So Michael Vick got what he wanted—a deal with an NFL football team—any NFL football team. By signing a one-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, Michael Vick might just have pulled off a PR miracle.
As we all know, Vick was convicted of dog fighting and served 18 of his 23-month sentence, the vast majority of it in jail. His goal was to get back into football and his strategy worked. Let’s review it. First, and probably most brilliantly, was that Vick finagled Tony Dungy, ex-coach of the popular and successful Indianapolis Colts, to go on a media extravaganza on Vick’s behalf. I heard Dungy on varied media outlets from NPR to ESPN saying that he was serving as Vick’s mentor and if he were still coaching he would certainly give Vick a second chance. This media blitz was then followed by Vick’s only granted interview on 60 minutes.
Vick had a good PR team working behind him. Given the furor surrounding his arrest, and the outrage at the planned “Michael Vick Community Celebration” and its quick canceling, showed that the public wasn’t quite ready to forget and forgive. So they put others in front of the camera to help tell his story, people like Coach Dungy who are admired and respected. By having a likeable, well-spoken and respected football icon speak on his behalf, the tarnish on Vick’s reputation started to fade. People soon began to think, “Hmm, if Tony Dungy has forgiven him and seen real change, then maybe I can too?” One of the key elements of the Vick messaging playbook was “he paid his debt to society so it’s time to move on” and “American is the land of second chances, doesn’t he deserve his?” His one appearance was easily scripted to show remorse and appear a changed person—Vick’s was controlled and well thought out.
So what’s the lesson here? Good PR doesn’t just happen, you need a plan and that plan has to take into consideration your situation’s strengths and weaknesses, assets and liabilities are and how to play to the strengths, leverage your assets and limit your liabilities. By limiting Mr. Vick’s face time, and putting Mr. Dungy front and center, the PR team did just that.
Now it’s up to the Philadelphia Eagle’s public relations team to conjure up a winning strategy as this story might be over for Vick, but it’s just started for the Eagles