Shortly after the whole Sean Avery fiasco for the NHL and the Dallas Stars, a heartwarming story concerning the Chicago Blackhawks appeared in a variety of media outlets. To quickly summarize the story, GM Dale Tallon’s father passed away. After a game in Toronto against the Maple Leafs, the team had been scheduled to return home for their only break in a tough six-game road trip. But instead of taking their commercial flight from the Toronto International Airport, the team unanimously votes to skip the flight. They go back to the hotel and then charter two buses and drive two hours north to attend their GM’s father’s funeral. On their way back to Toronto after the funeral, the team pulls up to McDonald’s and sit down to have a meal in this small hockey town in Canada.
Brandon Faber, director of media relations for the Blackhawks, said that he was actually pitching the story to local media when the e-mail containing its narrative began to get forwarded to him.
“I don’t know where it originated. I don’t know who wrote it up,” he said this afternoon.
Reading the well-circulated e-mail about the Blackhawks, it’s pretty clear that someone associated with the team — hey, maybe even in communications — might have authored it, and Faber agrees.
Could it have come from a player on the Blackhawks?
“It could have. Honestly, I don’t know. It’s somebody that obviously knows the story very well,” said Faber. …
As Faber said, it’s a story that cuts through the despair of some depressing times. “The economy’s down, there’s issues with our governor in Illinois … you open the paper, and it’s nothing but bad news. It’s good to see this story getting its due.”
It’s great to see positive stories like this get their share of media attention when the media puts a spotlight on so much negative. What makes this noteworthy is that this story didn’t immediately appear in the news. It took an e-mail to circulate before the media got wind of this story. While the Blackhawks PR director was about to pitch the story, the story comes across even better because reporters heard of it indirectly.
What’s unique about the Blackhawks’ tale, and maybe hockey players in general, is that no one involved thought it was unusual enough to share with the rest of us. Part of it, no doubt, is because hockey resides at the edge of America’s crowded pro sports radar — at least until one player caves in a rival’s head or tastelessly talks about his girlfriend. But the other part of it is hockey’s ethos.
When people ask which athletes are the best interviews, I always say, “Hockey players, hands down.” Not because they come up with the most colorful or controversial quotes, but because they’re usually the most honest. For whatever reason — the game’s tradition, its Canadian roots, the fact that most players still labor at the low end of sport’s stratospheric salary scale — hockey guys tend to be more open, more polite and less impressed with their own stardom than their pro counterparts.
Just another great story that I love to see make the rounds and it’s great when PR professionals can pitch stories like these instead of trying to create something out of a less significant story.
Thanks to winter break, I’ve been able to do some more “fun” reading than normal. As a result, I hope to post some book reviews on this blog and subsequently update my Suggested Readings page with books I really enjoyed. My recent book selections range from autobiographies to leadership books to sport business books.
The first book I finished this break was entitled Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, and Priorities of a Winning Life and written by Tony Dungy with Nathan Whitaker. I’m sure most of us remember the Indianapolis Colts finally beating the New England Patriots and going on to win the 2007 Super Bowl. In doing so, Tony Dungy became the first African American head coach to win the championship. In this book, Dungy discusses the journey he took to get to that moment. He shares his tough times including the deaths of his parents and son within a span of about a year.
What I really enjoyed about this text is that Dungy did not sugar coat things. He explained when things got tough and why that situation was hard to deal with. As a Christian, I liked seeing how his faith played a role in his life. You hear so many athletes and people in sports praise God for their success but then go out and live completely different lives than that. Dungy does not profess to be perfect and he certainly made his mistakes, but his life truly exemplifies an attempt to live godly and put his faith and family above work. While it’s important to work hard and always give 100% in all that you do, Dungy showed that you don’t have to sleep at the office every night to have a winning program.
He stressed the importance of family and how a team with the right values and appropriate goals were key. For example, he would have the same five key goals each season when he was the head coach for both the Tampa Bay Bucaneers and the Indianapolis Colts. These goals were not win the division or the Super Bowl. Rather, these goals emphasized important fundamentals like the giveaway/takeaway ratio, fewest penalties, make big plays, etc. While this book doesn’t focus solely on football, it does talk about why Dungy made some of the decisions he did (both on and off the field) and how he led his football teams.
This book is an easy read for anyone ranging from the football fanatics, people working or wanting to work in the sport industry, and even the casual sports fan. I would give the book 4 out of 5 stars.
There were some interesting tidbits relevant to sports PR and you can read some of those excerpts after the jump:
Adam Guttridge at The Hardball Times attended the MLB winter meetings in Las Vegas earlier this month to reconnect with some old co-workers. He interned with the Colorado Rockies for two years and then acted as a consultant for a brief period. Over the span of five days, he learned three key lessons and came away with some other useful things to remember when it comes to working in sport, particularly baseball.
1. Never take a single opportunity for granted.
2. This is a game chock full of some insanely smart people.
3. It takes time to build.
I won’t simply copy or paraphrase what he wrote, but I do really recommend checking out his post. He emphasized the importance of hard work above all. At just the age of 22, he delivered a statistical packet to 22 of the 30 MLB teams during training camp. While it has yet to directly result in a job, he is making contacts and getting his name out there in front of top managers in the business.
I had thought of my baseball career thus far as a grind, and there certainly has been a fair amount of due payment to date. But what I mentioned about spending a couple nights in a car in Arizona is a picnic compared to things one high-ranking executive told me of his past. (Neither his name nor his experience needs mention here, but trust me, he’s earned his position.)
I talked to several other execs about their journeys, soliciting advice, and found out my experiences in terms of hard, thankless work and sometimes extreme circumstances are far less unique than I used to believe. And these are guys who went through that with already impressive resumes: gaudy degrees, notable playing experience, or some combination thereof.
Hard work doesn’t always pay off right away. We’ve all heard of plenty of athletes and executives that lost a lot at the beginning of the careers, but by staying persistent and working hard were able to eventually succeed and become the best in their line of work.
On New Year’s Day, Wrigley Field will host Winter Classic II featuring the hometown Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings. As a big hockey fan, this billing is everything a hockey fan could want. A fantastic and iconic venue providing a very unique setting for a game. An outdoor NHL game that’s held only once a year. A young up and coming team from one of the top three markets in the country. The defending Stanley Cup champions and the most popular NHL team in US.
While I’m not going to summarize the many articles that have been published about this upcoming event, I did want to point out some great reads about the marketing of a game of this magnitude.
Greg Wyshynski over at Puck Daddy interviewed Brian Jennings, the executive vice president of marketing for the NHL, in a two-part series about how the NHL went about marketing this game. Greg’s last question of the interview provided great insight into the NHL’s marketing strategy for the Winter Classic:
The last thing I wanted to ask you was about what, if anything, you and NHL marketing have learned from one Winter Classic to the next?
In the first year, even though we have high levels of expectations, I think we were overwhelmed at the success. We put together a marketing plan in Buffalo, working very closely with the Buffalo Sabres; when we sold out in like 40 minutes, we were like “wow.” It is a holiday, people have plans; without the historical data, you feel a little naked.
The first year, you take copious notes. You learn a lot. And then we applied all of that knowledge to this year. But every market, every venue has its own challenges. In Year 2, we’re very involved with the mayor’s office. The rooftops are a different opportunity in Chicago, too.
If I had to encapsulate it, I’d say it’s for all hockey fans. It wasn’t about Buffalo playing the Pittsburgh Penguins, and this year it’s not about Chicago playing Detroit. It’s about transcending those markets. Success for me is to see 28 other markets tuning in, and fans coming together to acknowledge that in a world of other choices, hockey in an engaging game.
NHL.com’s Dan Rosen looked at how Blackhawks’ president John McDonough convinced the NHL to play the second edition of the Winter Classic at the historic Wrigley Field. In a separate piece, Rosen discussed McDonough’s role in transforming the Blackhawks and how his new job with the Hawks was a huge challenge after being with the Cubs for 24 years.
“I grew up a White Sox fan and I was a fan of Bill Veeck,” McDonough said. “I would go to the White Sox games and it would be me and about 4,000 others and we would sit in the upper deck. I would always wonder, ‘Why don’t they sell out? Why aren’t there more people here?’
“This was long before the days of sports marketing, before anybody knew about sports business,” he continued. “I graduated college in 1975, but I knew what I wanted to do in 1970. I wanted to work in sports. I wanted to try to figure that out: Why aren’t these teams selling out?” …
Celebrities singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch is McDonough’s idea. The Cubs selling tickets in record numbers despite a 100-year championship drought is thanks in large part to McDonough’s marketing genius. The Cubs’ annual fan convention is because of McDonough.
I have been truly impressed by McDonough’s role in turning around the team over the past year and a half. I had a chance to volunteer at the Blackhawks Convention while living in Chicago this past summer and the excitement of the rejuvenated fans was electric. As the team president, he has really enlisted a fan- and media-friendly philosophy and it’s paying off.
“For us, when we do interviews, he wants us to know who we’re talking to and call them by their name, to be mannerly and respectful that way,” Hawks defenseman Brian Campbell told NHL.com. …
McDonough knew it for sure when he picked up the Saturday, July 19 edition of the Chicago Tribune.
“We had a first place baseball team on the north side and a first place baseball team on the south side and on that Saturday of our convention, the Chicago Tribune had a big picture of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on the front page and the headline was, ‘It’s a New Ice Age,’ ” McDonough said. “That was another moment where I sensed this was changing, that there was a cultural shift going on. There are people that have said that not only would the Blackhawks not been on the front page in the summer, but they are never on it during the winter.”
When I saw hundreds and hundreds of Blackhawks fans walking down Michigan Avenue during the weekend of the convention and then the consequential coverage in the media despite it being their off-season when the Cubs and White Sox were doing so well, I knew the Blackhawks were back and a team to contend with both on and off the ice.
Culpwrit is a blog that has quickly become a great resource for those of us hoping to break into the public relations industry. Blog post topics range from career advice from professionals in the field to a day in the life of features to helpful Q&A bits with the blogger. A recent post gave seven career tips courtesy of Ken Jacobs, the principal of Jacobs Communications Consulting, LLC. While I’m not going to address all of his tips, two of them in particular caught my eye and they both involved learning from the best and the leaders in the field.
Observe your company’s best leaders: Tom Coyne, CEO of Coyne PR, says that “success leaves clues. Find these leaders, and ask what they feel makes them so good at it.”
While one of my current internships provides me with more responsibility and hands-on experience than my other internship, it’s the second one that allows me to observe the best in the professional sport industry. I have learned so much by simplying listening to how my bosses and others deal with a variety of situations and observing how they act in different settings. They have the jobs that I one day would love to have so it’s certainly a great idea to observe and thus uncover the skills and character traits that make them successful at their jobs so that I can start implementing them in my own work.
Maintain an insatiable appetite for knowledge, and “never be a passive learner, but actively seek out information” says Curran. “Ask questions and propose your own ideas to get reactions from your organization’s leaders.” Coyne recommends “devouring leadership books. There’s a lot of great thinking on leadership that’s out there, for the price of a library card.”
I have certainly used my library cards this year to cut costs while still reading the same number of books I have in past years. My city’s library has access to all the other library’s books in my region so I usually can find a book I want to read for free. If I can’t find it that way, my university’s library tends to have the more academic and scholarly reads that I may want. While school is certainly a great avenue to learn, I believe there is so much more we can learn in addition to our classes simply by reading books from leaders in the field. I have a stack of books that I hope to read this Christmas break ranging from sports marketing and business books to those written by sport icons about leadership and sport. I plan on passing along any interesting quotes, stories, or ideas that I come across on this blog over the next few weeks so keep an eye out for that.
When LeBron James and the Cavaliers took on the New York Knicks in NYC shortly after Thanksgiving, the media went crazy over the possibility of the biggest name in the NBA signing with the Knicks in 2010. ESPN blogger Henry Abbott saw his comments as a PR mistake to fuel the fire.
“You have to stay open-minded if you’re a Knicks fan,” James said before delivering his parting words. “If you guys want to sleep right now and don’t wake up until July 1, 2010, then go ahead. It’s going to be a big day.”
If James was nearing his period of unrestricted free agency and was either seriously considering leaving Cleveland or trying to better his contract, I’d be okay with his comments. However, James’ contract doesn’t expire until the summer of 2010. He will be playing for the Cavs (unless he gets traded) for the rest of this season and all of next season. Do you really want to make things that uncomfortable with your employer and co-workers for such a long stretch of time?
The basic rule of PR in these situations is not to be fancy. You don’t want to inspire reporters to dig deep into something where there are no real answers. You want to end the story, because the more of a media fire there is, the greater the chance that you could get burned. (Remember, this is the guy who shelved his convictions about genocide so as not to make a distraction for Team USA. He seems to have no such scruples with the Cavaliers.)
Even if you want to leave all your options open, all you have to say is that you love playing in Cleveland, you’re from Ohio, and you’ll worry about your next contract when this one is done.
That would be enough to get the amplifiers turned up. Teams would still clear cap space for you, just in case. But that’s not enough for LeBron James. He’s taking it to a whole different level. His amplifier goes to eleven. …
In PR terms, I see that quote above, and the others we have seen like it, as LeBron James slapping Danny Ferry, owner Dan Gilbert, and Cleveland fans across the face.
I have to agree with Abbott in that I would advise James to do his best not to strain his relationship with the Cavaliers with so much time remaining in his contract. There’s a time and a place to discuss where you’d like to play once your contract expires, but it’s not the time yet and it only serves as a distraction to the team.
An amusing story has circulated through the hockey blogosphere and media over the past couple of days. Brett Leonhardt, the website producer for the Washington Capitals, is 6’7″ and used to play D-III college hockey as a goaltender. Well, the injury bug has resulted in the loss of starter Jose Theodore and back-up Brent Johnson is dealing with a nagging hip injury. As a result, the Caps called up prospect Simeon Varlamov, but he would not make it to the game until the face-off so Leonhardt participated in warm-ups before the game against Ottawa and then sat on the bench as Johnson’s back-up netminder. Varlamov actually arrived at 10:57 during the first period so his only NHL stint did not even last an entire game, but it proved to be a great media story.
So why am I telling you this story? There are a couple of reasons.
First, it’s to be ready for anything. While most sports PR practitioners or other individuals working in sport will have the chance to be a back-up goaltender or assist the team on the ice, court, field, diamond, etc., it’s still important to be ready for anything that could be thrown at you. The sport industry is not predictable and things change all the time. People working in Sports PR need to be flexible, willing to try new things, and have a good attitude in the process. Leonhardt proved to be quite versatile as he still did his pre-game podcast before heading to the locker room and gearing up with the players he typically covers for the team website.
Second, it was the head of media relations (Nate Ewell) who pointed out Leonhardt’s past when the Caps were short a goalie last season for a practice. You never know when seemingly random tidbits of information may prove to be useful, but it’s important to be well-connected within the organization and informed of what’s going on in all aspects of the team (on and off the ice) because you never know when it may be really useful and even a great story to pitch to the media.
Ewell comments on the unique story from his perspective on the Caps’ media relations blog Welcome to the Show:
It’s the kind of lightning-in-a-bottle story that you are lucky to be around from a PR perspective, because it’s an easy sell. In terms of being a unique and unexpected story, I can only compare it to two things I’ve worked on: when Chad Alban, a goalie at Michigan State, scored a goal in a game and when Alex Ovechkin scored “The Goal” in Phoenix. …
The story will continue, of course, as Brett keeps making the media rounds. Good Morning America even made an inquiry, but backed off when they learned that he didn’t actually get into the game. He’ll be calling in to NHL Home Ice on XM/Sirius (his second XM appearance this week) at 4:10 p.m. for the Live from Wayne Gretzky’s radio show. He’ll also be on set at Comcast tonight at 6 p.m. to preview the Caps-Canadiens game.
Great story for the Washington Capitals and Brett Leonhardt and it’s certainly been enjoyable following the buzz around the situation.
In June 2007, the University of Michigan athletic department signed an eight-year apparel deal with Adidas. As a result, the university has plenty of leftover Nike apparel that cannot be used so they decided to donate what was left to veterans across the state and in Iraq. Over 5,200 items were donated according to The Michigan Daily. All that remains is about $90,000 worth of shoes that will be shipped out later this week to the Detroit Veterans Center.
Rick Briggs, Jr., manager of the Brain Injury Association of Michigan Veterans Program, lead the team who collected, organized and distributed the apparel. “This is the first one like this of this magnitude,” Briggs said. “This is a huge donation.”
Marty Bodnar, associate athletic director for ticketing and marketing, said that in organizing the program the Athletic Department worked with the Paralyzed Veterans of America, two veterans’ homes, five VA hospitals, and the Veterans of Detroit to develop a program that shipped the apparel to veterans at VA medical facilities and to military members currently serving in Iraq.
Briggs said they had about 80 volunteers, including veterans and people from the Salvation Army, helping out with the organization and packing of the apparel.
Personally, I think this is a great move on the part of the University. Not only do they clear up storage space, but they get some nice PR by donating the apparel to veterans during the holiday season. I have read articles about the NFL donating merchandise from the Super Bowl games, but they were the items saying the New England Patriots won when the NY Giants actually did. So the apparel was sent to places like Africa where the items are certainly needed, but this was the first time I’ve heard of an athletic department donating this much apparel to non-profit organizations.
On Sports is a blog that shows students how to cover sports and recently suggested that if you don’t know new media, you won’t get a job. Now he was talking about those hoping to break into the sports journalism industry, but don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to apply that to the sports PR industry. In his post, he linked to an article uploaded for the Associated Press Sports Editors that gives 15 editorial principles to help guide sports editors with generating content on all levels and growing an audience. Before getting to the principles, an anecdote was given about dialogue at a sport and technology conference.
Shuddering at the recollection of the mandated promotions to the award-winning Web site from CNN’s air, Blitzer confessed having high anxiety. “I kept wondering,” he said, “Why would we want to send people away from CNN?” …
“They aren’t leaving CNN,” quickly intoned John Skipper, ESPN’s executive vice president for content (and full disclosure, one helluva boss). “CNN.com is part of CNN. We don’t think of it as ‘leaving ESPN.’ It’s just a different distribution device to get the content. You’re not leaving ESPN to go watch ESPN on a mobile device or dotcom. We have a very simple principle about how we balance programming content: That is to serve sports fans what they want, when they want it, wherever they want it.”
Generation Y, in particular, wants their information and news now. They don’t care how they get it as long as they do. In any day, I may get text updates on my cell, news and opinion from newspapers online and blogs, watch television, and converse with other individuals in person, on the phone, IM, and via social media like Twitter and Facebook. It’s important that sport organizations start vertically integrating everything in terms of media. Fans are going to get their news through one method or another. Would you rather them turn to you or a secondary source? By creating a Facebook fan page, setting up a mobile news service as well as blogging and tweeting about the team, you can reach fans through their preferred method.
8) Optimize content delivery: Synchronize coverage across multiple devices, so users can extend the conversation – and interaction with your voice, services and brand – on all relevant platforms. If users want to read your lead columnist in the paper, they likely want to read him online – and may want to read him on the smart phone commuting on the train. Don’t forget the most important syllable in the word newspaper is “news.”
As students who were the first generation to have Facebook and other social media, we can become the experts and help for those who may not really know what you’re talking about. But you have to “be one with new media” to actually be of help to your boss and organization. You can’t go on Facebook everyday and spend hours procrastinating and say that you’re a social media expert nor can you blog once a week and proclaim yourself a new media expert. You need to not only try to do it daily and get that hands-on experience, but you need to learn the ROI and benefits that would come with investing in a new media and social media strategy. We need to be able to enact these proposed changes effectively and then show how it will benfit the organization.
I’ve mentioned the strong PR and marketing efforts by the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference in the past. Today, I want to comment on the impressive efforts by the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference. In November 2007, Bruce Boudreau took over as head coach and around the same time, the Caps’ marketing came up with a new marketing strategy for the 2007-2008 playoffs. According to Nate Ewell, the team’s spokesman, they rejected the slogan “Caps for the Cup” because it seemed “overconfident for a team that wasn’t a shoo-in.” After more deliberation, the marketing department decided on “Rock the Red” for their new strategy and it has really paid off.
On Frozen Blog, a popular Capitals blog, talked to Tim McDermott, the Capitals’ Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, about the slogan and its origins. While I would recommend reading the entire post about the process, here are a couple points I found particularly interesting.
“It is who we are now, it’s ingrained in our brand identity,” Tim McDermott told me this week. “‘Rock the Red’ is symbolic of the experience at Caps’ games, symbolic of the type of game we play, symbolic of the team’s youth and an electric sense about the team,” he added. …
“We wanted something fun, electric, something emblematic of cool, young players.”
The Caps wanted to come up with a slogan/strategy that was not only unique and authentic, but a branding campaign that would work for teachers decorating their classroom during the playoffs or fans hosting viewing parties at their houses or how it could look at a pep rally or on a college campus. So both the marketing and communications department sat down and tossed around ideas for hours. They had to consider how the slogan would look in ads, merchandise, the arena, and the logo.
After making the playoffs last season and advancing to the conference semifinals, the Caps have seen an increase in sales. According to the Washington Business Journal, there has been a 151% increase in merchandise sales, the second-highest in the NHL behind only the Blackhawks. Ticket sales have also been boosted with 4,000 new season ticket holders.
Ewell said the Caps became convinced of their Rock The Red campaign’s effectiveness after an online marketing effort got nearly an entire stadium to wear red for the season’s final games. All five of the top-selling merchandise items in 2007-08 featured the slogan, McDermott said.
McDermott believes the success is because the “Rock the Red” campaign has truly resonated with the fan base. In fact, the team is in the process of trademarking the phrase because of its success.
“The success we’ve had with ‘Rock the Red’ is a testament to the fans — they’re the ones who made this great,” McDermott said. “The Fan Club created signs it hung at games, the fans bought the merchandise, and of course, you had that opening playoff game image against Philadelphia, that Sea of Red.”
“The beauty of our campaign is it allows us to tweak the message but retain the core message,” McDermott pointed out. “You want something that is yours, but something that is not based on team performance, on something that you can’t deliver on a given night.”
The Capitals also have teamed up with Comcast to create an original 30-minute television show called “Capitals RED TV.” The team partnered up with Starbridge Media and Comcast SportsNet. The Caps and Starbridge will pay for the production costs and split the show revenue while Comcast gets a minute of the eight minutes of commercials for each show. Comcast will promote the show 20 times per week as well as a rotating banner for the show on its homepage. Fans will also be able to catch it on demand.
So what will fans be able to catch during these 20 episodes? At least eight segments that can be used online as well as in the Verizon Center. If the program is deemed successful, the team will increase its presence on television with more episodes.
“Attendance, ratings, everything is trending up right now, so we think this is the time to try something like this,” said Tim McDermott, the Capitals’ chief marketing officer. “At a minimum, this becomes a great advertisement for us. Hopefully, it’s something that becomes a profitable venture for us.”
Finally, the Caps now have a media relations blog entitled Welcome to the Show, which is a great read for those in sports PR. Not only does the blog point out interesting news articles that we may have missed otherwise, but it lets us in on interviews that they’ve conducted recently or activities they’ve had to do as part of their jobs. I love the idea of this blog. Nice work Caps!