As an image and branding consultant, my job is to uncover, polish and highlight the desirable traits and skills of my clients. My work often finds me working with a related profession – public relations. After decades of working with PR people, I pretty much have their number. I know their methods, strategies, timing, tricks and patterns as they seek the ultimate goal of creating and maintaining good and favorable impressions of their clients among the masses. And no surprise, last week was a very busy one for the Tigers’ PR department.
And I saw it coming.
Let’s set the stage, shall we?
The end of May brought a brutal road trip rife with sloppy play and missed opportunities. Many within the media now unafraid to question the viability of the team and the longevity of their manager.
So on their first day back in Detroit, Al Avila and Brad Ausmus went out to dinner together and “shared a bottle of wine.” Just two buddies bonding over food and having a good time. And a genius move by the PR department to kill the buzz starting to build about Brad’s future.
The info, date, place and time were provided. You were meant to read it and to draw the conclusions laid out for you. And it was all planned.
Afterall, if it was just a regular dinner, you wouldn’t know about it. And the dinner would have been at someone’s home or in a private dining room. But Al and Ausmus were on display just as much as the fresh seafood was at Streetside Seafood.
Less than 24 hour later, Al Avila made himself available to any and all media outlets to sing the praises of Brad and the “good job” he’s done with managing the team. All the local papers. MLB on tv and also mlb.com. Oh, and MLB radio. One very busy man.
A thorough job to reinforce the impression that the Tigers are a stable organization with no forthcoming changes. And still contenders. Textbook image making in order to soothe the masses – but also the players.
And the purpose of this exercise was not just to bury the bad road trip but to help manage what will be building for the rest of this summer. Situations that will increasingly make many nervous and wondering about the Tigers’ path for the rest of 2017 and beyond.
The passing of Mr. I now means the routine and expectations of how the organization will move can no longer be assumed to remain the same. There is a new owner with a significantly different perspective and manner of running a business. Estate taxes, no matter how well planned, will complicate decision-making and the future. And other Ilitch projects are bigger, newer, shinier and more profitable than the Tigers.
Changes are a’coming. We just don’t know what and how soon.
Ironically, the potential organizational changes are not the main reason the buffing of Brad is taking place. Currently, the Tigers are more concerned with maintaining a stable, calm and even-keeled organization. Oh, and yes, the fan base.
You see, the bottom line is that Al Avila can praise anyone to the moon and beyond but the fact is that Ausmus’s contract was not extended after last year. Only his option year was picked up. One.single.year. And Brad has only 3.5 months left on his contract.
In baseball, former and current execs warn about the lame duck manager effect. They caution about allowing a manager to stay beyond the All-Star break without a new contract in hand. History has shown that players tend to start withdrawing from organized team participation when they believe the manager will be leaving. They start to disregard him, play more for themselves and try a little less hard.
And that is something the Tigers are trying to avoid have happen to them. Avila’s mass media message is an attempt to thwart the upcoming dilemma that will probably happen somewhere around July 12th when current managers are generally extended – and Brad may not be.
It is the Tigers’ intent to send a message that it’s business as usual. They want the players to remain as focused as possible on the games and not on the potential organizational changes. They want as many fans for as long as possible to continue to believe that the team has a credible shot at remaining in contender status long into the summer – if not October.
They need to control the emotional and mental levels of those on the field and in the stands. They need the talent to perform (for winning and also for trade value) and for the fannies to continue to fill the seats for as long as possible.
There are new and significant issues the Tigers will be facing towards the end of this year. It’s still unclear whether Ausmus will stay or go as there are strategies that support both sides. And a blog will delve into these in the near future.
But in the meantime, keep in mind that talk is cheap. It’s the actions – or lack thereof – that signal the true intent.