New England Patriots Owner Robert Kraft is one of the most visible non-players in the NFL, which is perhaps the most popular and valuable entertainment brand in America. During each Patriot's game, Kraft is shown on television from his owner's box more often than any NFL owner not named Jerry Jones. And Kraft's team has been one of the most successful sports franchises of the past 20 years, having won six Super Bowls since 2002.
But fame has a price, and as we have all heard during the past week, Kraft is among 25 people facing first-degree misdemeanor charges of soliciting prostitution after allegedly receiving sex acts in a Florida massage parlor.
Law enforcement officials even revealed that Kraft was videotaped receiving oral and manual sex and paying a woman at a day spa in Jupiter, Fla. Even worse for Kraft — and yes, it gets worse — the police investigation was aimed at stopping human trafficking, which Florida State Attorney Dave Aronberg called "evil in our midst."
In short, one of the most visible Patriots ambassadors (next to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick) representing a brand valued by Forbes at $1.4 billion, has a significant crisis on his hands.
So what's a wealthy (and apparently horny) NFL figurehead to do when his world crashes down on every news outlet and social media platform known to mankind and he’s associated with prostitution, human trafficking, and slavery?
Here are five Krafty reputation management suggestions I’d offer:
Krafty crisis tip one: Off-the-shelf statements don’t move the needle when managing public perception. Some crisis counselors will tell you there is a handbook, but there isn't. Each dilemma has its own unique traits and nuances, and managing them is more art than science.
His team started with a remarkable mistake, defending Kraft before the evidence became public by stating: "We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity."
Denial. Well, I guess that sounds effective, in theory. But how does any competent, upright mammal rationalize a denial when the Po-Po is stating publicly they have Kraft on video getting a little sumpin-sumpin?
I've long believed that if you can position yourself as the reasonable party in any dispute, you win. To me his defense, based on what we know now, is not reasonable.
Krafty crisis tip two: Shield yourself with the law. The Kraft group would have been wise to solely use the last part of its statement: "Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further."
When any crisis falls under legal jurisdiction, unless you are at least 113.7 % certain you’ve done nothing wrong, you should leverage that lawful engagement to delay directly responding to accusations.
You might recall then-candidate Donald Trump hilariously took this tactic with his tax returns. I say hilariously, because there really was no legal jurisdiction. But somehow it worked (with some people).
Regardless, the general rule of thumb when managing a crisis involving law enforcement, as any competent attorney should tell you, is to withhold comment because, in reality, your statements to the press can ultimately be used against you in a court of law.
Krafty crisis tip three: Prepare for your eventuality with messaging that's realistic, reasonable and credible.
Beyond a strip mall-quality, deep tissue rub down, few people know what truly happened with Kraft in those massage parlors, nor for that matter, with Citigroup President and COO John Havens and Wall Street financier John Childs, who have also been accused.
Kraft, however, fully knows what happened. He may not have known the women tending to him were potentially enslaved into prostitution. But he certainly knows whether he stuck something where maybe he shouldn't have.
And if he did, Kraft needs to carefully prepare his mea culpa for the eventuality of the aforementioned video, that law enforcement gleefully boasted about, going public in a ball of TMZ fury.
Perhaps a statement along these lines would work:
After my wife Myra passed away in 2011, I began a deep spiral into a dark place. I was lonely, I was in pain, and I sought comfort in places I should not have. But I now realize how wrong I was -- how these terrible choices have only hurt me and those I love. More than anything, I must continue my journey of healing in a healthy manner -- through the love of those who truly love me including my children and grandchildren, good friends and all of those who have supported me throughout my life. I am truly sorry and will accept any legal punishment as well as that from the National Football League which I recognize I have hurt and damaged with my actions.
-- New England Patriots Owner Robert Kraft
To me, that's a reasonable narrative I can somewhat buy, even if I just wrote it at my kitchen table while high on mass consumption of Twinkies and Diet Coke.
Krafty crisis tip four: Take your medicine like a big boy. If found guilty by a court of law, or Dr. Phil, Kraft will need to humbly accept his legal penalty, most likely a fine and probation.
But then, ironically, comes the bigger hit; a robust hand slap by the meaty palm of the NFL. The league will probably hit him with, at the very least, a season-long suspension as well as a multi-million-dollar fine. Ouch!
But if Kraft and his inner circle are wise — and the video contains what we have been led to believe — he's already talking to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about his penalty which will probably include relinquishing control of the Patriots.
Which leads us to…
Krafty crisis tip five: Have a dignified exit strategy. Just like when Jerry Richardson was forcibly detached from the Carolina Panthers following his scandal, Kraft is done. He’s dead weight for the Patriots and the NFL for the foreseeable future, which for a soon-to-be 78-year-old, means he's a goner.
So say goodbye, Bob. No more owner's box, sideline strolls with Tommy B., Lombardi Trophy presentations, or Super Bowl parades. His son, Jonathan Kraft, is team president and has been relatively visible with Kraft during the games. It's his team now.
Kraft’s last move is perhaps the most important, as it will be remembered the most.
Accordingly, it’s in his best interest to exit with whatever dignity he can retain, avoid any disputes such as the sad-sack fight Donald Sterling put up when he was jettisoned by the NBA for making racist remarks, lest his reputation becomes even more tarnished.
Although heh, it’s hard to imagine a worse way to ride off into the sunset, right?
Aaron Perlut is a longtime brand reputation manager and is founder and partner of St. Louis-based Elasticity.