Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Karen Kessler, founder and head of Evergreen Partners in Warren Township, New Jersey, is a highly sought-after crisis communication expert. She helps the heads of major companies navigate through various crises; the #MeToo movement has been a boon for business. And she's the "brand police" for Conor McGregor.

Notorious appears to live in chaos; Kessler's innate calmness provides desperately needed balance. They two communicate almost daily.

When McGregor retired via Tweet, it got 20,000 agitated replies.

By contrast, Kessler calmly texted McGregor - “You want to talk about the tweet?”

“Part of the reason that I like what I do — or that I’m genetically wired to do what I do — is that I don’t overreact to any of this,” she said to Tom Bergeron for ROI NJ. “Because you can’t. My role is to give comfort and calm in a world in which there is very little. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t want to make it appear that the world was ending. It wasn’t. I just wanted to understand. Then I got a call [from McGregor] and I understood."

She had never heard of the fighter when his legal team reached out following McGregor's attack on a fighter bus at UFC 223. McGregor failed in an attempt to intimidate Khabib Nurmagomedov by throwing a hand truck at a fighter bus, succeeded in amusing ‘The Eagle’, injuring two fighters on the bus to the point they couldn't fight, and catching 12 charges, among other calamities. She ended up handling more than 400 media inquiries, but there was a rapid ramp up.

“I didn’t know the difference between MMA and UFC,” she said. “They were just a lot of letters that held no significance. I didn’t know how they all fit together. I didn’t know the politics or the players of the industry. I didn’t understand the lure of the industry. I went in to meet with him and his agents and the attorneys. We had never met before. It was two hours. I was comfortable working with them, they were comfortable working with me. It began as just handling that situation.”

“I’m not the lawyers. They get full credit for handling the legal case. Our role was to just make sure that the facts were presented correctly, and that the media was treating it for what it was and not what it wasn’t. I think people think it’s more frenetic in the office than it is. It’s not. Having done this for so long, it’s pretty measured. I feel a real responsibility to get the story right. And a huge responsibility to never say anything that’s not truthful. That really speaks to who we are and to our relationships with the media.”

“His career is evolving and expanding, it’s not just getting in and out of the Octagon,. When we were getting involved with him, he was launching new businesses, he was walking into new rooms, he was meeting more people. He’s now spending more time in the U.S. And he’s being exposed to a lot of things that he probably wasn’t exposed to when he was living in Ireland and just training.”

Our eyes are on media all over the world. It doesn’t matter if we get great press in the U.S., if we’re getting slammed back in Ireland, that’s not going to help because that’s going to matter to his family. If we’re getting slammed in Russia, that’s going to hurt because that’s going to be where his next competitor is from. If we’re getting slammed in South America, that’s going to hurt his business interests there. We can’t just focus on a few markets. We’ve got to focus everywhere.”

Kessler and her firm are now deep into the MMA world, working with Dillon Danis, Cris Cyborg, Tony Ferguson, and Leon Edwards.

“We now have learned a new language,” she said. “We are helping them in all kinds of ways: From building and promoting their visibility to helping them learn how to handle the media and how to handle setbacks in their careers. ... One of the first things you find: If you’re going to be successful, you can’t be a fan,” she said. “If you approach them like the fan, you’ve lost it. And, yet, that’s how a lot of people approach it. What I’ve found is they all are surrounded with a certain circle of people who have a really hard time ever saying, ‘No,’ to them — a certain circle of people who enable behaviors that you don’t agree with. You have to be comfortable and confident enough to say, ‘You can’t do that,’ or, ‘You’ve got to do that.’”

“You get a lot of pushback in the beginning because it’s not what they’re used to hearing. But, after a while, when they realize that the only thing you’re concerned about is their well-being and their brand, the respect kicks in. And I think that’s where I’ve gotten with Conor.”

“Conor’s lawyer and Conor’s manager and I are a team. We are in touch all the time and we’ve all gotten to know each other very well. We all know each other’s personal lives. We all know who’s where. Even if we’re on vacation, we all know how to reach each other. We have a special way of keeping in touch, because something could happen at any second around the world — and it does.”

And it will.