Monday, February 7, 2011

Alternative Recommendations for Dan Snyder

If you live in the Washington area and read the news, chances are you’ve heard about a lawsuit that Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder recently filed against the local alternative daily, Washington City Paper, and one its reporters.

The lawsuit is in regards to a story published in mid-November that made less than flattering claims about the Redskins owner. Initially, the media was reporting that lawyers for Snyder were asking the paper to print a correction and fire the reporter that wrote the story. Within 48 hours, a lawsuit had been filed claiming the story included lies and half-truths and asking for $2 million in damages.

Since this began last week the story has dominated local headlines. The Washington Post has run dozens of articles and blog posts mentioning the story including one from humor columnist Gene Weingarten and local news stations have led with this as their top news story. In addition, the media circus surrounding the lawsuit has caused such a dramatic rise in readership at the Washington City Paper that people trying to access the story crashed its news site.

As a PR professional, I’ve tried to figure out, why Snyder would make this move. Libel lawsuits are known for being extremely hard to win and, by filing this lawsuit, he’s dramatically increased the attention the story received in the first place.

PCG may not be an expert in sports media, but dealing with unflattering and potentially false claims in the media is nothing new to any PR expert. So I asked around the office, if you were advising Dan Snyder on how to deal with this article, what would be your recommended path? Below are a few alternative ideas from PCGers:

-- If there are truly false statements in the article, then ask the paper for an opportunity to write an op-ed and try to set the record straight. If the statements are just unflattering, then leave that part alone and write an Op-ed about how you are going to change the organization for the following year.

-- The best communications approach in this situation is simply to say that you understand why people think the team is a mess, but that there are some good pieces in place (they did beat the Eagles and Cowboys, after all) and that you're working to make it better.

-- Forget the paper! It is an alternative daily and likely not many people saw the original story. Instead, host a video chat on Redskins.com to talk about lessons learned from the past seasons and how the organization is going to do in the off-season to prepare for a better next year.

-- Do nothing! The story is a couple months old and it is Super Bowl week. No one wants to think about the Redskins.

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