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A lesson in reputation management

By Suzanne Spurgeon  July 12, 2009

This just in...the swim club has invited the kids back..stayed tuned to see how this plays out

The Valley Club in suburban Philadelphia has a lot to learn about dealing with a media firestorm.  The swim club is drowning in bad press amid allegations of racism.  Minority children from a local day camp had anything but fun in the sun when white club members reportedly said some ugly, racist things about them.  Next, The Valley Club returned the camp's check and told them not to come back.  Not surprisingly, the news spread and the broadcast networks had reporter pieces on the air quickly.  The children spoke, the parents spoke, the camp people spoke.  What was missing?  The president of the club did not give on-camera interviews for these network news reports.  He issued a paper statement.  And what a statement it was.  In part it said the day camp children, "changed the complextion of the club."  By the next day, the president was speaking on-camera, along with his teary-eyed wife.  Their explanation: the club had underestimated how many new kids would be swimming there. So to avoid overcrowding, they returned the check.   It will take much more than that explanation to repair the club's reputation. They should have flat out apologized for bad behavior and put out the welcome mat for those children to return. If overcrowding really is a problem; considering expanding hours to accomodate more children. The healing process could begin with a community meeting at the club.  If the swim club president thought a poorly-worded statement was all that was needed when this story broke, he is naive.  The sound bites with the children were powerful; heartbreaking. Parents everywhere could relate to them.  A cold, faceless statement, by the swim club was a horrible response to this crisis.




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