svppAndrew Touhy, Assistant Account Executive

SportsCenter host Scott Van Pelt’s recent interview with The Washington Post – following claims that ESPN is sinking – highlights an increasingly important lesson in brand management and reputation management: When countering claims discrediting your company, be honest, transparent and composed. Following a barrage of stories citing ESPN’s decreasing popularity, “layoffs of somewhere around 300 staffers last fall after cost-cutting demands from parent company Disney, and a number of big names — Bill Simmons, Colin Cowherd, Keith Olbermann, Skip Bayless, Mike Tirico (leaving the network),” Van Pelt responded in a way that was smart, composed, and truthful.

Van Pelt’s argument reads with such a genuine tone because he does not dismiss the criticisms of ESPN, but rather responds to them, and even validates that some of the criticisms hold true. Van Pelt acknowledges there are real issues that can and will be addressed.

“There are challenges and no one will tell you otherwise,” he said. “I’m amazed at the almost willful exclusion of the fact that we’re still … it’s not like we’re losing money, we’re just not making as much. It’s a giant difference. So I believe there are smart people who are trying to steer the ship around the iceberg.”

Van Pelt’s strategy to admit certain weaknesses and assert that these issues are being addressed by smart people in line with the transformation of how people consume media, especially broadcast media, validates and strengthens his counterclaims that ESPN is actually doing just fine. Van Pelt did his research and countered certain public perceptions of failure at ESPN with composure and hard facts saying, “There’s no anger in any of this, I’m just professionally competitive. And so I can say, ‘Wait, if you’re going to keep saying that, then I’m going to say, ‘What are your ratings?’’ I saw one day there was 28,000 people watching that show, that’s the attendance of a Cincinnati Reds game. That’s your audience. SportsCenter, on its worst day, gets 300,000 people.”

Admittedly it helps that Scott Van Pelt has built quite the following and is a wildly popular figurehead, but his approach to handing criticism can be used as a blue print in brand and reputation management. Make no mistake that his genuine demeanor and stronghold on his values serve to greatly legitimatize his arguments following the criticisms of ESPN.

The validity of your arguments will be bolstered if you do not run or hide from criticism, but rather acknowledge it, discuss what is being done to make improvements, and calmly provide factual evidence in support of your argument.