There IS such a thing as bad press. The New York Road Runners gave us this lesson when they made themselves a lightening rod during the debate of whether or not to hold the New York City Marathon in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. Mayor Bloomberg did not help the situation in the lead up to the final decision by continuing to pursue holding the race. In his defense, commonsense finally prevailed and the event was cancelled. However, NYRR made its own situation worse by blaming everyone but the storm.
About 14 hours after the decision to cancel the marathon was announced, NYRR sent out an email to its members blaming the media for “…coverage antagonistic to the marathon and its participants, created conditions that raised concern for the safety of both those working to produce the event and its participants. While holding the race would not have required diverting resources from the recovery effort…”
They had 14 hours, if not longer, to think about the content of their email and the message that they wanted to deliver to NYC and the runners. In the context of their email, this finger-pointing message is the third sentence, and in the paragraph that comes BEFORE mentioning where donations can be made and what NYRR will do with the resources that they have to help those in need.
The New York Post did a great job pointing out the marathon’s generators, heated tents, food, bottled water and labor of the men and women putting up bleachers and signs. This is what journalists do. The reporters did not make this up. They did not leave their homes in the morning looking to pick a fight with NYRR. They reported the facts and made a reasonable and humane assessment that all of the stuff being used for the race could be used for people who are actually suffering and are unable to get basic human services like heat, food, drinking water and shelter.
In crisis PR, a half-day to prepare a written statement is a luxury. There was absolutely no reason for NYRR to write about the negative press they were currently receiving by redirecting the blame to those who were simply highlighting their selfishness.
The appropriate statement could have been “There was a big storm. Sadly, many people lost their lives. You may have seen media reports that we have the very resources that our neighbors desperately need. Although you may be disappointed that the marathon was cancelled, we are sure that you understand that it would not be appropriate to hold this race. Instead, we will redeploy these much needed resources to the areas where they are most needed.”
End of discussion.
Melissa Daly has worked in media relations and financial communications for nearly 20 years. Melissa formed MFD Communications, a strategic consulting firm, after spending three years at Goldman Sachs as Vice President, Corporate Communications. Prior to that, Melissa was a Director at Brunswick Group, a London-based financial and business communications firm. There, she spearheaded its financial services business in the US, managing communications for hedge fund, private equity, insurance and traditional asset management firms. Melissa also worked at Fred Alger Management, The Hartford and Lipper in communications and media relations roles and has frequently appeared on CNBC and CNN as an industry commentator. Her experience spans across business sectors and continents.