You don’t have to be a football fan, or indeed a PR specialist, to know that the Luis Suarez race row has been an unmitigated public relations disaster for Liverpool FC.
By the time the Uruguayan apologised for refusing to shake Patrice Evra’s hand before Liverpool’s recent Premier League clash with Manchester United, the damage had already been done.
Last week Liverpool’s £20m-a-year shirt sponsor, Standard Chartered, reportedly expressed concern over the affair. The club’s American owners, Fenway Sports Group, can’t have been pleased to see the story covered in the New York Times.
According to the Daily Mail website, Liverpool have now been accused by equality campaigners of ‘critically undermining’ the fight against racism in football.
Whatever your thoughts on the ins and outs of the saga, the club’s image has undoubtedly been tarnished. So, what lessons can be learnt from a PR / crisis communications perspective? We’ve listed a few below.
1) Know when to come clean and say sorry – apologies must be made quickly and sincerely. The word ‘sorry’ counts for nothing if accompanied by the impression it has been forced
2) Realise the difference between loyalty to your player / organisation and blinkered pig-headedness – if an employee or company representative does something to damage your organisation’s reputation, it is acceptable and sometimes advisable to criticise them openly for the sake of the greater good
3) Gauge public opinion and react accordingly – don’t feel duty bound to your original position if it no longer holds true and if changing your message would be beneficial
4) Be pro-active and lead the debate – in a crisis situation there is nothing worse than constantly being on the back foot and responding to accusations
Use social media – the Twittersphere was alive with condemnation of Suarez seconds after ‘the handshake that never was’ – in 2012 every organisation must be prepared for the possibility of a negative digital onslaught and be ready to respond accordingly