We have seen it again in college athletics, where respect for emotionally-connected audiences has proven to be paramount. The Athletic Director at the University of Texas, one of the biggest and most visible college sports operations in the country, Stave Patterson, was fired by the school’s President after a two-year series of PR mistakes reportedly led to anger, in particular, among influential donors.
Here’s how the Associated Press reports it: “One of his first missteps was an awkward public push to have the city of Austin help finance a new basketball arena after having not ‘invested a nickel’ in the current Erwin Center over the previous 30 years. Those comments caught city officials off guard and forced the school to backtrack.”
Other issues with Patterson included:
-One report says he “alienated” audiences “with his management style and failure to communicate.”
-Firing a Sports Information Director known to have exemplary media relationships
-Raising football ticket prices after a losing season, including charging for parking.
As the local newspaper in Austin reports, it got so bad for the former pro sports executive, “Eventually, public perception so turned against Patterson, he was getting blamed for things he didn’t even do. An Internet-based report indicated Patterson was charging Texas Tech band members for tickets to the game. Two days later — eons in the social media world — UT officials released a statement saying that wasn’t true.”
This is another example of why executives who fail to include PR-influeced thinking in making decisions can be doomed. While change may be needed (in this case, the Athletic Department incurred a financial loss for the first time in more than a decade), change is made easier through careful communication. When PR is involved on the front end of situations to prevent messes, not just asked to clean up after messes are made, that’s good for all.
For organizations that still receive media coverage in the age of consolidation and cutbacks, particularly where customers are fans, the margin of error for missteps has never been lower.