Different PR Playbook for Representing Sports Celebrities

Public Relations
sports media publc relations 01.02.16

Super Bowl 50 officially kicks off Monday night, with the obligatory Media Day.  Starting this year the NFL will move Media Day from its traditional Tuesday afternoon slot to a new prime-time event with one hour of interview time for each team.

Media Day is like a press conference combined with a sideshow. Thousands of media reps from throughout the world—more than a few of them only marginally connected with the NFL—interview members of the two teams with the hope of getting that killer soundbite (or video clip) that will be picked up by other media outlets. (The Super Bowl will be held on Feb. 7, at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos.)

The event is a bit of a feedback-loop, in which any “news” that emerges usually is based on some of the more outrageous (and non-football) questions the media reps ask the players.

PR execs have to strike a balance between the needs of the media and those of the players, who generally want to get the press conference over with as soon as possible and focus on the game plan.

Super Bowl or not, representing professional athletes often involves a different PR skill set than, say, providing counsel for brands or organizations.

There is the “diva” element among professional athletes to consider but, more often than not, it’s having a radar for how the athlete/client can communicate a message and how responsible the client is to the account. Here a few tips for how to effectively rep athletes and sports celebrities:

  • How do they perform off the court and with the media?  Aside from due diligence and making sure (as best you can) the athlete has no skeletons in his or her closet, view past footage of how the athlete has carried himself in front of the media. Is he confident during interviews with the media? When dealing with the media does he convey a positive message, or look like he would rather have root canal? Is he an active member of the community? How media savvy is the athlete? If he is not media savvy is there enough talent and/or consumer appeal to make it worth your while? Before you agree to rep an athlete you have to be sure the person can read a media playbook and not get thrown.
  • Over-communicate and hyper-manage expectations: Depending on how popular he or she is, the professional athlete can be like a wisp of smoke. They’re tough to nail down.  There are games to play, of course; the constant travel; the playoffs; the speaking engagements and the autograph sessions. For such as relationship to work, PR reps have to determine any scheduling conflicts well ahead of time. How many times at the beginning of a gala event have we heard from a PR rep some variation of, “Mr. Popular Athlete had every intention of being here to join you tonight, but was called away by the team late today for a crucial meeting and sends a heartfelt apology?”  Try to avoid those types of scenarios. Work with the athlete during the off-season.
  • Full-court press. These days most athletes have a full ensemble: Lawyer, manager, business agent, masseuse, supportive family and life coach. As the PR rep, learn where you fit within that eco-system and how you navigate all the relationships so everyone on the team understands the value of providing the athlete with PR counsel. Cultivate relationships with other members of the athlete’s inner circle. That’ll make for a) better integrated communications and b) knowing who does what when dealing with various issues, whether that’s contract negotiations or a book deal based on that championship season.

What would you add to the list?


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