Reputation Rehab: Coming Out Ahead After a Tough Time


No one wants to face a public relations nightmare. But when controversy threatens to damage your image, you should seize the opportunity to make strategic changes and put forth some positive messaging. All eyes are on you: what do you want people to take away?

With the settlement of the National Hockey League strike, both the NHL and the National Hockey League Players’ Association can try to influence how the public feels about it all.

There are parallels with the NBA lockout of 2011, when part of the season was sacrificed and the missed games cut into ticket revenues. But apparently the public didn’t lose its appetite for basketball: TV ratings hit record levels in the playoffs.

One way to respond to a less than desirable PR situation can be to introduce new leadership. Using Scandal to Drive Change, from the Harvard Business Review, suggests that examining the organizational structure can improve the way a company ultimately performs. As the article mentions, the Siemens bribery scandal was a catalyst for bringing in an outside executive to help lead change and demonstrate the strength of the company’s culture. The takeaway here is that it’s extremely important to have employees in the jobs that are right for them. The execution of strategy must be strong, and the organization must be able to adapt as the environment changes around it.

If you need to use a crisis to make a public statement, the timing and control of the message are crucial. The string of newspapers catching fabricators continued recently with an incident with the Cape Cod Times. PR Daily called the paper’s response to a longtime reporter who turned out to be a “serial fabricator” quick, complete, and honest.

According to Wharton faculty and branding consultants, “managers who acknowledge they have problems and launch communication programs to repair their tarnished reputations stand the best chance of rehabilitating a tainted brand or corporate image.” The exact way an organization handles a crisis will vary, but the organization must have control of their messaging.

So how is the NHL doing? At first glance, it appears the owners come out as winners in the agreement ending the lockout, but the longer term effect on the fans has yet to be revealed. And for the NHL brand, fan support is vital. It is possible that the fans will come back to the game as they did with the NBA, but fans may hold a grudge for the extended lockout and missed games. The NHL must take a look at its leadership, decide how it should adapt to the new climate, and take control of its message.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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