It's time for the crisis folks at the NBA to earn their keep.
Let's consider the nightmare that unfolded last Tuesday:
A referee tells the world that some of his colleagues bet on playoff games and tampered with outcomes. What do you do? If you're NBA commissioner David Stern, you attempt to run out the clock by hoping the finals will overwhelm the bad news.
Who is advising this man?
We liked an analysis we saw in the Sacramento Bee on Friday.
John Segale, head of Precision Public Relations, told the newspaper that Stern did the right thing by denying Tim Donaghy's allegations personally before the press. But the commissioner didn't go far enough.
“He’s attacking (Donaghy), but he’s not providing any solutions,” Segale said. Worse yet, he's resorted to the bush league tactic of attacking the media, which is almost always a sure sign of desperation.
"He's blaming sports talk radio, the bloggers, sports writers and the general media who may not understand the nuances of pro sports," says Segale. "And he's failed to understand or chosen to ignore the power of the Web to keep the story alive."
Finally, Stern's apparent strategy of hoping the crisis will be overshadowed by the finals is simply not working.
"Every time that whistle is blown, every time a replayed foul is shown, people are going to wonder about these accusations," says Segale. "So what was a dream championship matchup a week ago is becoming a microscope for all that's good and all that's bad about the league.
"A week ago people were focused on the teams' performances. Now we're looking at the professionalism of the refs and their impact on the game."
Do something now. Example: Announce the creation of a commission to regulate the refs. Or, he could announce that owners will soon meet to discuss ways to raise standards even higher.
Stop baiting the press. When you put yourself above the media, reporters become even more determined to bring you down.
Says Segale: "You've got to be careful in how you relate to the media because you may invite far more scrutiny than you deserve. If you insist that you're above reproach, the media will test the claim."
'...the media will test the claim."
Never a truer phrase has been uttered about crisis PR. There are probably a million examples of this truth, but my favorite comes from the world of politics. Remember former Colorado Senator Gary Hart?
In 1987, Hart ran for President again and was leading in most polls when, at a press conference, a reporter asked about allegations of marital infidelity, which had been whispered for months.
Hart replied: "Follow me around, I don't care. I'm serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They'd be very bored".
A few weeks later, The Miami Herald put a tail on Hart and it introduced the world to a woman by the name of Donna Rice. End of campaign.
So yes...fight the allegations but never, ever invite further inquiry.