Back in mid-January, I had the pleasure to volunteer at the Grand Kids Foundation Celebrity Shoot-out. Grand Kids Foundation is the foundation of Detroit Tigers outfielder Curtis Granderson and was created in an effort to enforce educational initiatives to youth and to help bring the sport of baseball back to the nation’s inner cities. The Celebrity Shoot-out event featured some fantastic athletes and entertainers as they competed in a charity basketball game to raise money for Granderson’s foundation. While assisting John Fuller during the event, I got to observe him in action as he did everything from helping the media to dealing with the participants to putting up signs for the event sponsors. He agreed to answer five questions about what he does for this blog so here it goes:
1) You founded Full Athlete Marketing in 2005. What made you want to start F.A.M. and how did your prior work experiences help prepare you to do so?
I’ve always had a passion for sports, but in a different way. I played football and wrestled growing up, but coming through high school I had a dream of being a sports broadcaster. My career evolved from a journalist at InterMatWrestle.com to a Media Relations and Public Relations Coordinator under the U.S. Olympic Committee. It was in working with amateur athletes that don’t always receive the recognition they deserve, at least year-round, that my passion for publicizing their stories grew.
Following the 2004 Olympic Games, I began to look into different directions my career would follow, and professional sports was the next progression. I was not always sure if I wanted to work with a team or with individual athletes. I began working with a few NFL players here and there on different initiatives, including Terrell Owens and Cato June. The natural step for me was to branch off on my own, so in late 2005, I did just that.
2) F.A.M. works to create a strategic integrated PR and marketing plan to generate strong publicity for its clients. Positive publicity can obviously lead to endorsement deals and help in contract negotiations. What types of activities have proven to be an effective way of boosting an athlete’s brand and image?
I think the key in boosting an athlete’s brand and image is to not only ensure positive publicity, but to also not force positive publicity. The American public as a whole doesn’t always respond to the “good guy” stories, especially when it is covering the same person. If you overexpose it, then some people feel it comes off as fake. I require every client of mine to be involved with their community in some way. Some have been more involved than others, but it is important for them to know that helping their community is a responsibility as a professional athlete, whether they want it or not.
Obviously outside of community work, exposure then has to come based on that individual athlete’s potential. When I first met Curtis Granderson, I felt as though he would be a great broadcaster. Unfortunately, the Tigers did not make the playoffs in 2007, so that was an avenue I explored with Curtis.
Some clients I’ve had in the past were not great public speakers. That is not a knock on them. They were never taught the rights and wrongs of that profession. But it doesn’t mean they can’t still speak to business leaders, schools at all levels, etc… You just have to cater it to their style to make everyone feel more comfortable.
It is important to remember also that each athlete is different. Cookie cutter PR plans don’t exist in my world. I want to meet that client, meet their family, know the things that make that person tick. Some athletes prefer a bad-boy image and some prefer the All-American image. People in general have different tastes in all realms of life. You must find the right avenue for that individual athlete to maximize their brand and exposure opportunities.
3) Obviously not every athlete should run their own charitable foundation. What makes athlete foundations like Curtis Granderson’s so effective both within the community and as a brand builder for Granderson?
It is effective because it has never been used as a brand builder for Curtis. Many athletes start their own foundations, but not all of them have a passion for running it. I think sports fans and businesses in general can sense when the athlete’s heart isn’t behind the foundation.
Right now, there also seem to be trends in professional sports about foundations. The vast majority of them seem to center around diseases of some kind. Don’t get me wrong, these are great causes. For example, Olympic figure skater Kimmie Meissner has an amazing charity called the Cool Kids Campaign (www.coolkidscampaign.org) that assists patients in children’s oncology units. But I do think that with so many out there, the public has trouble figuring out which one is right for them to work with and where they can trust that their money will be best utilized.
Curtis went with his passion – education. Both of his parents are educators. His sister is a college professor at Jackson State University. Only a handful of MLB players have a college degree. And with him playing in possibly the nation’s hardest-hit state economically, it is a no-brainer for him to try to work with the schools not only in Detroit, but in all of Michigan’s inner cities. Education is something that is often overlooked, especially for elementary and middle school students. Not only is their knowledge shaped at this age, but so are their values. Unfortunately, the need existed for him to start his own foundation so he could ensure that the funds he is bringing in to help these children are going to the right place.
4) I know you have reached out to bloggers covering the Detroit Tigers with an opportunity to interview Granderson for their blogs before a Grand Kids Foundation event. Why do you think it’s important to reach out to bloggers as well as your traditional print and TV media? Do you have any suggestions regarding blogger relations?
Well, regardless of what many print and TV media members think, there are a large number of bloggers with valuable insight and journalistic values. The perception exists among traditional journalists that a blogger isn’t in the locker room as much as they are, so they can not possibly offer any valuable information. I look at bloggers as ombudsmen. They are now in place to keep the traditional journalists honest.
When I wake up in the morning, I check four web pages first – my e-mail, Yahoo!, The Big Lead and Deadspin. I usually have a pretty good idea of what is happening in the world once I do that. The blogger is in a sense the voice of the people. If my job is to grow Curtis’ fan base (which he does a good enough job of doing on his own), then why wouldn’t I bring him closer to the people?
Sports fans over generations have only truly asked for one thing – to be able to relate to the players they root for on some level. If a fan reads in Curtis’ blog, or in one of his blogger interviews, that he loves McDonald’s Dollar Menu, or that he shops at Meijer and Wal-Mart regularly, that makes them feel a lot closer to him as a person. It helps them to realize that even though he makes a lot more money than the rest of us and has a job many of us dream about, he is still just a regular guy with regular responsibilities.
I would advise representatives to proceed with caution, though. Just because someone has a blog doesn’t mean they are a journalist. It’s not a black and white profession. Many exist just to destroy images. I would simply recommend doing your homework before agreeing to work with blogs. There is a network of blogs that I have established great relationships with. Like any other relationship, you must build that sense of trust when working with them. Unlike print or TV journalists, the odds are that you will never meet in person the blogger.
5) What advice would you give to individuals hoping to work in the field of sports public relations?
This is easy – intern, intern, intern! I never was an intern, but I’ve had many work under me. This is experience that is invaluable. Not only do you learn the tricks of the trade, but you also develop key relationships that will guide you throughout your life.