Crisis Communications – Sharapova’s Drug Crisis

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Sharapova Crisis CommunicationI seem to be on a path right now to write about crisis communications (I must be part of some multi-platform database from Facebook and Twitter to show me articles I would be interested in – which include public relations and crisis communications) because just a few weeks ago I wrote about Uber’s crisis communications plan and just last week I wrote about Whole Foods (Crisis communications - responding vs reacting) being under fire for selling whole pre-peeled oranges in plastic containers and its response to the crisis.

Today, I am writing in response to PRWeek’s article “Why the 'Sharapova response' will go down as a crisis communications blueprint” (again Facebook stalking me since I was just at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells this past weekend). The article, written by Miguel Piedra, does make a few good points about crisis communications in general: “Crisis communication strategies are a lot like natural selection: the survivors adjust, inch-by-inch, year-by-year, adapting to the changing environment.” And “denials, no-comments, and refutations have become standard responses, and the public in turn has become jaded.

But, as I mentioned in my earlier blogs, here at HMA Public Relations, a Phoenix-based PR firm, we have worked with many clients with many different crisis situations including the illegal sale of religious objections in foreign countries, labor issues, slip and falls, suicide and even homicide.

So this is where my agreement with Piedra has to differ.  Piedra stated that: “The tennis star's forthrightness is a case study in proper reputation management. It's a stunningly bold and mature handling of the crisis, especially considering her youth.”

Sharapova is 28 (almost 29) years old, she is not that “young” and I believe she also knew exactly what she was doing. But, if indeed she didn’t know that she was taking an illegal substance, someone on her team knew, and that was their responsibility, which is why she has a team in the first place.

Sharapova also stated during her news conference: ''If I was going to announce my retirement, it wouldn't be in a downtown Los Angeles hotel with this fairly ugly carpet.” Which in no way says to me that this was a mature handling of the situation. In fact, it states the opposite, it shows that she is not mature and is very selfish, and while she is claiming she is taking responsibility, I don’t think she is honest in saying that that. In a crisis situation, the response needs to be honest and sincere , both of which were not the case.  In addition, as a result of Sharapova failing her drug test, she has lost sponsorships with Nike, Tag Heuer and Porsche. In an ideal situation, if Sharapova’s response was indeed a “blueprint” for future crisis situations, she would not have lost her sponsorships so quickly.

In conclusion, being fast and claiming responsibility doesn’t make it a “blueprint” for a crisis response, there are many different components, and most of all the response needs to be honest and sincere.

What do you think about Sharapova’s response to failing a drug test?

Rachel Brockway
Rachel Brockway
A former HMA Public Relations employee.

1 Comment

  1. Alison Bailin says:

    Posts like this make me feel like so much more of a Millennial than you.

    First, I also think it is worth noting you are NOT a fan of the player, and perhaps that clouds anything she says…I happen to like her as a respite from the Williams sisters 24/7. The more good players in a sport – and the more colorful characters – the more popular the sport. Tennis – especially with its dearth of male stars emerging – really needs their women right now.

    Second, the drug she took for chronic low magnesium was ONLY BANNED January 1, 2016 – meaning less than three months ago. She has been taking it 10 years. Yet, we didn’t hear a peep about her whining about that fact – instead she “womaned” up and took her licks.

    Third, it should be noted that Maria is Russian. In Russia, it is a completely approved and legal drug for medical use. More than a dozen Russian athletes have tested positive for it in recent months since the above change. She is far from alone in this issue.

    Fourth, I do agree about ever using the term “blueprint for a crisis situation” because crisis are like snowflakes…all unique, in all shapes and sizes, in varying levels of danger and all requiring very different proactive planning.

    Fifth, sure she was probably taking it as a PED before it was banned. I am all for unbanning substances for athletes – it can save some of their lives, depending on the item. Obviously, not all items, but certainly many of them can help all athletes. Rules are often decades behind science – much like laws are often decades behind technology.

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