Mad Men aka The NHL Owners After the Focus Group Leak

Everything else is public relations

Thanks a lot, NHL. Here I was all ready to go with a baseball themed post, comparing the lockout to the MLB post-season, and then BOOM!, news of the NHL focus group leaked sending me back to the drawing board. Literally.

So thank you. No, I really mean that. Because this is WAAAAY better material to work with.

Where to start…well, to paraphrase George Orwell William Randolph Hearst Lord Northcliffe, "News is what they don’t want you to know. Everything else is just public relations." And you can be assured that the NHL owners didn’t want you to know about that little focus group. I bet they were some mad when word got out. I would have loved to listen in on the conference call where Bettman had to explain the whole thing.

If you are unfamiliar with the advertising and PR industry, a little explanation may be necessary. First and foremost, there are two very different types of public relations, although both include screwing and the public:

Screwing the public vs screwing in public

This is not to be confused with pubic relations, which involve privates, though if not kept private they become public relations. (There’s a Who’s On First joke in there somewhere for anyone that really liked the idea of a baseball theme.)

Screwing up in public is an entirely different matter, though it is still related because it usually requires public relations in order to minimize the damage. This is worse when it’s the public relations effort itself that screwed up in public because, paradoxically, public relations works best when it’s not too public:

Keep the public out of public relations

Got it? Good. Let’s move on to what actually happened here.

As per the Deadspin story, the NHL hired a high-powered Republican PR flack to run a focus group of 30 NHL fans to test the NHL’s messaging on the lockout. Now I know that 30 seems like a huge coincidence since there are 30 teams and 30 29 30 29 30…fuck it, I lost track. Is Jamieson in or out today?

Anyway, there are approximately 30 NHL owners, so that might seem confusing. But this handy chart should help you tell the difference next time you see 30 or so guys leaving the NHL offices:

 NHL focus group

That distinction aside, there’s definitely some similarities between a focus group and the NHL. As Jonathan Ive, Apple’s senior vice president of industrial design, puts it, "They just ensure that you don’t offend anyone, and produce bland inoffensive products."

 Focus group vs an NHL season

Hmmm. Maybe the NHL has been using focus groups for awhile now.

The result of this particular focus group was that the notion of a "shared sacrifice" resonated well with NHL hockey fans. You know what would resonate just as well with hockey fans, and actually contribute to a long term solution for the league? Shared revenues!

But no, we’re stuck with the catch phrase "shared sacrifice." Luntz Global, the PR firm hired by the NHL, really should change its motto to "It’s not what you say or do, it’s what they hear."

Shared sacrifice not shared revenues

This brings to mind another NHL slogan from a few years ago, "There are no words." This slogan, of course, also sums up the CBA negotiations to date.

Now, I know you didn’t come here for just another rehashing of the focus group story from yesterday. You want some value-added fresh content. Well fear not, because I have here some of the raw results from the focus group testing.

Sure, Deadspin and everyone else has reported that the "shared sacrifice" line was the final outcome. There were some other tag lines they came up with that tested just as well, as did the write in option:

Fire Bettman

However, they chose to ignore the clear winner, for obvious reasons.

Surprisingly, the one Bettman came up with scored pretty well too. The focus group must have been skewed to English majors. Or confused Jody Shelley fans.

One final point about Bettman. As I said at the top, I had been planning a baseball theme for this week and set it aside, but it’s a shame to let this one go to waste. I give it an A+:


  • DSF

    How does a very successful PR firm that holds focus groups all the time allow a person to take 9 different pictures of their questionnaire?

    I assume there are people watching their group at all times thru their one way mirror. You’d be lucky to snap one picture, but 9? I would also assume a successful PR firm would not allow anyone to enter with any picture taking device.

    I also assume these questions aren’t being asked because it’s lots of fun to think Bettman got screwed.

    So we should ask ourselves why was this stuff leaked so easily? Perhaps it was purposefully leaked by the league?

    • Graphic Comments

      Been awhile, but last focus group I did, we were put in rooms by ourselves to fill out the survey before the actual focus group discussion in the room with the mirror.

      They typically don’t want you distracted or talking to anyone else while doing the survey component.