Following on from a previous Clareville blog about how to handle a negative PR, Maria Sharapova’s drugs scandal has given crisis PRs everywhere a masterclass in how not to ‘double fault’ when it comes to dealing with a client scandal.
Tuesday morning’s headlines were dominated with ‘Sharadopa’ puns announcing the shocking news that the tennis world’s golden girl was in fact a drugs cheat. However the headlines were misleading and once you got down to the actual content of the article it appeared that is was more of a grey area than her being a black and white drugs cheat. Now how is it that the facts were reported on immediately rather than two weeks down the line after sensationalist and salacious reporting? Well, thanks to her savvy crisis PR team (massive kudos to whoever they are) by getting their client to announce it herself, they took control of the crisis (number one rule in damage limitation PR) and didn’t let the issue control them, meaning that the true facts rather than rumours were being reported. Drug cheat scandals can linger about in the press for weeks and weeks as more facts appear, if not handled correctly, and the Sharapova crisis team have prevented that, to the extent that three days in, the press are already slightly bored by the story, presumably as it is lacking in scandalous bite.
The strategy of honesty scored Sharapova another point as her racket sponsor Head stands firmly behind her by renewing her contract as credit to her coming clean – there may be grumblings from other tennis players about this, but what it shows is that Sharapova’s conduct in this has been nothing but ace.
Crudely compare this if you will, to other ways drug cheat scandals have been badly handled by representatives allowing high profile individuals to still be press shamed to this day. At the end of the day the crux of crisis communications is that, the damage has happened, so the only solution is to accept that and contain it in the ‘cleanest’ way possible.
So what can crisis PR’s learn from this masterclass? We believe it can be summed up in three points:
· Don’t wait for someone else to break the story, break it yourself, preferably in a classy way ie a press conference wearing something appropriate (it can’t hurt)
· Come out with the truth behind the scandal immediately, if you don’t someone else will and as with everything it sounds better coming from you
· Be apologetic and contrite – don’t give the press an excuse to print negative headlines, no one wants to read ‘Sharapova is really sorry for what she did’
We want to see more examples of clean crisis communications that Ace the situation rather than end with their clients losing the game to Love.