September 24, 2014
Roger Goodell named my friend, Dawn Hudson, the new NFL Chief Marketing Officer this week. Dawn steps into the big role in the middle of a huge public relations crisis for the NFL and the task at hand won’t be an easy one. Here is my proposed agenda for Dawn as she works to clean up the NFL brand.
1. Your brand should be guided by an ambitious purpose. The NFL mission statement starts off by stating it aims “to present the NFL and its teams at a level that attracts the broadest audience and makes NFL football the best sports entertainment in the world.” This is more a business objective than an inspiring, ambitious purpose. The NFL’s mission finishes with a list of values that guide them, including integrity. Values are the right “base” for an ambitious purpose, but the values need to guide behavior. The NFL has had lapses here. The best brands are built around an ambitious purpose to improve people’s lives and make the world a better place. This gives employees a sense of pride and purpose for each day at work. The NFL should have a more emotional purpose—it certainly has an emotional place is so many fans’ hearts.
2. Your brand needs to exude a sense of humanity. The atrocious actions of certain players through the years have too much “framed” the identity of the NFL. There are lots of human stories that need to be celebrated, while the bad behavior needs to be dealt with swiftly and consistently. You should rebuild the NFL brand around the heartwarming stories of players like the devoted father Devon Still, the persevering Derrick Coleman, and the community advocate Peyton Manning.
3. Renew your relationship with sponsors and ask for their help. ABinBev took a strong stance on the NFL crisis with their statement, “We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season. We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code. We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league.” As one of the largest sponsors, their statement carries a lot of weight, and the leaders of ABInBev left no doubt about what their company stands for. You can strengthen this relationship and your relationship with other sponsors by asking for their help. Invite them in, have a discussion. They care deeply about the NFL and they are the best brand experts out there.
4. Commit to consistency in your message and your actions. Roger Goodell has been a very effective commissioner of the NFL on many fronts, but he has been under fire as a leader because of his lack of consistency in handling player incidents. When leaders stay consistent with their values and their ambitious purpose — in communication and actions — fans will reward them with trust and loyalty.
5. Make tough choices guided by your ideal. You can learn from one your sponsors that reacted quickly with its ideal in mind. Radisson Hotels was the first sponsor to suspend its partnership amid the recent scandals. The Radisson leaders assessed their relationship with a Vikings team that was supporting its star player, who was accused of child abuse. Radisson cited its commitment to the protection of children as its reason to suspend the relationship. The Vikings were supporting the opposite of what Radisson stood for, and action was taken. There will always be tough decisions to make and using your brand ideal as your moral compass will not be easy, but you will always come out on top in the eyes of your fans.