The blog post should be updated. Ravens should also send powerful message to emphasize commitment to NFL’s new domestic violence policy
At the same time a violent video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice assaulting his then-fiance, Janay Palmer, went viral, so did a glowing blog post written by the team’s Vice President of Public Relations defending Rice.
“Ray’s a good guy. He’s smart. He might be the most popular person in our building. Need help with a community event or a player to lift a person in need, especially a child? Ray is one of the guys who says, ‘Yes, I’ll help,” wrote Kevin Byrne, Senior Vice President of Public and Community Relations for the Baltimore Ravens on July 25. “I liked Ray Rice a lot then. I like Ray Rice a lot today.”
All Digitocracy contacted Byrne multiple times but he did not respond.
Before deleting tweets that placed the blame on Rice’s now wife, the Ravens public relations staff, headed by Byrne, should have checked and updated their own blog.
Three days after the video was released, and the Ravens fired Rice, the blog post remains, unchanged. Public relations professionals say the problem isn’t that the blog post remains active and available for public view, the problem is that it doesn’t reflect the organization’s change in policy. The Byrne Identity blog, which is owned by the team, needs to be appended, experts said, because it currently sends the wrong message during an already bad set of events.
In the digital era many corporations post statements on Youtube or on blogs in the midst of crisis, said Bryan H. Reber, the C. Richard Yarbrough Professor in Crisis Communication Leadership at The University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication (my alma mater). “Once the it has served its purpose, they take it down because it is no longer relevant,” Reber added.
Journalism ethicists discourage the taking down of news stories and blog posts because doing so undermines public confidence in the news organization’s work. No such rule exists for public relations professionals, but during a communications fiasco like the one the Ravens are experiencing right now, Reber said it is important to be as transparent as possible.
That means leaving the blog post up on the site, but updating it with new information.
The Ravens shouldn’t hide or delete the blog post, the way they did with the tweets, Reber said Wednesday.
“When something really bad happens people want to hear from someone at the top. So, in that way, this blog post makes sense,” said Reber, who is also the assistant head of the Grady College’s department of public relations. “But the issue is whether it should be taken down or archived. I think the answer is archive it with a link perhaps to the new policy. There’s nothing unethical about that.”
To be sure, the Ravens have committed a lot of mistakes during this current crisis, mistakes they are now trying to correct. In addition to firing Rice, Ravens owner Stephen J. Bisciotti released a letter on Tuesday explaining to fans, sponsors and investors what went wrong and why it took the team so long to respond to the controversy. The Ravens should have done more to investigate the Rice video, Bisciotti wrote. That admission is a good first step, said Aprill O. Turner, principal of Turner Communications, LLC and a public relations professor based in Washington, D.C.
“My advice to the company would be to stay neutral on Rice as the story is still unfolding, but officials should vocally and vehemently display their disapproval of violence against women in any form and state that they will actively stay abreast of this situation,” Turner said. “My advice to the consumer is to speak with their dollars and voice any displeasure they have through not supporting the Ravens or NFL activities until they feel these entities have given the appropriate response to this issue.”
The Ravens must do more than offer fans the chance to exchange Ray Rice jerseys. Another solution is one the Ravens can work on with the entire coaching staff and front office as well as the NFL: Reiterate their commitment to the league’s new policy regarding domestic violence.
Such a statement would emphasize that this is an “organizational problem, one that the organization is moving to correct,” Reber said. “It says, ‘this was awful, we don’t want it to happen again, and here’s how we’re going to make sure it doesn’t happen again.'”
It is unclear if a powerful statement like this is forthcoming. But, Byrne, the Ravens VP of public relations, can start with mentioning one in his updated blog post.