Archive for the ‘sports’ Category

The Best PR Example In Rio Will Likely Be An Announcer

Saturday, August 13th, 2016

ElliotteFriedmanFor sports fans who live near the Canadian border, we knew who Elliotte Friedman was before this week. Every once in a while, I’m asked if I’m related to him (I’m not).

He’s basically the Adam Schefter of hockey on CBC. A skilled broadcaster, he’s best known for his reporting and has become a trusted source of information on the flagship “Hockey Night In Canada” show and also online.

The other game, though, he gained international infamy by messing up the call of what was actually the 22nd Gold Medal of Michael Phelps swimming career. It was such a shame because, as those of us along the northern border know, CBC’s Olympics coverage is typically excellent and not deserving of ridicule by U.S. fans.

Immediately, that Mr. Friedman’s PR response was genuine, honest and exemplary. He immediately tweeted “I’m sorry everyone. I blew it. No excuses.”

Think about that for a second. What if every time someone public made a mistake, it was handled quickly like that? Think about an executive, even a celebrity or Heaven forbid a politician. That would completely change crisis PR, especially in this media environment. But it has to come from the heart and soul, two places not explored often enough in times of bad news and controversy.

When Elliotte Friedman says “no excuses,” he means it. As seen in this interview with Sports Illustrated’s Michael Rosenberg (read it if you’re even a little interested), he doesn’t blame the fact that he was only given the assignment with weeks notice, originally scheduled for Rio in his more comfortable role as a reporter. And he doesn’t blame a producer which, as a former producer of live television, I find especially impressive because I always believed a producer’s primary job was to protect talent. Thanks to the way he has handled this, his career is poised for continued success and this situation will be put behind him more quickly than it would have otherwise.

Of course, when it comes to handling PR situations well, we want you to remember Tanner Friedman. But, also, remember Elliotte Friedman.

The Greatest of All Time

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

muhammad-ali-zoom-cfb97fff-3b5d-4161-b998-6457c965a343Long before there was, “The Great One”, there was, “The Greatest”.  An iconic figure who was arguably one of the most revered and recognizable athletes the sports world (and the world) has ever known.  Why, exactly, was that? What was it that has made Muhammad Ali such an enduring and beloved figure? And why did we believe him when he proclaimed he was, “The Greatest of All Time”? There is much to consider.

First and foremost, he had true talent in the ring.  Outside of it, he was just as memorable. Even as Ali first burst upon the scene in 1960 as an 18-year old Gold Gloves Champ and Olympic prospect, he already possessed charisma and outspokenness along with the skills to back it all up. He would soon elevate heavyweight boxing to new heights – not just with his fists but his wit and uncanny skills at self-promotion. He didn’t just box, he would, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” while also employing the “rope-a-dope”.  And,  his fights were not mere fights, they were the “Thrilla in Manilla” and the “Rumble in the Jungle.”  They all lived up to the hype too, spotlighted further by his constant tongue-in-cheek(?) foil, Howard Cosell of ABC Sports.

Moreover, as Rolling Stone noted this week in a piece by Tim Grierson, Muhammad Ali was also the master of multi-media – and not just your typical magazine covers and sports shows.  Very early on (in 1969), Ali appeared in the Broadway musical, “Buck White”.  He would go on to release a children’s album (1976) and appear in: an animated cartoon series (1977), a comic book opposite Superman (1978) and in an episode of “Diff’rent Strokes (1979).  Biopic movies (in 1977 and 2001) helped fuel the legendary fire.

Perhaps most of all, Ali stood up for what he believed in, without fail nor apology.  Born Cassius Clay, he would object to the Vietnam War and being drafted into it, embraced Islam, changed his name and weathered the firestorm that ensued.  He always believed in himself and encouraged others to do likewise.  It was his ‘brand’ and who he was:  The face he called ‘pretty’.  The mouth he used to call-out his opponents.  The moves those opponents could never seem to figure out.  When they all worked in unison, it was pure poetry in motion. Today, those memories are still indelibly and pleasantly etched – in our minds and in history – and there they will remain.




America’s Most-Watched Broadcaster Will Soon Be Tirico

Monday, April 25th, 2016

Unknown-1Even in a media environment that has drastically changed, there is still room for a few stars. One of them is about to get brighter.

Reports say that ESPN’s Mike Tirico, the voice and face of Monday Night Football, NBA and college basketball coverage, Major PGA events and seemingly so much more is headed to NBC. There, he appears in line to broadcast the Olympics, by far the most-watched sports event in America and becoming more valuable as live events become the new mass media, in addition to Sunday Night Football, the most-watched weekly TV series in the country, as well as NBC’s golf coverage and whatever else the Comcast-owned network acquires in the coming years.

If the evolution of media continues, and audiences continue to splinter with the exception of “big events,” Mike Tirico is set to become the most-watched TV personality in America. Unusually talented, Tirico is versatility skilled at play-by-play, studio hosting and interviewing. His preparation to become well-versed in all relevant subjects is legendary, as is his uncanny memory for names and ability to instantly recall information.

The first I heard of Tirico was more than 25 years ago. I was entering as a freshman at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School and, meeting with peer advisors heard one advisor, a senior boast that his boss at his internship was “The Next Bob Costas.” This is a school where hundreds of us every year left home with the goal of being “The Next Bob Costas.”

Someone asked, “Who’s your boss?” The answer was the 23 year-old sports director of WTVH-TV in Syracuse, a recent graduate of the school I was entering. “I’m telling you, he’s the next Costas.” “OK,” I thought, “I’ll check this guy out on TV and see how good he really is.” Once I got my TV hooked up in the dorm, I turned on Channel 5 to see the hype for myself. Tirico lived up to it. A personality that jumped off the screen and a smooth articulation, it was no surprise when he joined ESPN just a year later and gradually but steadily worked his way from late night SportsCenter anchor to that network’s marquee talent.

Since the mid-’80s, there has only been one Bob Costas. But now, Tirico is poised to succeed not only Costas, but also Al Michaels, another of the all-time greats. It won’t be long before students show up on campus at Syracuse wanting to be “The Next Mike Tirico.”

Detroit Lions and CBS Radio Part Ways, Beg Questions

Saturday, November 21st, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 2.19.21 PMThis week ended with perhaps one of the most interesting sports radio stories in recent memory as the Detroit Lions continued their off-the-field changes by announcing they will be leaving CBS Radio and 97-1 “The Ticket” for Cumulus’ Newstalk 760 WJR after the season.  A veritable ‘he said, she said’ scenario ensued bringing to the forefront issues of censorship, media relations protocol and the power, money and control of professional sports teams in general. Who was right and who was wrong? I’d rather examine a couple of ‘what ifs’ and ‘lessons learned.’

‘What if,’ let’s assume for the sake of examination, both the Lions and CBS are telling it like it is.  ‘What if,’ as Ticket Afternoon star Mike Valenti asserts, the Lions sought to censor what he said during his show, going so far as to call him while on-the-air? I know that when I was an on-air talent back in the day, if I was in the studio and behind the microphone, I took direction from one person and one person only: my program director. After the show was another matter and a more appropriate time for a more in-depth conversation with listeners regarding what I might have said.  ‘If’ the Lions couldn’t reach Valenti outside of his show, trying to send him a message during it might not have been inappropriate. In the world of media relations, we always recommend going to the host or journalist first to discuss concerns. If that fails, going to their superiors is the next resort.

On the other hand, ‘what if’ the Lions did indeed threaten to leave CBS unless Valenti was let go, as Valenti charges.  Many years ago, another PR firm in town requested an editorial board meeting with one of Detroit’s major print dailies to discuss a client’s concern about negative coverage, a not uncommon and often recommended practice. However, rather than talk out the situation and seek a resolution based on dialogue and mutual respect, the PR firm relayed the message that unless coverage improved in tone, their client would be pulling its advertising from the paper – entirely wrong and unethical.  The PR professional was quickly told to do something unnatural to himself and that incident, when recounted, still entails steam coming out of the ears of the editors and journalists in attendance.

So, who really knows exactly what happened behind closed doors? CBS and Valenti say they won’t be bought nor censored.  Good for them.  The Lions, on the other hand, are saying publicly that the new deal with WJR is all about business and a return to roots. Good for them.  Because where any business relationship is involved, it should not be only about the money but also respect and a proper fit culturally.  In other words, not just dollars and cents but also what makes sense for all involved.

The Way Forward Down The Ford Field

Friday, October 16th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-10-16 at 2.34.09 PMSo what exactly do we want from the Detroit Lions?  A competitive team and wins of course but what else?  In reading and listening to news coverage that has included opinions from reporters, fans and players alike I would argue that what we all, collectively, want is a demonstration of emotion, a message of ownership and a commitment for improvement.  How are the Lions doing in communicating these things? Let’s take a look.

Coach Jim Caldwell is no nonsense, no frills, with a straightforward approach to communication.   And, there is no confusing the fact that he is running the show. He speaks for the team and he takes full responsibility for how the team is doing on the field.  But is that enough? Many feel Caldwell should demonstrate more emotion.  Not Jim Schwartz crazy emotion but something more than his typically calm, cool yet stern demeanor. I would argue you are who you are and that emotion comes in many different forms.  And, as for how he is on the practice field, in meetings or in the locker room, who’s to say?  You either motivate or you don’t.  Some of the most successful coaches in football (think Mike McCarthy of the Green Bay Packers) are calm but authoritative and, oh yeah, win.  You’ll recall so did Caldwell last year.

And what about ownership?  Obviously no Jerry Joneses here. The Fords have traditionally been hands off when it comes to speaking about or for the team.  That won’t change as long as fans fill the seats. Rather than words from the Fords, however, what fans and prognosticators appear to want from them is action – bringing new vim, vigor and talent into the front office.  What this team appears to need, most are saying, is a new team of football minds that can better evaluate talent and then draft, develop and/or sign it through free-agency.  Again, a close look at the Green Bay Packers demonstrates that all but three players on their roster were drafted by the organization.  The Seattle Seahawks, meanwhile, are rife with non-drafted free agents.

Finally, there are the players and reasons why Jim Caldwell continues to speak for the team.  In recent days, Golden Tate chided the fans for booing and leaving early; Eric Ebron announced his playing would have made a difference against Arizona; and Matthew Stafford outwardly continued to show zero emotion save a look of bewilderment and frustration.  Here, taking responsibility, demanding accountability and demonstrating frustration regarding on-the-field performance are sorely lacking. Remember the fire former Miami Dolphin and Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino used to show on the field, on the sidelines, in front of the media?  Stafford, a captain, someone should call out everyone on this team and demand it work harder, play better and give maximum effort for the fans that pay their salaries.

Say it. Mean it. Own it. Do it.  That’s what we want from the Detroit Lions. And, after 50-plus years of futility, it is what this citizens of this city so desperately deserve.

One Week Fantasy Sports: Ad Blitz Now, PR Issues Later?

Monday, September 21st, 2015

football-moneyIf you even casually watch or follow sports, especially America’s most popular TV sports, football, there is no doubt you have felt saturated by TV commercials, radio host endorsements, web banners and social media ads for two websites competing in a new gaming platform called “one week fantasy sports.”

Fans and journalists alike are taking to social media to voice opinions about being inundated with ads for Fan Duel and Draft Kings. Without the backing of PAC money weeks before an election, it’s hard to imagine more frequency for any other ad barrage.

Some reports estimate the total ad spend in recent weeks at nearly $30 million. But it sure seems like more than that, especially when you factor in the local in-stadium advertising that is new for this football season. There’s no doubt that level of attention has piqued fan curiosity and led to sign-ups and sampling. These two sites and their fledging business models are now part of the consciousness of their target audiences. But at what price?

These two companies must now be prepared to be in the PR crosshairs. They need to be ready for for a flurry negative media attention, as fans inevitably lose money via those sites. They need to be ready to be attacked by politicians, as the companies toe the line between gambling and entertainment. They must be prepared to deal with direct complaints via social media in a timely and professional manner.

There’s no doubt they have their talking points ready to go in their defense. But is there anything they have planned to be proactive? One of them could start poking a little good natured fun at themselves and join the chorus talking about the sheer volume of ads to avoid being cast quickly a “big, bad” image. Or one could follow the lead of casinos, which have largely rid themselves of stigma in the last generation by aggressively positioning themselves as good corporate citizens. Or will one of them start using PR tools to highlight their winners in their local markets?

From a PR standpoint, buying the quantity of advertising is the equivalent of placing a gigantic target on the back of your company in the battle for attention. While their efforts have so far been driven by marketing tactics, PR needs to have the proverbial “seat at the table” in order for these companies to grow successful businesses.

When Bosses Make Too Many PR Mistakes, Audiences Will “Hook ‘Em”

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

635779106099234597-USATSI-7657137In a high-profile position, bad PR can cost your job.

We have seen it again in college athletics, where respect for emotionally-connected audiences has proven to be paramount. The Athletic Director at the University of Texas, one of the biggest and most visible college sports operations in the country, Stave Patterson, was fired by the school’s President after a two-year series of PR mistakes reportedly led to anger, in particular, among influential donors.

Here’s how the Associated Press reports it: “One of his first missteps was an awkward public push to have the city of Austin help finance a new basketball arena after having not ‘invested a nickel’ in the current Erwin Center over the previous 30 years. Those comments caught city officials off guard and forced the school to backtrack.”

Other issues with Patterson included:

-One report says he “alienated” audiences “with his management style and failure to communicate.”
-Firing a Sports Information Director known to have exemplary media relationships
-Raising football ticket prices after a losing season, including charging for parking.

As the local newspaper in Austin reports, it got so bad for the former pro sports executive, “Eventually, public perception so turned against Patterson, he was getting blamed for things he didn’t even do. An Internet-based report indicated Patterson was charging Texas Tech band members for tickets to the game. Two days later — eons in the social media world — UT officials released a statement saying that wasn’t true.”

This is another example of why executives who fail to include PR-influeced thinking in making decisions can be doomed. While change may be needed (in this case, the Athletic Department incurred a financial loss for the first time in more than a decade), change is made easier through careful communication. When PR is involved on the front end of situations to prevent messes, not just asked to clean up after messes are made, that’s good for all.

For organizations that still receive media coverage in the age of consolidation and cutbacks, particularly where customers are fans, the margin of error for missteps has never been lower.

Why Dave Dombrowski Is A PR All-Star

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

imagesThis isn’t another online effort to try to guess as to why Dave Dombrowski is no longer the President, CEO and General Manager of the Detroit Tigers. But the fact that the “how” of that move by the team’s owner is getting so much attention is yet another example of why, especially in this era of analysis, PR matters.

Rather, this is an effort to explain why Dombrowski should have a spot on your PR All-Star team. It’s not because of his outstanding media relationships. In fact, many sports journalists have described him as guarded or even aloof. It’s because he is the master of something, in our extensive experience in training executives to talk to the media, that is often the toughest fundamental of all. He skillfully uses the media as a conduit to his audience.

Dombrowski only has talked to the media sparingly in recent years. He seems to know that when he talks, his words most certainly will be reported, if not over magnified a la Alan Greenspan, by baseball writers and broadcasters over multiple platforms. He knows his words will reach their intended audiences relatively unfiltered because of the relative rarity of his quotes. During the Winter Meetings and other portions of “free agency season,” Dombrowki’s audience is agents the represent the players. He talks about his plans, or lack thereof, to give himself maximum leverage. During the trading season, his audience is other general managers. His carefully chosen words are designed to tilt possible trading partners in his direction. Today, when he wisely returned journalists’ calls and participated in one-on-one interviews, rather than a spectacle press conference, his audience was owners who may think about hiring him. He was careful not to disparage the Tigers and left himself wide open for consideration.

We explain to clients that the purpose of PR is to use communications to support your business objectives. There is nobody in sports who seems to naturally understand and capitalize on that than Dave Dombrowski. Other business executives should take note of how this professional uses that quality to stay on the top of his game.

Sometimes, Sportswriters Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

imagesWriting about sports for a living isn’t as dreamy as it seems. Generally speaking, the hours are lousy, the money is lacking and editors’ appetite for “clickable” content can seem insatiable. As consumers, though, we lap it up and rely on them as our sources of information.

But this weekend, maybe because of personal vendettas against a coach with a long history of erratic, at best, media relations and maybe because of the need to “feed the beast” with content that drives web traffic, some sportswriters ventured into an area where they showed ignorance more than insight.

Syracuse University Head Basketball Coach Jim Boeheim didn’t participate in a post-game news conference after his team’s last game of the season, the day after he was the subject of a blistering report on violations found by investigators from the NCAA after a lengthy process. The report is both ugly and controversial and the University has said that Boeheim plans to appeal at least part of the penalties. Multiple sportswriters ripped Boeheim for not answering media questions. Instead, the University issued a statement attributed to Boeheim and made top Assistant Coach Mike Hopkins available to answer questions about the game.

On the surface, this appears to violate high-level fundamentals of PR. And, on the surface and out of context, I agree with why journalists would be critical. However, in the Real World and in context, these sportswriters prove that they are ignorant to the factors that go into this type of decision-making. Unless you have sat in the conference rooms and participated in the conference calls, drafted and redrafted statements and gone toe-to-toe with administrators and legal counsel, you have no idea. We have done all of those things and, simply, in this case, the sportswriters don’t know what they don’t know.

Based on previous experience I can confidently say that the post-game press conference decision was not Boeheim’s alone, as sportswriters have alleged. This was a University decision made by a relatively large group of “main campus” and athletic administrators, PR people, most importantly, lawyers. They weighed all of the factors and, in order of magnitude, they very likely were:

-Legal: Make sure Boeheim doesn’t say anything that can be used against him in his appeal
-Human: After an emotional game, coaches (especially this one) can be emotional. Lawyers and PR pros would agree that emotional should be minimized in the wake of the NCAA report.
-Appearances: Balancing whether Boeheim as a no-show, with Hopkins still available as a “face” to talk about the game itself, would be worse than Boeheim providing “no comment” after “I can’t comment” and “It wouldn’t be appropriate to comment” in likely snarky fashion (see the human factor) on a loop on SportsCenter.

In cases like this, lawyers typically dominate the discussion. In fact, based on our experience, they are “undefeated, career” to use sports parlance, in these situations. PR people just have to advocate for the best deal possible for the media and public constituencies important to them, (but not at all to the lawyers).

The University would have helped matters if they had been able to add “On the advice of counsel, because of a pending appeal to the NCAA” somewhere in Boeheim’s statement. But, overall, this was handled by Syracuse in the way just about any school would have. The reality, at least for now, is that the school will be a “lighting rod” and should get used to being the subject of sportswriting, even when the writers step out of bounds.

Marshawn Lynch: Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil? Hardly.

Saturday, January 31st, 2015

marshawn-lynch-26So what exactly is the deal with Marshawn Lynch? On the eve of the Super Bowl and the tail end of pro football’s biggest week, the antics of the Seattle Seahawks’ star running back has taken a back seat only to the discussions ad nauseum of underinflated pigskins.  Is he ill-advised in his actions and comments to the media? Grumpy? None too bright? Let’s take a look.

Through league mandated media interview sessions this week, Lynch has made it clear that he wants nothing to do with the process nor the men and women with pen and paper.  Earlier in the week, he stating unequivocally that the only reason he was there was to avoid a fine by the NFL.  Then, he proceeded at that time, for all intents and purposes, to answer every question with the same non-answer.  On Thursday, he again appeared, shoulder chip firmly in place, and went on a largely nonsensical rant that said, in not so many words, his family was important and the media was not. Alrighty then.

In case you hadn’t heard, the NFL has an image problem that starts with many of its players and should end at the league office level.  As of this writing, Goodell was still contemplating a fine. Huh? Lynch should have been fined twice this week for his (in)actions.  He had a job to do, he didn’t do it and he openly flaunted it.  I would argue that the Seahawks should have followed suit with a fine.  If they really cared about the fans and integrity of the game, what about sitting him out the first quarter on Sunday? I know, never gonna happen. Unfortunately, however, failure by the league and teams to act swiftly and decisively in such matters continues to be the NFL’s achilles heel – enabling bad behavior and, I would argue ill fan will.

If I were advising Marshawn Lynch from an image standpoint I would make it clear that no matter his reasons for not really talking to the media he only did himself and other important constituents a grave disservice.  He also disrespected his team, the league, the fans and his sponsors – all of whom pay his salary and benefit the family he kept citing.  By now he should also know how the media works.  Give them a good, positive, insightful soundbite and move on.  Instead, Lynch’s unwillingness to answer questions resulted in more questions and more unwanted media attention.

As Matt suggests in his blog this week on Roger Goodell, as long as the NFL is the money making machine that it is not much is going to change. It is just too bad that the Commissioner of football is bought and paid for by owners most concerned with the bottom line.  Maybe those of us rooting for the league to instead ‘do the right thing,’ in particular where player actions are involved, are living in an unrealistic, utopian world.  I may be watching tomorrow. Then again, I just might not. I doubt I’ll be alone.