Chip Kelly Might Know Football, but He Sure Doesn't Know PR

Written by: Greg Matusky

Rarely do I address local issues here on Gregarious, but what’s happening now in Philadelphia is just too rich to ignore.

As coach Chip Kelly deconstructs our beloved Philadelphia Eagles , he is making any number of classic communications errors. Whether ridding the team of some of the NFL’s finest talent -- LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, and, dating back to last year, DeSean Jackson -- will work or not, he has bungled the story to such a degree as to undermine his long-term relationship with many of the team's most valuable constituencies, including sponsors, advertisers, and, of critical importance, us (ME!) the fans.

I believe his bungling has been so egregious that I am willing to predict that his actions of the past week and his communications failures will doom Kelly to a short tenure in the City of Brotherly Love. We are a loyal but tough sports town. We stick by our teams, even bad teams, but in return, we expect to be treated with some modicum of respect, spoken to openly and honestly, and let in on the master plan.

Chip has done none of this. His missteps read like a roadmap for how any organization should never handle a reputation management issue, including:

Failure to build rapport with the press corps in advance and use those relationships to effect.

When Jeff Lurie bought the Eagles, Gregory FCA represented the new owner in the transaction. From the outset, both camps, buyer and seller, were extremely respectful to local reporters, building a hierarchy of influencers warranting special attention. It paid off. Lurie was received as a savior to Philadelphia, even though he had grown up in Boston as a Patriot’s fan. Building and cultivating relationships is one way any organization can leverage the media to help extend a narrative in a time of need.

Going underground

The time to hide isn't in the heat of the battle. The head coach needs to be visible. (Editor's note: Chip Kelly must have been listening, because hours after we posted this, he held what could loosely be called a news conference, where he strutted, preened, and ranted before press corp that deserved better). He needs to be confident in, and sell, his vision to salve fan fears. For all his tough talk, I just can’t respect someone hiding in their office, rather than addressing a fan base that has supported a team that has never won a Super Bowl. They deserve better, and so do customers, employees, shareholders, and other stakeholders when an organization comes under heavy attack. It's ironic, despite his success on the field; Andy Reid was loathed and despised for the very same thing that Chip Kelly was supposed to change when he brought his breath of fresh air into town. No matter how much things change, they always stay the same.

Not commanding your narrative

This morning, I read Dave Spadaro’s commentary on the Eagle’s own website. Spadaro walks a fine line between publicist and journalist, an Eagles’ mouthpiece, who blurs the distinction by appearing on local TV as an analyst on panels with real reporters. Today, he’s cheerleading the trade of quarterback Nick Foles with Saint Louis for the chronically injured Sam Bradford. What’s missing from his analysis is any degree of passion or conviction. The piece reads like season-ticket promotion, never quoting the head coach or providing a cogent articulation of what we’re seeing. Like any organization in crisis, the Eagles need to project their narrative into the market with passion! They need to proactively explain their decision making and support it with pieces of the story we, as fans, can’t see but need to inform and persuade others to the wisdom of the moves. Instead, crickets.

The need for discretion

Now, all of this might be predicated on a larger, master plan that can’t be shared for fear of losing negotiating leverage in the upcoming draft. As the theory goes, the Eagles are getting their Oregon Ducks in a row to strike a bigger deal for Marcus Mariota. Well guess what? You’re not alone Chip Kelly. Every company in the country has to manage its communications strategy against the demands for confidentiality. That’s the great game of investor relations, informing shareholders to the point of creating a following without showing your hand to competitors, shorts and others who prey off such information. Chip, you are a big boy. Get used to it.

Now in the end, you might believe all this is irrelevant. If Chip Kelly wins, then all is forgiven -- communication gaffs and all. Well, kind of. As most organizations know, arrogance and ignorance is always repaid. Perhaps not in the quarter, when a company beats expectations, but over time when things get tough. It’s then that all is remembered. The great value of effective public relations is guarding against just that. Effective communications creates a well of goodwill to be tapped when times get tough. Chip, sometime in the future, maybe sooner than later, things may not go your way. It’s doubtful that when that time comes you'll have a well from which Philly fans will let you drink.