“What is…” Wednesday – What do stars do in varying times of crisis? Part I

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Last week, we cross-posted some great tips from marketing veteran Kevin Sullivan on how to deal with media during times of crisis.

As a follow-up, we will spend this and next “What is…” Wednesday having a little fun with how stars handle the media during times of crisis at varying levels.

Let’s look at two recent cases and determine who had the best media training, used key talking points, bridged and moved on, shall we? And then next Wednesday, we will review a couple more…

Cincinnati/Xavier Baskebrawl

During a particularly emotional, double-overtime college basketball team, things went too far.

Kids were punching – and kicking – other kids.

It was an embarrassment all the way around.

The Response

At first, the response was pitch-perfect as the coaches spoke to the media and promised a swift, stern punishment to everyone involved.

But then, XAVIER LET THE KIDS SPEAK TO THE MEDIA. Sure, it is an NCAA rule, but there is NO WAY I would allow emotional students who were just unbelievably violent toward one another speak to the national media! Cincinnati did not make the same mistake.

Here is what the dumbest one said.

Really?! Really?! Really?!

Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz

There was a lot on the line for both Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz recently when their two  teams met for an epic regular season match.

For Harbaugh, after leaving Andrew Luck and Stanford to coach the pathetic 49ers this year, he had brought the once-proud (Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Steve Young ring any bells?) franchise back from the depths of despair and was almost assuredly going to get them to the play-offs.

For Schwartz, he managed to bring the embarrassing Lions, who have not been relevant for one second since Barry Sanders left in 1999, back into the nation’s focus with a string of impressive wins.

The build-up was huge. The game was national.

And when the 49ers took home the win, the “hug and slap heard ‘round the world” happened and tore the game stats from front page news.

Click here to see what I mean.

The Response

First, from Schwartz:

“It’s a regrettable situation, particularly the fact that it detracted from what happened in the game," Schwartz told the Detroit News. "It is unfortunate that the end of the game overshadowed that fact that it was probably one of the best football games of the day yesterday between two teams that are 5-1 in the NFC and are both young and improving teams."

“I saw him in the tunnel and spoke to him,” Schwartz said. “Everything had died down and we said that we'll talk again soon.”

Not bad – basic talking points that he obviously stuck to.

Now, from Harbaugh:

After making a flippant comment about it right after the alteracation, he did what all media really hates – “no comment,” more or less.

I don’t really have any comment on it,” Harbaugh said on KNBR when asked about whether a post-game handshake is needed, via SportsRadioInterviews.com.  “One coach is extremely elated and the other is disappointed.  I really don’t want to have a comment on it. . . .  Is it necessary? I don’t have a comment on it.”

To their credit, the hosts tried again, asking whether Harbaugh spoke to his father, a former college football coach, about the issue.

“I talk to him all the time,” Harbaugh said.  “And I know you want to talk about it, want to keep dwelling on it, you want to rehash it, you want to ask new questions in different ways and want to keep the topic going, but I really prefer not to. . . .  What Sunday was all about was our team coming together in a heated environment. . . .  I prefer to talk about that, to talk about the men who competed in the ballgame.”

Fast-forward to today – the 49ers just lost to Arizona over the weekend, while the Lions took hom a win against the Vikings but are dealing with on-going PR issues surrounding their “dirty player” Ndamukong Suh.

This just reminds me why I don’t work in sports PR – plus it all happens on the weekend. I prefer to be watching the games rather than writing crisis communication talking points on my Sunday, but more power to the strong-willed PR peeps who work 24/7 on behalf of their teams.

What do you think?

Alison Bailin
Alison Bailin
Senior Account Executive Alison has a lot to say…about pretty much everything...all the time. From the current state of public relations to the social media impact on Shark Week to crisis communications in the sports world, Alison’s blogs are focused on “amusing through her PR musings,” and then some. Check out Alison's full bio


  1. On top of that, I’d bet the coaches, at least, have been media trained. As for letting those kids talk… About as smart as letting Jerry Sandusky talk to Bob Costas.

  2. Update – Xavier coach spoke to ESPN Radio late last night, mostly about his poor decision to let his players talk to media. He owned up and bridged to his key messages when he could. Very impressive – but still not out of the PR mess, yet.

  3. Stephanie Lough says:

    “There’s a whole bunch of ganstas in the locker room”

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