New York is in a state of sports euphoria over Jeremy Lin, the Asian-American, Harvard grad hoops player for the NBA’s Knicks who has captivated fans—and non-fans—in a way the hasn’t happened in years. Since he lit up the New Jersey Nets for 25 points on Feb. 4, the Knicks have won seven straight games at the time of this writing, led by point guard Lin. On Valentine’s Day (or VaLINtine’s Day, sorry) Lin topped himself by scoring the winning bucket with 0.5 seconds left against the Toronto Raptors. For Knicks fans who have suffered so long, this is truly great, unexpected news.
And it’s also great news for the Knicks’ communications team over at Knicks owner Madison Square Garden Inc., which no doubt is working overtime to handle media requests while making the most of the Lin phenomenon.
This unexpected windfall is a far cry from five years ago, when then head coach Isiah Thomas and Madison Square Garden was slapped with a sexual harassment suit by a former team executive.
PLAN IN PLACE
But that bad news is a distant memory thanks to Lin’s ascent to basketball legend status. With football’s Tim Tebow blazing a similar trail this past season in the NFL, it got us thinking: How should largely unexpected, great news be handled by PR? Is it much like a crisis, but in reverse?
Certainly, having a plan in place whether the news is good or bad helps. “You must be prepared for the positive as well as the negative,” says Dave Reddy, senior VP and media director at Weber Shandwick in San Francisco. “Sales forecasts can be beaten, and companies can be bought.”
Great news does have some dangers, says Reddy. “A story that catches like wildfire and doesn’t do much to promote your brand can come back to bite you.” That’s why, says Reddy, the story must be real and its messages strong, and it must into your organization’s messages.
That’s exactly the perfect PR storm that Jockey International’s Mo Moorman found himself in when Tebow, Jockey’s underwear spokesman, caught fire as a player and personality during the last NFL season. Moorman, Jockey’s director of public relations, is a firm believer in having a plan in place before great news strikes.
“When opportunity knocks, and you’ve got a plan in place to deal with the unexpected, it’s a blessing,” says Moorman “When you have no such plan, it can cause real headaches.” Going from opportunity to action quickly is key. In some cases, says Moorman, you’re cramming what would normally be a month’s worth of planning into just a few days.
To take advantage of Tebow’s skyrocketing popularity, Jockey gathered the troops to develop a focused plan of attack. Moorman’s keys to moving from opportunity to action include:
1 . Identify the opportunity: Draft a communications project brief with desired outcomes and objectives.
2. Amass a small, nimble, action-oriented team: Discuss the opportunity and develop strategies and tactics to complete the action plan.
3. Include contingencies in your plan: Today’s opportunity could be gone, bigger or otherwise different tomorrow.
4. Provide clear job assignments and deadlines, but make one person the decision maker for the project.
5. Stay on track: Hold quick, regularly scheduled touch-base meetings.
Reddy agrees that having a team in place to handle all the hoopla is critical. “In a crisis, we don’t have the option of not paying attention to the problem,” he says. “With positive news you do have the choice, but you want to ride the wave. Part of that is making sure you have the resources to make that happen.”
AVOID OVERDOING IT
But can PR people make a bad situation out of great news? Ashley McCown of Boston-based agency Solomon McCown thinks so. “You have to be conscious of not exploiting a story,” she says.
With the Tebow story, Moorman and his team ran far with the hoopla, even after the Broncos were knocked out of the playoffs. “But you have to know when to let off the gas, too,” says Moorman. “Otherwise you’ll look desperate, and waste time and money trying to force a story that’s stale.”
And the bloom can come off the rose quickly. “If unflattering footage of Lin at a party goes public, he’s not the golden boy anymore,” says McCown. There’s that PR realism. PRN
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