you want to avoid.
“The lights go out in the Mercedes Superdome…I’m not surprised, my lights keep going out in my Mercedes coupe,” someone complains…on Twitter…or Facebook.
Then there’s the issue of the media. Here you have national CBS Sports carrying the game, 57 reporters on the sidelines, in the locker room, on the dias, in the stands, covering the game. Now, suddenly, you have 30 minutes to fill. What do you?
Evidently, very little. Mostly a lot of conjecture about why the lights went out and even more conjecture about how this unexpected delay might possibly impact the game.
And truth be told, not much conjecture about these issues, rather, finding multiple ways to express these issues…”The lights are out in half the stadium. May be awhile before they come back on. Fifty percent of the stadium lights are not functioning. We don’t know how long it will be til we have them back. The light in the Superdome has definitely diminished, but I’m sure we’ll see more light soon. It could be this delay may impact the game’s momentum. The Ravens may lose momentum due to this delay. Could the Ravens lose momentum? Could the 49ers gain momentum? We’ll have to see depending on this delay.”
Uh huh. With all the preparation for this game, one would think that CBS might have had a few interviews already “in the can” or some backup video about key players or SOMETHING to keep people involved other than saying, over and over, the lights are out and game momentum may shift.
That’s called preparation. That’s called anticipating problems and being ready. And you do this so you, your organization and the sport of which you are a part don’t come across as being incompetent, ill-prepared and generally out to lunch.
This is why PR people are always thinking about such things…what can go wrong, what can we say or do if something does go wrong? We do this because we are our clients’ ADVOCATES so we want to make sure the client doesn’t come across in any setting, particularly a national, if not GLOBAL, public setting, as incompetent, ill-prepared and generally out to lunch.
Of course, one cannot plan for EVERY contingency. Hard to pull out a pre-prepared statement if the 49ers suddenly decided that they just didn’t want to play any more and forfeited. Or if aliens invaded. Or if Ray Lewis actually did, as noted on SNL, dropped to his knees at the 50 yard line and “ascended into heaven.”
But that’s what we get paid for. When things go wrong, that’s when the PR guy or gal has to take the brunt of it. Just watch any Michael Moore movie if you don’t believe me.