Meet Wesley Mallette. Comment Communications
It is important we hear from different voices in our industry. For that reason, I accepted a pitch from Katrina at Comment Communications and after speaking with her, agreed to feature Wesley Mallette in our 10 Questions series…..
Wesley Mallette is Co-Founder and CEO of Comment Communications (formerly known as Elevation Sports & Entertainment) and President of Comment’s Sports Division. A founding partner of the rising boutique firm, the former Division I football player and decathlete translates experience and passion into proven results for the firm’s client.
Based on what we see almost daily, it would be easy to believe all athletes are troublemakers. That’s simply not true. What’s important to recognize is that for every athlete we see front and center on ESPN who has found himself in the midst of some turbulent or controversial situation, there are many more who are doing the right thing. Unfortunately, because athletes live under such a microscope, when things do go awry, the whole world knows about it instantly.
2. How can an athlete or an organization actually “prepare” for a crisis when a crisis is usually something that is unforeseen?
Living a life of honesty and integrity is the best way to minimize your chances of finding yourself embroiled in crisis, however, no one is immune. Athletes should always keep their team of PR strategists and legal counsel in the loop at all times regarding what is going on in their world. Having no surprises means you’re never caught off guard.
The best way for any athlete or organization to actually “prepare” for a crisis is to have an action plan in place from day one. While you may not be able to anticipate the specific crisis or the tactics that will need to be executed, you can clearly define what the procedures and protocol will be — the lines of communication, designated spokespeople, media policy, etc. Then, if and when a crisis occurs, the plan is executed immediately and the situation is handled in a controlled manner. The athlete huddles immediately with his or her team of advisors (i.e., legal counsel, crisis/strategic PR team, agent, manager, team execs or reps, sponsors, etc.), and determines the appropriate course of action and media strategy.
3. From your perspective as a PR professional, how has social media changed the media landscape and does it help or hurt an athlete, especially in a crisis?
The advent of social media has changed the media landscape on so many levels and it can both help and hurt an athlete in a crisis. In the age of social media, communication is instant and can go viral in a matter of minutes. Anyone with a cell phone, camera or voice recording device; can snap a picture or record video of an athlete behaving badly, then upload to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, UStream, etc., and the next thing you know, whatever then were doing is now out there for the world to see — and unfortunately, judge — positively or negatively. Conversely, if there a rumor or a mistruth floating out there about an athlete, the athlete and his team can quickly correct it by being able to reach the fans directly and authentically, setting the record straight through social media.
To make social media work for them, athletes must clearly understand the benefits and pitfalls of social media. Saying the wrong thing on their Facebook page, being tagged in the wrong pictures, Tweeting something inappropriate or offensive will spark controversy and can be extremely costly. It cost the NFL’s Larry Johnson his job in Kansas City after a series of inappropriate tweets.
In a crisis situation, social media should be a key component of the overall crisis communications plan because it provides an authentic way to connect with fans and media on the athlete’s terms, BUT it must be combined with a traditional media approach. Many people still trust traditional media outlets and often these reporters are driving the story and as a result, helping shape the public perception. In other words, putting out a statement on your Facebook page, fan website, etc., is not enough when dealing with a crisis. Just ask Tiger.
For as many athletes who have handled a crisis badly, there are also those who’ve weathered the storm and come back, arguably stronger than ever: Kobe Bryant, Michael Phelps, Charles Barkley, Jason Giambi, and Andy Petite, and you can even toss in LeBron James after his his refusal to shake the hands of the Orlando Magic after the Cavs Eastern Conference Finals loss last season.
These individuals lost endorsement deals and credibility, but they all recovered. And the reason is, they faced their issues head on. They owned their level of responsibility. They held themselves accountable for their actions and they worked hard to get through it. Their messages were consistent. Their apologies were sincere. Their “humanness” was believable and real. But prior to whatever reputation or sponsorship damaging issue that confronted them, they built a significant bank of goodwill with the media, the public, and their fan base. And somewhere in the midst of it all, at the core, was a sound communications strategy designed to help them face these painful issues head on, deal with them and work through them.
5. Why is an athlete’s brand image so important and why do so many athletes seem to forget that it’s so important?
An athlete’s brand image and reputation is everything they have. It impacts their ability to land endorsement deals, sponsorship deals, contracts, off the field endeavors, etc.
There are a number of reasons why so many seem to forget, but one of the main reasons is that they tend to live in a bubble surrounded by people who say yes to them all the time. Being placed on a pedestal and given a false feeling they are “above the law” only leads to a horrible fall from grace when crisis hits because their perception of reality is off.
Too often, the feeling of invincibility combined with high salaries, less than qualified people around them advising their every move, focus on material things, superficial relationships, and unrealistic expectations, tend to cloud their judgment and ability to make sound decisions. Many athletes lose sight of the importance of brand image until they lose sponsorship dollars and endorsement deals, or lose their jobs outright. Ask Adam “PacMan” Jones about that. Gilbert Arenas is not far behind.
Your reputation is all you have at the end of the day. If it’s tarnished beyond repair, the chances of recovery are slim, not to mention your long-term career prospects.
6. Crisis aside, what can an athlete do to improve or enhance his brand image on a routine basis?
Athletes should make sure they have a strong PR team around them to help develop and execute strategic public relations campaigns touting what they are doing OUTSIDE OF THEIR SPORT to improve the conditions of their fellow man/woman. Building up the bank of goodwill is so critical in this day and age because when crisis or controversy hits, the athlete will need to go to that bank and cash in some of those chips. The more athletes are known for their work in the community and their philanthropic commitments, the better it is in terms of creating a stronger reputation, an unflappable image, new financial opportunities (i.e., sponsorship and endorsement deals), spokesperson opportunities, etc.
Stay involved in the community. Be involved and have a voice. Contribute to the improvement of society and be a positive role model. Do something positive all the time and be genuine. Get involved with something you truly believe in. Your passion will shine through.
Also, staying out of trouble and always doing the right thing helps.
7. It’s no secret that if you asked pro athletes what they most dislike about being in the spotlight, most would put dealing with the media near the top of their list. Why does there seem to be such an adversarial relationship between the media and professional athletes?
A large part is due to the fact that most athletes have never been properly trained in how to work with and handle the media. It is clear that those who have been media trained, fare better across the board. Just ask Payton Manning.
Also, many athletes believe the “media is out to get them” (e.g., Barry Bonds) and perpetuate the adversarial relationship.
Athletes need to be coached and understand the media have a job to do and that jog is to report the story. The athlete plays a role in their ability to complete that job, especially when they are front and center in the story. Having the right PR team to coach and counsel the athlete and help them understand how this relationship works is critical.
8. Despite their disdain for the media, it’s ironic that so many professional athletes want to work in the media once they retire. How easy or difficult is it for an athlete to make the jump to the sports broadcasting?
Although former athletes have advantages weighing in their favor to enter the broadcast booth following a successful (or at least semi-successful) career in their sport, not everyone is able to make the jump to the booth and do well. Because of their insight and first hand knowledge of the game, networks and media outlets are pre-disposed to hiring them as analysts, but each athlete is different and there’s no guarantee their on-field performance will translate into the ability to share their knowledge in an articulate way when the microphone is on.
How easy is it? That depends on the athlete and how quickly he or she can develop a commanding presence, understanding of how to communicate on television or radio and speak to viewers and listeners in a way they can relate to, understand and enjoy. It is not easy to do this and many athletes try to make the transition without proper training.
When you look at the number of former athletes in the booth and on-air now, you can see the ones that are doing well and the ones that clearly need help. One of the things we offer our clients is broadcast media training, where we prepare them for life after the game and the transition into the booth for a long and successful post-career.
9. What would be your advice to a college athlete who is about to make the jump to the pros?
I have a lot of advice for athletes about to enter the professional ranks. I strongly recommend reading the article I posted on the subject on thesportscommentary.com (and will post again in April) as it outlines many of the key points. Ultimately, my best advice to them is to build and make sure you have a strong team of SEASONED PROFESSIONALS around you that are NOT “yes” men/women. They need top flight PR pros (different from publicists), legal counsel, agent, manager (if necessary), accountant/financial planner, sports psychologist, and security (if necessary). Surround yourself with people who are not afraid to tell you the things you need to know, not what you want to hear.
10. How early do you think an athlete should consider media training?
As soon as he or she enters the collegiate ranks. Early and often. Media training is not – and should never be – a “one and done” deal. Take it seriously. There’s no way you would just go out and practice once and think “hey I got this down” and then show up for the games thinking the outcome will be consistently favorable, would you? So why any athlete would think that is how dealing with the media works is beyond me. Media training is necessary on an ongoing basis. Just like practice. Don’t get lazy with media training or it will impact the results of how you are presented through the media.
For more information about Mallette and Comment Communications, go to www.commentpr.com.