Top of the month: Sharapova delivers crisis comms ace after drugs news

PRWeek's top of the month for March 2016 goes to Maria Sharapova, for the way the tennis star controlled the issue of her failed drugs test.

Top spin: Sharapova's big annoucement on 7 March (Credit: Damian Dovarganes/AP/Press Association Images)
Top spin: Sharapova's big annoucement on 7 March (Credit: Damian Dovarganes/AP/Press Association Images)

As a tennis superstar, it’s not easy to admit to the world that you have failed a drugs test, especially when you were – until that moment – a poster girl for clean-living professionalism as well as the face of Evian.

But when Maria Sharapova called a press conference to announce that the banned substance meldonium had shown up in her blood test at the Australian Open in January, she achieved a balancing act that few have managed: admit an error while presenting herself as being of good character.

Crucially, instead of waiting for the findings to be published, Sharapova pre-empted the regulator and, in doing so, took control of the story.

Rather than hiding behind press releases and spokespeople, Sharapova used her press conference to come clean about what had happened and demonstrate accountability.

While it is true that some of Sharapova’s sponsors have suspended their relationship with her, it is perhaps telling that the brand most associated with her sport – Head – has pledged to extend its contract, describing her as "courageous".

Sharapova’s handling of the affair has since been praised by some PR experts and the ‘Sharapova Response’ called a new blueprint for crisis comms. It’s not easy admitting a mistake to the world, but it’s not often your method becomes a gold standard in crisis comms.

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