Transparency during lockout drove NFL players' game plan

The 2011 NFL season may be in full swing, but we should not close the book on this historic year in sports labor without identifying key takeaways for all institutions requiring positive public interactions to drive success.

The 2011 NFL season may be in full swing, but we should not close the book on this historic year in sports labor without identifying key takeaways for all institutions requiring positive public interactions to drive success.

Three years before owners imposed the NFL lockout, players were educated on the complexities of the labor dispute, but not just for their own knowledge. Through scientific metrics and unofficial evaluations, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) quickly confirmed that the public expected players to be spokesmen amid the dispute. Player reps needed to become experts able to deliver accurate and concise information in their locker rooms and to the media.

During the lead-up to the lockout, we identified macro and micro PR goals. A major objective of the NFLPA was to eliminate the incorrect use of the word "strike" through reinforcement with players, correcting reporting inaccuracies, and a robust social media campaign. After just a few minutes on Google trends, a fan can view the simultaneous changes of frequency of use - an upsurge of "NFL lockout" and the extermination of "NFL strike." On March 12, 2011, major news outlets covered the lockout, without exception.

In the critical months before that day, players recognized the media's sense of urgency and granted unprecedented access. Players and association officials held frequent media conference calls, each with a relevant theme, such as economics or health and safety.

Along with the players, the NFLPA's communications department also took on a new commitment to transparency and shifted from reactionary to proactive messaging. I strongly encouraged players and my staff to be open not just to traditional press, but online and non-sports media, as well as fans.

The NFLPA hosted a blogger forum at its headquarters. A social media campaign, "Let Us Play," used top-level messaging by players to reinforce that NFL owners, not players, were the ones taking away America's most popular sport. The result was a Twitter hashtag trending globally and millions touched by our messaging.

By engaging with the public, players helped fans realize they are not only spectators, but also stakeholders. The passionate reactions show the power of direct messaging from business to consumer and how all organizations relying on mass appeal have no better asset than spokespeople who place transparency and accuracy above all. 

George Atallah is the NFL Players Association assistant executive director of external affairs.

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