Coming Up Clutch: The Bridge Between Crisis Preparedness & Major League Baseball

For sports fans, October means playoff baseball. Only 10 of 30 teams earn a chance to compete for the 2019 World Series title, and none got there by accident. Major League Baseball teaches us that taking year-round steps to avoid calamity during the season is a blueprint for all organizations – regardless of industry. Injuries, miscalculations in player productivity and on- and off-the-field mistakes can spell doom for teams – just as failing to recognize threats and vulnerabilities can create irrevocable reputational harm for businesses.

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While negative events are unavoidable, identifying those most probable flashpoints and planning for them ahead of time can keep an organization on track. Winning clubs, and successful brands, embrace adversity by creating plans to address each contingency. Each playoff team created a culture of preparedness, flexibility and self-assessment to put themselves in position to compete for the championship. Here are a few analogies between America’s pastime and the business world to ensure you have your bases covered…

Constant Assessment:

  • Baseball: A successful season in Major League Baseball starts the previous November at the General Managers meetings and opening of free agency. Team managers evaluate their talent – both in the majors and the minors, assess the competitive landscape and develop plans to meet unavoidable in-season adversity.
  • Business: Companies need to periodically take stock of where they are strong and where they are vulnerable. Each year, putting budget aside to assess potential threats and then developing scenario plans to address each will help head off reputational threats during the fiscal year. It’s better to be ready ahead of time then start planning while the issue is percolating.

Practice, Practice, Practice:

  • Baseball: In baseball, practice makes perfect. This is why every team spends upward of six weeks in February and March preparing for the season ahead during spring training. It’s critical to invest the time sharpening skills, developing a lineup and getting players in the best physical shape before the competition begins (and counts) in April.
  • Business: Many companies prepare for issues and crisis: developing talking points, assigning a spokesperson, developing plans, etc. But those contingencies don’t help as much if you don’t practice using them. Much like a player who struggles during the season because they missed spring training, a company that doesn’t practice its reputation skills (e.g., testing a plan, media training, etc.) will not perform at its best when it matters most.

Stay Flexible and Adapt:

  • Baseball: Once the season is underway, teams have the option to make changes to their roster before the July 31 trading deadline. Transactions made during this time to address a hole in the lineup, or unexpected injury, can make all the difference between winning or losing that illusive World Series trophy.
  • Business: While companies don’t always need to change their talent, they should maintain the flexibility needed to make changes in their communications plans through periodic assessments of strategies, messaging and assets such as key opinion leaders (KOLs) or internal spokespersons. Adapting to the current business environment helps insulate a company from those inevitable issues and making “mid-season” modifications can be the difference between a successful campaign and Plan B.

Look at the Numbers:

  • Baseball: We would be remiss if we didn’t stress the value of analytics in baseball. If you’ve seen Moneyball, you know that teams use data to learn as much as possible about the tendencies of their players and opponents – where do they typically hit the ball; what types of pitches are relied upon and so on. In fact, teams are actually turning to basic preparedness tools such as a heat map to better prepare players to catch, hit and throw the baseball.
  • Business: Best practices in issues management calls for a similar approach. Media monitoring, stakeholder analysis (to determine allies, detractors and influencers) and tracking your competitors are important analytical tools for successfully preserving and enhancing reputation. Using data and pre-determined metrics (e.g., volume, engagements, etc.) allows companies to plan effectively and make informed decisions about the best course of action in stressful situations.

There are 30 Major League baseball teams, and 28 didn’t do enough to get to the World Series. It’s not luck that got them there, but preparation and hard work. Simply put, the best equipped teams are those that address vulnerabilities, prepare for unplanned events, constantly evaluate their environment, and practice the plans they implement. As the Roman philosopher Seneca once said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” And as legendary Yankee catcher Yogi Berra once said, “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.” Both still true today – in business and in baseball.

Blake is a senior vice president based in San Francisco, and serves as the Issues & Crisis group’s lead on the west coast. During his 25-year career, he has managed high profile, sensitive issues that required rapid response expertise while supporting organizations in agriculture, aviation, financial services, government, professional and collegiate sports, retail, hospitality, technology, and wellness. Since managing the Barry Bonds steroids scandal for the San Francisco Giants, he has guided many clients through crises, including Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn Kids, Airbus Americas, Young Living Essential Oils, Rodan + Fields, the California Milk Advisory Board, Liberty Mutual Insurance, the San Francisco Travel Association and a major university with a high-profile Title IX issue.

Doug Petkus is senior vice president in the corporate practice with broad experience in issues management, litigation communications, healthcare and consumer products communications, global corporate public relations and investor relations.  His 20+ years’ experience as a senior healthcare communicator makes him particularly suited to counsel clients in this business sector.

Doug brings to Ketchum an expertise in providing executive strategic counsel and developing effective, comprehensive integrated marketing communications/product publicity programs. He has demonstrated an ability to manage communications support efforts on a 24/7 global basis for complex issues with a career emphasis in healthcare (Rx and OTC), food and beverage products, special events (sports & entertainment), and product liability litigation.

Immediately before joining Ketchum, Doug operated an independent PR consultancy specializing in senior-level strategic communications counsel in several areas, including healthcare, consumer products and product liability litigation.  Prior to that, he had a 15 year career at Wyeth, prior to its acquisition by Pfizer in 2009.  In the initial phase of his tenure at Wyeth, Doug had primary responsibility for development and implementation of all communications programs supporting Rx commercial and pipeline products within the Company’s pharmaceutical division including media relations, issues management and internal communications.  Products supported include pharmaceuticals, biotech drugs and vaccines.  He acted as primary division media spokesperson and led teams handling major issues such as diet drug litigation and negative clinical studies, product recalls/withdrawals, regulatory milestones and government meetings.  In the latter stage of his Wyeth career, Doug moved to corporate headquarters where he was responsible for the financial/business communications function, focusing on development of the company’s global communications strategy to reach top tier business media.  He led development of communications materials pertaining to all required financial disclosures including quarterly earnings announcements, coordination of executive communications and issues management.  He also acted as primary company spokesperson and coordinated all aspects of corporate media relations, issues management, and litigation communications.  His responsibilities spanned all Wyeth divisions – pharmaceuticals, consumer healthcare and animal health, including R&D for each division.

Before joining Wyeth, Doug spent several years as a communications executive at Schering-Plough and Abbott Laboratories.  He also had an extensive career at Hill and Knowlton’s New York office serving as a business practice leader specializing in healthcare and well-known consumer brands such as Wendy’s, Procter & Gamble’s Sure antiperspirant and Coast soap, and the National Hockey League.  He started his professional career as a television news reporter at ABC affiliates in Wisconsin.  He is a graduate of Marquette University with a B.A. in journalism and earned a law degree at the Seton Hall School of Law in New Jersey.