How ‘No means No’ turned into another sports ‘uh-oh’

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There was a series of things that snapped during last night’s Monday Night Football matchup between NFC East rivals Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys: the balls snapped from each team’s center to its respective quarterback on each offensive possession; the Cowboys six-game winning streak was snapped and the moment when Washington’s vice president of public relations, Tony Wyllie, snapped on a journalist.

Arguably, few other than Washington fans (and Pittsburgh Steelers, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and other bitter rivals of “America’s Team”) expected the team, which has a 2-5 record to do much against a 6-1 Dallas team that owned the best record in the NFL.

But alas, University of Texas phenom quarterback Colt McCoy returned back to his home state and led the Redskins to a 20-17 overtime win.

McCoy’s performance was the big story after the game, so of course, every reporter on the field at AT&T Stadium was going to try and get that sound bite. That includes ESPN Deportes reporter John Sutcliffe. But he didn’t follow protocol to get prior clearance to interview the QB and when he initially tried to talk to McCoy, the sports world got a chance to see why PR folks are the gatekeepers of all things sacred. And honestly, there are few organizations more sacred than the NFL.

“No means no,” shouted Wyllie after the reporter tried to talk to McCoy.

The PR pro with over 20 years of experience even did a little tugging and shoving to move McCoy away. And though he played not one snap of Monday’s game, Wyllie committed the night’s biggest fumble.

According to his profile on the team’s site, Wyllie “ … is responsible for shaping the team image through all public contacts and publicity generation … He oversees the coordination of all interviews for the club and serves as the team spokesman.”

Welp, he took public contact to another level and let’s consider all of the publicity he generated on social media. He shall forever be memorialized in Twitter rants and memes. And as the team’s spokesman, his actions spoke volumes.

Though Washington won, it missed a valuable point in communications with that post-game performance. And despite McCoy’s humility and awesome sound bites, it was the “No means No” clip that was heard around the world.

There’s not a PR professional worth his weight in coverage who doesn’t know what it’s like to be under pressure, especially when trying to simultaneously please a client and its audience. So, this isn’t a dig on Wyllie, who’s had an outstanding career with some of the league’s most notable teams, including the Cowboys, where he received a Super Bowl ring as an internship participant.

And, let’s not play coy. To cover the NFL is a pretty big deal and there’s not a pro sports journalist covering the league who is new to policies and procedures. It’s just unfortunate that side of “the game” had to happen, and was the last thing needed by an organization that already has issues with name association and an owner who’s been tangled in less-than-favorable legal issues with the press.

We all know it’s the PR rep’s responsibility to garner news and not be the news, but guess what? It sometimes happens, especially in a world when journalists’ angles and salaries are driven (and funded) in part by the public’s insatiable need to know.

We at Etched Communication constantly train and discuss events such as Monday night’s PR faux pas to grasp a better understanding and anticipation of those types of reactions. We also understand that beautiful music can be made from an awesome journalist-PR relationship. This is a business where there’s no one without the other and each side needs respect or else everything else gets lost in translation.

The “No means No” incident serves as a great case model. Especially since the Wyllie and Sutcliffe immediately pushed their differences out of bounds (excuse the pun) and Sutcliffe eventually got his interview.

And there you have it. Crisis diffused … in a snap.

By Nikki G. Bannister, @NikBannister

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