Ok, I know I said I was planning to address the concept of ‘you can never lie, but you don’t always have to tell the truth’ today. And I promise, that will come, but I’ve been inspired by a recent issue associated with my favorite NFL franchise – the Washington Redskins.
If you live in the DC area you’ve been bombarded with what has been the issue du jour (aside from national stuff like sequestration, immigration, etc.) – which is ‘what to do about the Redskins name.’ It’s always been an issue for a certain group of folks, and those folks are getting louder, (although, I’m not sure if they’re getting bigger) mainly because the Redskins had a premiere rookie and franchise player and are in the national picture again. I won’t directly say what I favor, but I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Regardless, I aim to be as objective as possible and talk strictly about a little PR campaign the franchise has initiated.
‘Maybe we could keep the brand and just call them the WhiteFeathers!’
The campaign was noticed shortly before Valentine’s Day by the newspapers that have made the most noise about the name issue (New York Times and Washington Post). The Redskins it appears, are making an appeal to their fan base by writing articles illustrating the name’s history and value and in some cases, how it really isn’t racist in sentiment.
When I first read the articles the team posted I was confused. These articles were really just little vignettes, stories from around the country where the name ‘Redskins’ was still used for high school or other teams. People interviewed told why they thought the name was ok, or moreover, a symbol of pride and tradition in their community. I didn’t get it. The only place these were being published, or ever would be published, are on the Redskins team site – and, instead of being praised and written about in a good light, they were simply poked and prodded by the hawks watching the team and trying to make the team squirm about a name change.
But then it occurred to me. This might be PR genius. This franchise doesn’t need to change its name. And it never will – so long as they keep the most important people happy: its primary public, the fans. You see, this is a lesson in latent versus activist publics – or, to use the academy’s term: ‘The Situational Theory of Publics’. The only people yelling about the issue are ones who care about the name – or the activists. And they’re getting louder and louder. Now, I’m not sure what their population consists of, it could be most of the people in the DC area, and it could be most Redskins fans. But, I doubt it. I suspect that most fans, the people who pay for team gear, tickets, and other merchandise, are in fact in support of the name or simply ‘okay’ with it. Maybe they’re even unaware of the issue (I know I barely knew it was considered one for a while). Therefore the group of activists, if I were a betting man, are people who either a) don’t like the team and never will, or b) don’t care either way about the team, but have a specific gripe with the name – used in any case.
The Redskins aren’t stupid, well, Dan Snyder (the owner) isn’t stupid. He’s sitting on 3rd most valuable NFL team, a team that has also been consistently ranked as one of the most valuable franchises in the world – alongside the likes of the Dallas Cowboys, Manchester United and the New York Yankees. And, as any football fan knows, the Redskins didn’t get there by being winners, they got there through extremely good brand management (and a few other things).
‘I wonder what’s for dinner. Maybe some Hog stew…’
So this brings me back to the why. Why did the Redskins put out a series of stories, that were going to get blasted in the news media, that really only live on their website? Simple – inoculation. The ‘Skins are putting a body of information out there now – content if you will, to inoculate their primary public – their fans – before they become an activist public and turn on them.
Sure, it’s really hitting the handful of people are who reading the site regularly (which I doubt is really all that many) but they’re making their case, first to the diehards who pay attention, a public that is solidly in their camp, and next to the rest, those who love the team but have yet to be swayed by any particular audience or argument. The Redskins, my friends, are trying to ensure that their fans have an entire source of information that appears to be other opinions, validating the use of the name as A-OK. And, what’s more, they used the main stream media, those most against the name, to market their stories for them – if you’re a fan and you read a story about their efforts and follow a link that the Washington Post of NY Times to nicely put there you are now looking at a website full of the team you love, reading their story, seeing their brand. As I said…it’s genius.
“Ja, it’s so simple!”
Now, do I support this? Well, I won’t lie, the method is intriguing, and frankly, has use in the PR space – so whether you like the strategy or not, it has value. Is it ethical? Well…I’m sure that depends on who you ask.
The point of this blog is to make observations, and, if possible relate them to real life. So I challenge you, are you in an organization that has a loud activist public that is trying to turn the majority of your supporters against you? Trying to make an issue of something the majority doesn’t see as an issue? What can you do to inoculate them? To get your story out there and publicized? Maybe a series of self-published vignettes, maybe a straight PR campaign aiming at the news media and bloggers that might be your advocate? If you’re doing PR you need to think ahead in the information battle space and ensure your side gets heard – using every avenue available.
But, I will forewarn you – before you jump all in – ask yourself this: Are you in the right? Are the Redskins in the right? Make sure you are because if you’re not…history will judge you.
Till next time…