Krafting A Crisis Communications Response

By Matter

How would you like to be Stacey James these days?

For the uninitiated, James is the Vice President of Media Relations for the New England Patriots, a position he’s held for twenty years.  He’s been here through the really bad times, through three Super Bowls wins and two heartbreaking losses, through the very public and very messy Bill Parcells-Robert Kraft divorce, through Spygate and more.  He’d arguably seen it all, until June 26.  Up until that day, James’ biggest challenge was serving as the middle man between one of the most voracious press corps in the world and the smartest, most uncommunicative coach who ever walked God’s Green Earth in Bill Belichick.

James likely has not had many a good night’s sleep recently and Sunday was probably no different. That’s because on Monday, Patriot owner Robert Kraft broke the team’s two-week long silence to address the Boston media following the unfortunate death of Odin Lloyd, allegedly at the hands of Mr. Kraft’s former employee, Aaron Hernandez.

In dissecting his eagerly anticipated – and many would say– long overdue media statement, I initially wanted to find fault with Mr. Kraft’s and the organization’s approach. Crisis Communications 101 tells us to move swiftly and decisively when revealing bad news or talking to the press.  James and the team’s legal counsel surely spent hours debating the pros and cons of addressing the media and then preparing for yesterday’s pow-wow with reporters from the Boston Globe, Boston Herald and ESPN Boston.

I am not naïve enough to buy into “The Patriot Way” – it has become a shattered myth – thank you Alfonzo Dennard, Aquib Talib and now Hernandez. But I have to give a fair amount credit to Kraft and the Patriots for:

A) Facing the music when they had no real obligation to comment publicly at this time. Even the lawyers told Kraft not to do it.

B) Doing so face to face, not hiding behind another scripted statement or teleconference from his European vacation. And at least with the Herald’s Ron Borges, having the stones to meet with one of their harshest critics.

C) Admitting that his organization had failed. Failed when it drafted Hernandez in the fourth round out of Florida when many teams took him off their daft boards. Failed when they signed him to a multi-million contract extension last year. And, failed when they did insufficient due diligence on the player before making him a Patriot.

Did Kraft come completely clean? Doubtful. Did he hold back at the advice of legal counsel? Likely. Will we ever know the full story?  Unknown.

But the point of this post is that Robert Kraft took his medicine yesterday. He could have taken the easy way out and issued a statement scripted by James and the lawyers during a time when there were several other stories grabbing headlines in Boston – the Bruins epic and heartbreaking Stanley Cup Finals loss and post-season trades; the Celtics house-cleaning and Doc Rivers’ LA Confidential story, the Red Sox terrific start, not to mention the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev court appearance build-up, the Markey-Gomez special election, the Whitey Bulger trial and the Hub’s spectacular Fourth of July holiday festivities.

Kraft knows public relations and crisis communications. He proved it again yesterday. He knows PR much better than he knows Xs and Os and much better than he apparently knows his own employees.