Monday, February 2, 2009

Up in Smoke?

The image of Olympic superstar Michael Phelps smoking marijuana raced across the Internet the last few days. The 23-year old swimmer quickly issued a statement that, if you read his blog was clearly not written by him. All you have to do is compare it to the other posts and you can see the difference in writing style.

I'm o.k. with that as the statement is more about protecting Michael Phelps the brand than the Michael Phelps the young man. The statement hits all the right notes. However, a fundamental tenant of a crisis is that how a person or organization behaves after an event can be more important or more damaging than the event itself. So if he gets busted for something again he could be in real trouble.

Media scrutiny of Phelps will only increase as reporters and photographers position themselves to capture his next wrong move. A minor faux pas that would have gone unnoticed will now be magnified and autopsied for evidence of bad behavior. Most importantly for Phelps and his handlers is to remember that this isn't simply a PR problem. This is an ACTUAL problem with PR implications. Spin won't help.

Bill Salvin

UPDATE Feb 6: Kellogg has announced it will not renew its sponsorship contract with Michael Phelps saying that "the photo of the swimmer is inconsistent with its public image." USA Swimming has also banned Phelps from competition for three months.

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