Saving Face

By Matter

What do Facebook and the NFL have in common?











Well, plenty of course – millions of fans/users/customers around the world; deeper engagement with these individuals than arguably any other global brand could ever hope for and, certainly greater awareness, too. Now, as communicators and marketers, we know all too well – not all press, buzz and awareness is positive. Particularly this morning if your name is Mark Zuckerberg or Roger Goodell.

Who could have imagined this predicament a year ago? Would any sane person have suggested that Facebook or the NFL were in trouble and/or in need of some serious crisis communication support? Think of all the hurdles, bumps and bruises they have both overcome in the past several years. Facebook’s crises around privacy and the NFL’s “Spy Gate”, player arrests du jour and even “Bounty Gate” seem to pale in comparison to today’s troubles.

Some will point to the numbers and dismiss concerns – “Yeah, so Facebook’s stock is getting beaten down daily like the proverbial rented mule. Who cares? They’ve got over a billion users. I still love it and am on it all day, every day.”

“The NFL’s TV ratings are through the roof – who cares about the replacement refs? The game goes on! Everyone is still tuning in, going to the games, playing in Fantasy Leagues or betting on games.”

Make no mistake about it: these brands are under assault. Both must take swift, bold and public action. Not next month, next week or tomorrow. Yesterday. Because yesterday was brutal: Facebook’s stock dropped another 9 percent and the “Clueless in Seattle” call against the Packers late last night was the worst blown call since Ben Dreith screwed the Patriots in 1976.
Both have people in positions of extreme authority who are not fit to do their jobs. They need to acknowledge this for the sake of both their own credibility and their sustainability. This is not to suggest that either is going to fold up shop, but this is not about surviving. It is about getting back to the top of their respective games. For the long haul.

For Facebook, Mr. Zuckerberg needs to take a page out of the playbook of the company he hates, admires, emulates, watches suspiciously and wants to crush. That would be Google and like Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Zuck needs to realize he is not a CEO and like Brin and Page he needs to bring in a seasoned CEO. He and his board and fellow execs should make him Chief Strategy Officer or Head of Products or both and get real CEO. Someone who has sat in the seat before. Reid Hoffman might be ready for a new gig.

As for Goodell, he’s a helluva Commissioner, but he answers to the almighty team owners, whom I fault in “Referee-gate.” Most of the teams and the league are printing money – stop pinching pennies and restore order.

Here’s a five-point crisis communication plan for what Roger needs to do:

1. Admit he was they (the owners and the League) were wrong. They vastly underestimated the impact of the replacement refs.
2. Communicate your strategy for fixing what ails your great league.
3. Replace the replacement refs. Tell them “thanks guys, you did the best you could under the circumstances.”
4. Bring in college officials from the Southeastern Conference (SEC), which is essentially the NFL’s version of AAA baseball anyway. OR, pony up the cash and give real refs not the pension plan they are requesting but more money per game to make up the difference.
5. Hold the refs completely accountable to restore the integrity of the game.