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12 Sep 2014

The Scene: Decisions Matter

The Scene will take a look at the marketing and communications industry each month, analyzing campaigns, providing opinion and allowing readers to be informed and enlightened.

September 15, 2014

We all know decision-making is a valuable skill in the marketing and communications industry (or any industry, really). A good, smart and strategic decision can do you and your company or organization a lot of good. A bad, shortsighted decision can cause it all to hit the fan.

You decide what to tweet, what reporter to call, who to hire, who to fire, who to promote, who to assign a certain task. Hopefully all of these decisions are made thoughtfully and deliberately.

Everyone should make smart decisions, but companies or organizations that have a large audience and have a lot of influence have to be extra careful, for better or worse.

Which brings us to the NFL.

By now, you’ve likely heard about the NFL’s Ray Rice situation, wherein one of the league’s best running backs was seen on a security camera video released this month sucker punching his now-wife and then-fiancé (WARNING: Video of the incident is disturbing). His team decided to terminate his contract and the NFL then decided and announced it would suspend Rice indefinitely.

But first, the league decided to suspended Rice for just two games plus his paycheck for the third game of the season when an initial video released earlier this year showed Rice dragging his then-fiancé out of the elevator (WARNING: This video is also disturbing). There was a righteous uproar over the two-game suspension, which was incredibly lenient.

The NFL, sensing this uproar, then decided upon and announced new rules for domestic violence incidents, including a six-game suspension for the first offense and a one-year ban for the next one. Goodell admitted he handled the suspension poorly in announcing the new rules. Rice was not retroactively suspended six games.

Once the second video surfaced this month – the one showing the sucker punch – the entire game changed.

First, the initial decision – the two-game suspension – was much too lenient for someone charged – and he was charged – with assault against a woman.

The league’s commissioner – Roger Goodell – then decided to announce to the world that the NFL asked to, but never saw the sucker punch video (the first video just showed Rice dragging her unconscious out the elevator).

Then, the Associated Press reported through an anonymous source that the law enforcement officials with access to the tape sent the tape to the NFL. The source even reportedly played a voicemail from an NFL employee confirming they received the video. This appears to mean one of two individuals is lying: Goodell or the anonymous source. *

(*Note: the possibility remains that the league did receive the video but that it was not passed onto Goodell. It that’s the case, Goodell has even more problems on his hands.)

Goodell then decided to announce the hiring of a former FBI agent to investigate the NFL’s handling of the situation and investigation.

Whew. What a mess.

There were all sorts of decisions Goodell made. Let’s recap each decision with some brief comments:

Decision to suspend Rice for two games.
This tells the public the league doesn’t take domestic violence seriously.

Decision to implement new discipline rules for domestic violence perpetrators.
This tells the public you were wrong in the first place and are working to improve. Goodell admitted this. This is actually good PR and a step in the right direction.

Decision to not retroactively suspend Rice six games.
So, about that good PR I just noted…it all went out the window. Who says a commissioner can’t renege on his decision? Sure, the NFL Players Union would likely object, but Goodell could hold his ground here.

Decision to suspend Rice indefinitely after the second video emerged.
Could be seen as righting your wrong and thus good PR, but also showed the league was backpedaling.

Decision to announce that the NFL never had access to the second video and never saw it during its investigation.
Tells the public your investigation was weak.

Decision to call for an investigation into the NFL’s handling of all of this.
By this point, there is little hope Goodell can muster up some good PR.

That last point is the biggest takeaway: Your decisions from the get-go matter immensely. If you and your company make a bad decision, it may take multiple good decisions to get some good PR. If you keep making one bad decision after the next, you might not be employed much longer.

Far be it from me to call for someone to get fired. I don’t know him, his situation and there could be more to this story.

But Goodell’s decision-making has, in my opinion, seriously hurt his league.