A public relations analysis of the Boston Red Sox 1

I’m not a sports journalist. I’m just a blood and guts cops reporter with public relations experience. As my fourth or fifth job, I’m teaching a public relations course at Newbury College this semester, and the concepts I’m lecturing on made me think of what the Red Sox should do to improve their image.

The Red Sox need an empowered public relations pro. I know they have a good PR team already, but the PR people need to be given more power. One of the biggest challenges PR pros face is in convincing management of its benefits — and encouraging management to empower public relations people AND spend money on the cause. Fixing the Red Sox will need both, not just a likely-planned guerrilla radio appearance.

But John Henry’s appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub was interesting, because he called the team’s crisis largely “external,” and he blamed the media for a lot of the team’s image problems. This is also common in the corporate world. The fact is, even if the team got along perfectly in the clubhouse and worked their asses off on the field, the public did not see either. That is a public relations crisis.

Of course, it’s pretty clear that some players did not get along, and a lot of players did not work their asses off. That is a second PR crisis.

The key to managing PR is in managing personnel. It’s the same as any corporation. The employees are the face of the company, and they have to sell a positive image in their words and — as importantly — their actions. If you believe the news reports, then this year the employees failed to do their part to cultivate a positive image for the company. At the same time, job performance suffered, the company lost money (playoffs = cash) and now people have lost their jobs.

Professional sports are a challenge, because such a high percentage of employees are constantly in the spotlight. There a lot of things they can do to mess up. Even well-intentioned actions or airing of inside jokes can hurt image since inside jokes are, by their nature, not meant for others to understand.

In the end, image is related to performance. The team would do better if it looked better and if its employees were on the same page.

This year, teammates did not seem to get along, forming cliques and sometimes flat-out disagreeing with each other in the public eye. You don’t always hear the term “team building” in sports at the professional level, but it’s surprisingly common. It’s something that teams like the Red Sox and New York Yankees need to invest a lot of money into, since they have a lot of star players with high paychecks and big egos. Whether it’s ropes courses, trust games or ballroom dancing, the final Red Sox roster needs to get away for a few days, privately, and have some professional team builders come in to work with them. These guys need to remove the “I” in team and learn to move as a unit.

PR pros have good ideas. Sometimes they are controversial ideas. Sometimes they are ideas that are expensive but that may have long-term financial benefits that are hard for management to understand.

Right now, the team needs two sweeping and broad new rules, and those rules need to be enforceable by fines, suspensions, etc. But the key to these rules is that if they work, fines and suspensions would not ever be needed.

Sweeping and Broad Rule No. 1: All healthy players will be in uniform during games and will sit in the dugout or bullpen.

The previous game’s starter can be in a box or away following their first day rituals. No players, including starting pitchers, inactive players, and injured players, are allowed in the clubhouse during games unless it is at direction of the coaching or training staff. No alcohol may be consumed during games.

Players on the Disabled List may be absent during games, may sit in the dugout with the rest of the team, or may watch the game from a team box.

Sweeping and Broad Rule No. 2: Players will adhere to a strict physical fitness policy. Conditioning staff will have the power to levy fines and suspensions for failure to work to the policy.

And now a player-by-player PR breakdown: (No stats here, just image)

Alfredo Aceves: Two words: Endorsement deal. Get this guy on television. How’s this for a Dunkin Donuts commercial — Alfredo’s alarm clock goes off at 4 a.m. and he rises, saying “Time to make the donuts.” A fan recognizes him at their local Dunkin and says “Whoa, Alfredo Aceves, you really are the hardest working guy in baseball.” “I just do my part,” he replies. “Here, try a pumpkin-spiced latte.”

Matt Albers, Scott Atchison, Daniel Bard: Maybe start a bullpen band like Timlin did in 2007? I loved that, and it showed friendship in the bullpen, which performed amazingly in 2007.

Josh Beckett: Keep him. He can turn his image around. Not through endorsements, but through community service. Beckett has to work to get the fans to support him again. Beckett took this year. He took beer, and chicken, and probably took wins away from the team in the process. Now he has to give back.

Erik Bedard: Gone.

Clay Buchholz: He needs to work hard this off-season. Injured for much of the second half of the season, Buchholz was actually spared much of the negative imagery thrown at the rest of the starting pitchers. If he comes back strong, healthy and in-shape and puts up the numbers, Clay can be a huge part of a resurgent 2012 team.

John Lackey: Lackey’s image can not be repaired in Boston. There is almost always a way to manage a crisis, but in this case, Lackey just has to go. Some employees are toxic to image.

This is where good public relations practice can cost a lot of money in the short-term but have a lasting positive impact. Even if the team needs to eat most of his contract, Lackey needs to be traded or released. He cannot contribute to the team’s image.

Jon Lester: Lester is in the Beckett division. He has to show that his lazy, chicken-eating, beer-drinking ways were a one-year digression. He needs to lose a few pounds and come back and win his first few starts. Starting hot next year (which he has struggled with in the past) will result in cheers and help galvanize the rest of the team.

It may be crass and controversial to think along these lines, but Lester’s cancer battle is a story that touches a lot of people. I didn’t hear about cancer one time this year with Lester.

Jonathan Papelbon: Re-sign him. If the Yankees gave up on Mariano Rivera after 2004, they would have missed out on more than six amazing years. Beyond that, Rivera has a reputation as a worker who puts the team first and always takes them on his shoulders when the game is on the line. People love that. Sound like anyone we know?

Tim Wakefield: He needs a sit down. Wake is one of the nicest guys in baseball history, and he does arguably more community service and charity work than anyone else in the game today. His comments at the end of the season about the fans “deserving” to see him chase the team’s all-time wins record instantly black-marked his tenure.

Also, the nine tries, over two months, to score his 200th win didn’t help his image much. Wake’s time may be up in Boston, but if can still pitch and can prove he’s still a team player, there may still be room for him.

Jason Varitek: It’s time to end this. Varitek’s alleged partake in the chicken and beer scandal tarnished his reputation as the captain who led the team to two World Series titles. He never should have been on the team this year, and it showed, badly, for him and the team.

This year, he earned a reputation as a lazy, broken down Old Yeller of a catcher who can’t throw to second and can’t hit. He is a symbol of what went wrong this year.

But beyond Varitek, something else has to go. The captain title is not required in baseball. It did nothing for a team comprised of individuals and egos this year. So next year, there should be no captain. As much as Dustin Pedroia might have earned it, 2012 has to be all about teamwork and less about titles, records, stats, and names. No Varitek in 2012. No captain in 2012.

Ryan Lavarnway and Jarrod Saltalamacchia: These are your catchers next year. Lavarnway is a good story. The smart Yale grad who stepped up when it mattered story goes far with fans. He’s not proven to be an everyday player yet, but Lavarnway has shown he can play at this level. Salty is the main catcher.

Internal public relations rules say that we need to make sure these guys get along with each other. They should make up a secret handshake. Seriously, where has that gone in baseball?

It’s a little thing, but people notice this: If one of them hits a home run, the other should be the first one out of the dugout to congratulate him.

Adrian Gonzalez: Gonzo doesn’t need any more endorsements. He needs footage of him coming in six hours before the game to work out and practice.

Jed Lowrie: Lowrie is partially a victim here. As the other half of Jacoby Ellsbury’s two-man clique, he has to go. Ellsbury needs to make friends with the rest of the team, and a good way to start is by getting rid of his sidekick. Plus, Lowrie’s reputation is falling. He’s unproven and injury-prone.

Dustin Pedroia: While there should be no captain, the team needs to build a brand around Pedroia, including using him more in advertising. He has emerged as a clubhouse leader, and he will receive more respect on a properly trained and team-built team.

Marco Scutaro: Scutaro worked hard this year, and he performed well when most of the rest of the team sucked it up. He earned a lot of respect for that, so the team should keep him.

Carl Crawford: Talk about someone who needs a public relations overhaul. Even the owner said he was against signing Crawford. Couple that with an abysmal year, and Crawford has a PR crisis of Lackeyian proportions. The difference is that Crawford is likely to stay. The team needs to take a stand with him. Do not shop him around. Either pull the trigger on a trade or keep him and stand by him. If he feels unwanted, he will not perform.

J.D. Drew: Done. Happy trails. Fresh start in 2012. Getting someone like a Michael Cuddyer from the Twins would improve this position’s reputation.

Jacoby Ellsbury: Ellsbury will be here for two more years, then it is likely that he will be gone. If Ellsbury is going to be a super star, then celebrate his stardom for as long as you have him. Don’t treat Jacoby like the speedy kid who can hit a little too. Treat him like Ken Griffey Jr.

Josh Reddick: He can’t field or throw. Be cautious if you’re going to have him replace Drew. Fans have a short fuse in right field.

David Ortiz: It might be time to part ways with Papi. Even if Ortiz goes to the Yankees, it will be on him, not the team. Complaining about a scorer taking away an RBI and interrupting his manager’s press conference are not the kinds of actions the team needs going into next year.

Kevin Youkilis: Kevin should be moved to DH. He is a worker, who tried to play through serious injury — something unique to the 2011 team. But now we know that he is injury prone, having lost much of the last two seasons. Convert him to DH, and know that he can play the corners if needed. National League park problem = solved.

Also, play up the friendship between him and Pedroia.

And Finally…

Daisuke Matsuzaka: Sometimes Tommy John surgery works and has amazing effects on a pitcher’s performance. If anyone can make a giant PR leap next year, it’s Daisuke. All he needs to do is win a few games early in the year, and he can be a shining beacon of change in Boston. Staff should monitor him closely. He has a bad reputation right now, but he was not part of the September collapse, the laziness, the beer, or the fried chicken. Imagine that? Daisuke is a breath of fresh air.