My initial reaction to the Sharapova drug test failure on Facebook was pretty negative. I told my FB friends: There is only one thing more ill-advised than not apologising when you have screwed up… and that is fake apologising. Sharapova appears to have taken a drug normally prescribed in six-week periods for over ten years. Did she or her advisors not think someone might ask that question; thereby making all her press-conference profusions of making an ‘honest mistake’ appear to be just another lie? Tag Heuer and Nike have come to their conclusions on this and abandoned her. At best her press conference statement was badly executed for not addressing all the issues, but more likely it was intended to hide the truth that she was a ‘legal cheat’ for all those years.”

The boss, Richard Edelman, saw things similarly to me in his recent post on the matter. But others have different opinions.

I guess “beauty” in crisis communications is sometimes in the “eye of the beholder.” But how did all of this play out? I thought I would run some numbers on it. First… it was BIG NEWS:


Initially the coverage was all about the breaking news of her press conference without much analysis or commentary:


That said, this news coverage and much of the commentary that eventually came with it was negative. This is not surprising given the fact that one of the world’s most famous sports stars had just failed a drug test. Sometimes it is hard to escape the basic facts of the matter. However, the sentiment varied depending on location, as Sharapova received a much more positive reception in Russia than she did in the US or Australia:


As the story developed, sentiment began to move slightly her way, particularly on the back of a supportive CNN story and Serena Williams appearing to be sympathetic.

Take your pick on who was right. I would have been much more forthcoming with the information at the initial press conference given the subject was cheating. As her managers are now discovering, partial disclosure to me and to many out there requires having to contextualize and answer further and predictable questions keeps this alive and puts you back on the defensive. Right idea, poorly executed is still my verdict.

There is one big winner in all this, however: Meldonium sales have soared in Russia. You don’t suppose…

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The research on SlideShare:

Sharapova Coverage Analysis from David Brain

Image by Yann Caradec.
Categories Crisis, Edelman, PR, Sport

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