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Bad PR Decisions Could Haunt Athletes As Well

Robert Chilver

The public relations business is all about putting your best foot forward. For both small and large companies, it can mean better brand recognition, more customers and more revenues.

While athletes don’t have customers in a traditional sense, a positive public persona can result in millions of dollars in product endorsements and advertisements. A good reputation can also mean more teams will be offering bigger contracts when a player is on the open market in free agency.

Peyton Manning is the best current example of a PR professional’s dream. He’s a kind, funny, charismatic superstar and it has led him to some big money off the field.  Have you ever tried to go a Sunday in the fall without seeing his face on a commercial? Not possible.

But unfortunately, as of late, many athletes have not followed this course. In fact, there are several recent examples of players basically destroying their reputation in many fans, and advertisers, minds. And I’m not just talking about the usual cast of characters getting busted for drinking or drug related charges. These are full-on superstars shooting themselves in the foot with bad PR.

Tiger Woods was the best example of a PR dream turned nightmare. He attempted some crisis management with a press conference and rehab stint, but millions have already been lost in advertisements. And lately, it appears he can’t even get his golf game back. Things might never be the same for him, but winning a few tournaments would certainly help people forget a little sooner.

This summer, basketball star Lebron James turned his back on Cleveland and angered just about everyone not living within the Miami city limits. It wasn’t that he chose to play in Miami, but how he did it. His hour-long special on ESPN couldn’t have gone over any worse. Perhaps he thought it would make for some good PR since commercial money went to the Boys and Girls Club. But in reality, the special seemed more about his ego than a charity. It was a slow, painful death for Cleveland fans, and perhaps Lebron’s status as the most popular player in basketball. Fans, and advertisement dollars, will still come in because of his talent, but Lebron has to wonder how big of a brand he could have built in a larger market like New York or Chicago.

Finally, this week the saga of Brett Favre and ever-changing mind has continued. Favre has already alienated the place he was once a hero with a messy divorce from Green Bay. But now, seemingly every off-season he wavers on retirement, angering football fans across the nation. Look, if you just don’t want to go to training camp and play in preseason games, just say it Brett. But people don’t like being toyed with. In this case of PR gone bad, honesty is the best policy. People will at least respect an announcement of your true feelings, even if they’re a bit egotistical.

So what can your company take from these athletic follies? Just remember that every decision has an effect on your reputation. No matter how big you get, one mistake can always send you tumbling back down (cough…B.P.). As these athletes have learned, the bigger they are, they harder they fall.