Recovering from a PR nightmare – The 2013 Boston Red Sox

By Matter

In today’s culture of 24-hour Twitter news cycles, a string of bad PR moves can completely alter the public’s perception of an established brand or organization.

My beloved Boston Red Sox know this all too well, and the bad PR the team has dealt with since September of 2011 is cringe-worthy and well documented. But, after heading to Fenway for a game this weekend, I’ve been amazed at how quickly the team has managed to pull a 180 and completely repair its image and tarnished relationship with its fan base.

The team’s epic collapse two years ago was punctuated by a Boston Globe article outing overpaid, tubby pitchers for eating fried chicken and drinking bud lights during games. What followed was a disastrous 2012 season where sloppy, negative headline inducing interviews became commonplace. It seemed as though Sox players and manager Bobby Valentine (a walking PR disaster if there ever was one) never thought before they spoke while the team’s once stellar public reputation was in free fall. People went from shocked, to angry, to something far worse – they stopped caring all together.

It was going to take more than winning baseball games to win back the hearts and wallets of a skeptical fan base. It was clear that the organization was in desperate need of a revamped PR strategy, and in a matter of months they publicly recognized the problem, switched the narrative, and made a series of great personnel moves.

The team’s front office hired John Farrell, a far cry from his predecessor, as manager and de-facto chief Sox spokesman. Farrell is well spoken and steady handed with the media, portraying a sense of authoritative calm the organization had lacked in the past.  

The players followed their new manager’s example, and have undoubtedly gone through media training. They now come across as humble and self reflective in interviews while staying on topic and virtually always saying the right things. Basically, a group of twenty-five millionaires have completely bought into the new PR messaging.  And it’s working.

The Red Sox’s new sense of public awareness couldn’t have been more evident than after the horrible bombings of Marathon Monday.  While the repaired image of a billion dollar brand seems trivial after the events of April 15th, the genuine outpouring of support from the team – through social media engagement, fundraising, hospital visits, and impassioned, expletive filled speeches – gave New Englanders something positive to think about during an incredibly dark couple of weeks.

And the results so far? Good PR and winning baseball have come hand in hand. The Sox are in first place, TV ratings are way up, and players no longer have to worry about being slammed in the Boston media every morning.  Through a string of calculated PR decisions, combined with an improved product, the once down-and-out brand has completely redeemed itself in the eyes of their target audience.