Keeping Your News in the News: 8 PR Tips for Sports Teams

Some would argue that this is the best time of year for sports fans. You’ve got the NBA and NHL playoffs going and baseball is only a month into the season. Throw in the NFL lockout and the occasional college football scandal and there is no shortage of sports stories to inundate your news feed. There are periods during the year though, where sports do not hold the collective attention of the Nation. In those times, teams fight a constant battle to keep a positive media spotlight on their organization.

Plain and simple, the media reaches far more people than a team’s marketing department could ever touch. Having an effective media and public relations strategy is essential in keeping your team in the public eye, whether it’s the busiest time of year or the middle of the offseason. Of course you could always sit around and wait for media to come to you, but usually that means something bad has happened. On the other hand, if you proactively and aggressively pursue better relationships with members of the media you can help shape the story being told about your team. After all, with the amount of work put into your product don’t you want the people in front of the microphones, cameras and keyboards selling the same experience you are?

Media and Public Relations personnel must do more than prepare daily statistics packages. They are the liaison between the media and the entire brand. Not only should they be informing media members about the players on the field, but they also need to publicize upcoming promotions, depict the game experience and push team marketing initiatives. 

Here are 8 PR tips to keep your news in the news:

1. Choose Your Spokesperson Wisely

If a team is actively engaging local and national media, someone is going to have to get in front of a camera at some point. For most organizations, this responsibility falls on the Media or PR folks. It doesn’t have to. While that department should surely be in charge of arranging all interviews, the job of doing the talking shouldn’t be one that is delegated by default. Ideally, a team should have a consistent spokesperson who best presents the brand as a whole. They should be charismatic, personable, well-spoken and easy to relate to. They should be the most well informed staff member, having an innate knowledge of everything the team does. It makes things a lot easier if the PR person embodies these characteristics, but if they don’t it’s alright to have someone else within the organization be the mouthpiece for the team. Bottom line, the person doing the interviews should be a person that viewers or listeners will like and trust.

2. Know Your Non-Sports Media

When you’re a professional sports team, it’s easy to get to know the local sports media. After all, it is their job to cover your team. While they are tremendously important and constant maintenance must be done to build better relationships with them, there is simply a much more natural connection with sports reporters than with non-sports media. That being said, a good PR effort reaches out to all media, no matter what they traditionally cover. It is the news departments of every TV station that plan feature stories or interviews where your team could reach a new segment of the population. It is the radio promotions people that plan grassroots events your team could take part in. Don’t disregard them just because they don’t know what your first baseman’s slugging percentage is. The more members of the media you develop relationships with, the more people you have to contact when you need to plug something. It takes more work to get in with non-sports media, but in the end these folks are more representative of the community as a whole and therefore extremely important.

3. Always Be Available

The media doesn’t keep a normal schedule. Quite frequently, they are making plans long before the rest of us wake up or hours after we go to sleep. Being available when they need you is critical. Whether it’s an on-camera interview at 5:00am or setting up a time to talk minutes before game time, a team’s flexibility and dependability go a long way in ensuring future coverage. People who are constantly under deadline appreciate others who can help them out on short notice and they remember all the times you came through with information or an interview. If you expect them to run with something when you send out a press release, you better be there to return the favor even if comes at the most inconvenient time.

4. Press Releases Are Not Enough

Every team sends out press releases when they need to promote something. While you can always tweak the effectiveness of releases and make them more appealing to read, simply sending them out to a distribution list is not enough to solicit attention. Imagine what your email inbox looks like when you step away from your desk for lunch. Now imagine what it would look like if every single business in the community emailed you every little thing they did. Press releases should be followed up with personal attention. Even better, put out phone calls in advance of releases to let media members know you have something big on the way. Remember though, they might not be on your schedule, so be cognizant of when you reach out. Taking the time to reach out on an individual on a personal level will help increase the chances of your news making the real news.

5. Create Fully Packaged Stories

Yes, there is a theme here. It’s convenience. Not for teams, but for the media. The more convenient you can make things for them, the better off you’ll be. Considering how hard traditional media (especially print) has been hit during the recession, media members have less time and resources at their disposal. By approaching them with well thought out story ideas and concepts, you are not only helping them out but you are increasing the likelihood that the team will be covered for something other than a nightly score recap. For example, instead of just sending a release about an upcoming jersey auction that will benefit a local charity put together a list of people that a station could interview to build a story. If you go to the media with the ability to bring together a team representative, a contact from the charitable organization, and possibly someone who benefits from the charity, you can’t lose. Keep in mind though, stations are incredibly competitive and they don’t want to run the same story a rival did. You must come up with fresh angles for different outlets. Again, take the guess work out of it for them and you’ll end up being far more successful.

6. Keep an Open House

While the most outwardly visible component of any organization is the team on the field, the media needs to know and understand all of the roles that it takes to provide that team with a place to play. They should be welcome to tour the park and get insight into all of the people that really make things happen. Even a casual invite to get a behind the scenes look at the stadium or arena could lead to better communication. Job swaps are also very effective. Ask media members if they’d like to fill in for someone on your staff for a few innings or minutes, possibly your PA announcer, DJ, or scoreboard operator. This will not only lead to a greater appreciation of all the work that goes into your game experience, but it could lead to feature stories on those important positions. Giving media special access and insight into what makes the team tick is an important step in building a two-way relationship with them.

7. Use Your Star Power

Your team spokesperson can only generate so much buzz while on air. Sometimes, you need to call in the big guns. For major league teams, this means getting players out of the locker room and in front of a microphone. For minor league teams, it most often means putting the mascot front and center. Players and mascots, while not always the most effective verbal communicators, simply add excitement that team personnel cannot replicate. Always make sure they are accompanied by the team spokesperson, especially if the player is speaking to something other than on-the-field matters. While it’s obvious that mascots help to liven up a visual piece, even taking the mascot to radio interviews can be beneficial. Even though no one can hear or see them, just having them in the room for a radio visit will heighten the fun for the media members, creating a better broadcast and raising the chances of them inviting you back.

8. Everyone Loves Presents

When it comes to keeping top of mind with members of the media, it always helps if they’ve got some sort of constant reminder of your team. Never be ashamed of sending care packages filled with extra promotional items or dropping by stations with complimentary bobbleheads or t-shirts. Those items go a lot further sitting in front of a media member than collecting dust on your desk. It’s a scientific fact that everyone loves free stuff, including the media.

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