Dear Gracie: Clearing the Hurdles of Sports PR

Each week, Dear Gracie answers questions from ProfNet Connect readers with advice from our network of nearly 50,000 ProfNet experts. Has there been a question burning in your mind lately, something you’ve been wondering that none of your colleagues can answer? Please send it to grace.lavigne@prnewswire.com

Dear Gracie,

I recently acquired a professional athlete as a client, although I have no experience in sports PR specifically. Any advice? Unique challenges?

Athletic Amateur

***

Dear Athletic Amateur:

Three ProfNet experts with sports PR experience weigh in:

What to Know About Sports PR

  1. Professional vs. Fan: “If you choose to get involved in sports PR, understand that the fan element must be removed from the equation,” says Christopher Navalta, senior account executive for Graham and Associates, with experience managing NBA players and teams, as well as minor league baseball players and teams.
  2. Long Hours: And while you don’t have to have a passion for sports to work in sports PR, you probably won’t like it if you don’t, warns Adam Siepiola, assistant athletic director for media and external relations at Adelphi University, a Division II institution in New York. Sports PR includes long hours at games, and the ability to know what you’re watching and writing about. “As a collegiate PR professional, we are required to travel with our teams regularly and to be at all home games,” says Siepiola. “Your work day really starts after the game.”
  3. Unstructured Work: “Every day is different,” says Navalta. “Managing a team is obviously more structured than managing an athlete, but if you’re the type of person who enjoys every day being different, then this is the perfect fit.” From head injuries in the NFL to ethics violations in the NCAA, the sports industry faces many challenges that require the assistance of PR professionals, agrees Amy Littleton, senior vice president of KemperLesnik, a PR, events and sports marketing agency in Chicago.
  4. No Riches: “Sports PR doesn’t pay very much,” says Littleton. “You have to do it for the love of the game.” It’s long hours, average pay, weekends spent working and no real time off until June, warns Siepiola. “But the good outweighs the bad!”
  5. Untapped Stories: “There is so much more beyond just the final score,” says Siepiola. “For example, we had a four-time All-American women’s lacrosse player who has been dealing with diabetes since she was 6; she overcame that to become one of the best in the country!”

Potential Challenges

  1. Competition and Clutter: “There are so many sports and events competing for the attention of consumers, that it is often difficult to break through,” says Littleton. “This is exacerbated by the fact that ESPN holds a lot of power when it comes to sports news and coverage.” You have to find compelling, human-interest stories — anything that goes beyond wins and losses — to get coverage sometimes, says Siepiola.
  2. Changing Minds: Because professional athletes are paid millions of dollars, they are considered one-man institutions. Unlike working in a PR agency, where there is plenty of structure, working with athletes can be challenging, depending on who you’re working with, because athletes have the ability to change their minds constantly when it comes to their brand, says Navalta.
  3. Brand Direction: “Like any business, the sports industry is about building a brand,” says Navalta. “I’ve run into a lot of athletes and coaches who have wanted to build their own brand, but really never had any direction or foresight on what they wanted to do with it.”
  4. Damage Control: We frequently see professional athletes in trouble the law, says Navalta. These athletes obviously do not have a lot of the necessary structure to build and maintain a brand because they’re around the wrong people. “If sports leagues want to avoid having the reputation of having athletes who are always getting into trouble, they need a better PR plan.” Plus, damage control is always time consuming. Avoid athletes or teams with histories of bad PR, unless you’re the kind of person who thrives on helping underdogs.
  5. Uncensored Social Media Chatting: Social media is a great place to grow a personal brand, says Siepiola. But since it’s also a place to vent and talk with friends, social media can be risky business. A PR professional can educate and monitor this type of social media usage. At some point, an issue will come up, so have a crisis management plan in place, warns Siepiola.

Perks

  • Sports PR pros get to watch games up close for free, party with some of the biggest names in sports (along with the celebrities who want to be close to those athletes) and travel, says Navalta.
  • “Getting inside the ropes, courtside or into locker rooms to get up close and personal with players and see behind the scenes at events is pretty awesome,” says Littleton.
  • “I vividly remember a time this past spring — an April afternoon at around 2 p.m. — when I was out at our softball field watching and keeping statistics for a game,” says Siepiola. “It was in the mid-70s and sunny, and I remember thinking: ‘I get paid to do this — how cool is that?!”
  • Siepiola also says that he’s travelled to places he probably never would have been to otherwise.

Gracie

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Dear Gracie is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

7 responses to “Dear Gracie: Clearing the Hurdles of Sports PR

  1. D'Arcy L. Stanfield

    Being a fan it seems like this will be very hard to do in becoming a professional. I have coached for years and I can recall a time when my high school teams was playing against Derrick Rose. He made 2 plays in the game that caused me as a coach to automatically turn into a fan. This article is very insightful and on point in terms of the expectation of the profession. So where can you draw the line of unwritten rules.

  2. Hi Gracie! You did a great job in giving a quick overview of the sport PR world by covering everything from the pitfalls of social media and the need to potentially do a lot of damage control to the perks of free games and inside access. One thing that I would also add for this aspiring professional in the world of sport public relations is to know your community and to foster strong relations with them. While the need to foster a relationship with members of the media can be paramount to any sport public relations professional, the community in which that athlete is involved can also be your best friend, or your worst enemy. Many times when an athlete becomes involved in a scandal, the media will latch on to the story and make your job a nightmare. However, by having fostered a relationship of goodwill with the general public, an athlete’s career and reputation can be salvaged more quickly. It is important to remember that while getting data out there regarding an athlete on the field of competition is extremely vital to a sport PR professional, what that athlete does off the field is also crucial. Whether it is through volunteerism, financial contributions, etc., promoting social responsibility and fostering positive interactions between the athlete and the community is paramount to success.

  3. Hi Gracie! You did a great job in giving a quick overview of the sport PR world by covering everything from the pitfalls of social media and the need to potentially do a lot of damage control to the perks of free games and inside access. One thing that I would also add for this aspiring professional in the world of sport public relations is to know your community and to foster strong relations with them. While the need to foster a relationship with members of the media can be paramount to any sport public relations professional, the community in which that athlete is involved can also be your best friend, or your worst enemy. Many times when an athlete becomes involved in a scandal, the media will latch on to the story and make your job a nightmare. However, by having fostered a relationship of goodwill with the general public, an athlete’s career and reputation can be salvaged more quickly. It is important to remember that while getting data out there regarding an athlete on the field of competition is extremely vital to a sport PR professional, what that athlete does off the field is also crucial. Whether it is through volunteerism, financial contributions, etc., promoting social responsibility and fostering positive interactions between the athlete and the community is paramount to success-Amy Fitpatrick

  4. Lauren Sillhart

    Gracie,
    Great advice! As a senior communications student at Robert Morris University (Pittsburgh), I have always shown interest in sports PR. Your post was not only a helpful reminder, but touched on points that we don’t always discuss in class. For instance, the potential pitfalls section really opened my eyes to some challenges that can arise within a sport organization or specifically, an athlete. It was also a nice addition to add the perks section with quotes from real sport PR practitioners. I’m glad I stumbled upon this blog and had the opportunity to further my knowledge on sports PR. My only question would have to be, what can I, as a college student, do to better prepare myself for a PR internship or job within a sports organization?

    • Hi Lauren -
      Good question! Getting started on some sort of content creation – a blog about a favorite team or sport or freelance writing about related subjects – can help you build experience and a portfolio. Learning how to attract and appeal to an audience via the content you share and publish — paying attention to what works and what doesn’t — will also be important to a PR career. In the meantime, consider doing some volunteer PR work for a local sports oriented organization (city parks, the YMCA, etc.) to start building practical experience – and making connections. Good luck to you!

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