Two weeks ago, the Seattle Seahawks’ Richard Sherman dominated news coverage following his “rant heard ‘round the world” to Fox Sports’ Erin Andrews after his team won the NFC Football Championship over the San Francisco 49ers. His team was headed to the Super Bowl, but the focus was on Sherman, and for all the wrong reasons – he was cast in the public light as an ungracious, unhinged villain.
Sherman’s next move, though, makes for a fascinating little public relations case study. As we often tell clients, initial bad publicity doesn’t have to define you forever. It’s possible to overcome a bad first impression. But you’ve got to realize your mistake and respond with the right messaging and with persistence.
That’s what Sherman did. Yes, some media members defended his actions during his 18-second tirade as not being truly representative of this highly intelligent, Stanford University-educated star. But it took more than that to turn the public tide in his favor – it took Richard Sherman himself addressing it head on.
Very little time passed before Sherman held a press conference, and that’s when the public saw him as much more than an angry, ranting braggart. He was engaging and even funny. He immediately addressed his rant, expressed regret over it and gave his teammates their full credit. He showed his stand-up nature, and in just a few days time his likability increased substantially.
In short, Sherman made the right choice, PR-wise. It seems fairly simple, but not everyone chooses the path Sherman chose. Some refuse to admit a mistake and instead choose to “double down.”
Case in point – April 6, 1987. Los Angeles Dodgers General Manager Al Campanis appeared on “Nightline” with Ted Koppel to commemorate the 40th Robinson breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier. It should have been an easy interview – Campanis even played minor league baseball with Robinson, and it was the Dodgers who brought him to the big leagues in the first place.
It was a disaster. Campanis messed up, big time, on live TV when he remarked that black people lacked the “necessities” to be baseball executives. Oy.
Still, an alarmed Koppel gave Campanis several chances to dig himself out and walk those comments back. But Campanis held his ground and made it much, much worse for himself. The fallout? Campanis was fired from his longtime job within days and never worked in baseball again. The interview hung over him until he died in 1998.
Those are just two examples, 27 years apart. But they speak volumes to how individuals respond to crises caused by their own words. One person toned it down and repositioned himself. One person dug in and kept digging until he was so far down no one could help
Doubling down is not usually a good public relations strategy, not when the odds are stacked against you. Sometimes the best move is to quickly get new cards and play them differently. Al Campanis never understood that. Richard Sherman did.
Dan Tapper is with Sullivan & LeShane Public Relations, Inc.