Bernard O'Riordan, Media Trainer
Hiring a publicist in the midst of a PR crisis was meant to help disgraced Australian cricketer David Warner rebuild his tattered reputation.
But a disastrous media conference, where his responses were awkwardly contrived, over-rehearsed and largely scripted, has done more harm than good as he tries to repair a tattered reputation.
Cricket Australia has banned Warner and former captain Steve Smith from international and domestic cricket for 12 months, while it has banned Cameron Bancroft, who applied sandpaper to a ball, for nine months.
The scandal has also cost Warner a lucrative sponsorship with electronic giant LG.
A teary Warner constantly stonewalled reporter’s questions, failed to explain why he couldn’t or wouldn’t talk about certain issues and added no real value. He should have just put out a press release.
In short, his advisers hung him out to dry by not arming him with the necessary tools and techniques to survive the torrent of tough questions that were coming his way.
And therein lies the problem. The Warners hired a "lifestyle PR" person to guide them through the biggest crisis they’ll ever face. With naff messaging like "Australian cricket is my family", it didn't resonate with the public and it didn't "hit the hurt".
What David Warner really needed was a crisis communications specialist to help him deliver genuine, authentic responses that acknowledged the widespread hurt he'd caused and the damage he'd done.
His responses were rehearsed and stiff, and full of self interest. You could actually see the cogs turning as he scrambled to shutdown questions and spout the paid opinions that had been drummed into him by his minders.
If he had been given some bridging skills – techniques to deal with even the trickiest of questions – he would have appeared far more genuine.
He needed to acknowledge every question that was thrown his way even if he couldn't actually answer them. For example, he was asked “Has this happened before?”
Of course, that’s not something he wanted to engage in, so he decided to AVOID it by giving a response that was totally unrelated.
That's like being asked do you want a sandwich for lunch and your response is that you might go for a swim. It doesn't make sense and it was never going to wash with reporters or people watching at home.
All he had to do was acknowledge the question. Here’s a few examples that could have changed how people reacted. He could have said:
“I understand where you’re coming from but I have legal advice not to talk about that just now. But I am deeply sorry …”
Or he might have said:
“I know people want answers to a lot of questions and they will come in time. Right now though, I just want cricket fans around the world to know I’m sorry…”
By showing he's heard the question – without actually engaging it – he is taking the heat out of the moment. Importantly, he is also giving a reason why he can’t or won't answer the question, which people will respect.
Reputations recover from even the worst scandals when individuals or organisations are open and responsive, or seen to be so. Sadly, Warner was neither of these things.
In terms of messaging, Warner mentioned at least three times how he might not be able to play for Australia again and how that really hurt him.
When you're on an apology tour, there is no time for self-interest. Warner was there to apologise and seek redemption. End of.
This just muddied the waters and eroded any sympathy people might have had.
Having his emotional wife Candice and her PR flack attend the press conference was also misguided. The public is a lot more media savvy than people might think and doesn't fall for these heartstring moments these days.
If anything, they can backfire quickly, as the fallout on Twitter clearly shows.
The Daily Telegraph’s Michael Carayannis said Candice could be heard loudly weeping in the audience as her husband delivered his pre-prepared speech. Interestingly, Candice has positioned herself front and centre in the media spotlight throughout this ordeal.
In the court of public opinion – and that’s what matters here – people are questioning whether all of this has just been a badly managed PR stunt that raises more questions than it answers.
The public is hugely forgiving when sports stars make mistakes. But once their credibility comes into question, or their authenticity is compromised, it can be a long and drawn-out road to redemption.