I grew up in South Florida and cheer for the Miami Marlins. I haven’t met another Marlins fan here in Arizona. Friends mock the Marlins’ low attendance in the past. I clarify we fans are an exclusive club and only allow in a certain number of people.
The Marlins this baseball season started by pitching lights out in terms of publicity. The team constructed a new stadium, hired new players, changed its name and brought aboard a World Series-winning manager named Ozzie Guillen. Ozzie then made remarks about Fidel Castro leading to demonstrations, his apology and a five-game suspension.
When I conduct media training and the client’s concern is crisis communications, I often infer people at the table are maneuvering on how to contain a brewing fire in the short term. Perhaps a certain event is approaching and the client hopes to endure mostly intact. Perhaps the idea is “If we can only get through these few weeks, the hoopla will blow over.”
When Ozzie returned from his suspension, his Fish swept the Cubs and reports indicated no big protests outside the stadium. But I sense from afar Ozzie and the Marlins are only a strike away from losing further on this controversy. Some fans will never forgive Ozzie. What if ownership sees a steady drop in turnout and revenue? What if sponsors walk off the field?
Ozzie and the Marlins, to steal another baseball cliché, must stay ahead of the pitch. They simply can’t assume they got out of a jam because furious voices calmed down and the sports media discovered new headlines somewhere else. The team must go the distance with this crisis communications and play a long-term game plan. Ozzie must stay humble and remorseful. He must continue to reach out to the community he deeply offended. He should outdo anticipations and continue to make efforts to make this right even when journalists are not calling and protestors are not calling for his job. This is the wrong time to play by the old PR rules, which are say nothing unless asked or forced to.
Crisis communications is not simply taking action when your team is losing in the bottom of the ninth. Crisis communications also is about building a solid, well-conditioned lineup that prevents future jams from repeating themselves.