I had the honor of conducting an informational interview by phone with Matt Barnhart, who is the Detroit Lions Director of Media Relations. We spent nearly 45 minutes talking about public relations and the Lions so I decided to break it into multiple posts over the next few days as Matt provided me with an incredible amount of helpful information and tips in his responses and I want to make sure none of his answers get lost in the shuffle. In today’s post, Matt addresses his career with how he got his start and what his current position entails. Tomorrow’s post will feature Q&A with Matt regarding the NFL Draft.
1) You’ve been working with the Lions since 1997 and started off as an intern before making your way to your current title as Director of Media Relations. How did you go from being an intern with the team to where you are today?
I learned very early on that one of the best pieces of advice to me, given to me, is that you always want to try to work at the level above you. That means if you’re an intern, your level of work should be as an entry-level assistant. When you’re an assistant, you should try to be working your way up and working as an assistant director. Or if you’re an assistant director you should work at the level of the director. What you want to do is have people notice what you’re doing, notice your responsibilities and see how you grow. When the opportunity comes, you want to make sure that you’re the first person they think can fill that role. You want to be the first and best option.
I think that’s something that has been fortunate for me because I was able to get that advice and learn from some really good people over the years. I’ve always kept that in mind. As director, I have completed nine seasons. In the past probably three or four years, my mindset has been, ‘OK, I feel like I’ve really taken control of being director of this department. Now to add value to this organization, I want to start trying to work at the level of what a vice president or senior vice president would be.’ Again, you always want to keep the mindset to work at a level above you.
The second thing is that you always want to make sure, and I think I’ve kind of mentioned this before, everything you do adds value to the organization. You do whatever it takes or whatever is asked to make sure that you are contributing to the organization. It may not be in your job description, but you always want to make sure you’re assisting wherever you can because you never know who is noticing you and you never know how you can contribute to the success of the organization. Like we tell our players when they’re interacting with the media—you should always have the focus of team first. As a PR person, you should always have that focus as well—how you can benefit the team is in your best interest
Then the last thing probably for a more job-specific standpoint—every step of the way I felt that I have tried to get as much experience as possible in a lot of different aspects. When I was an intern, I was a PR intern but I also worked heavily on publications because we did a weekly newspaper back then so I understood that things like desktop publishing were going to be part of this job. Having those skills was going to help me out. In my first full-time position here, I was a PR assistant and a coordinator for the team’s website. I did that for a few years so I acquired at least a base level of Internet experience. Back then it was much of a very simplistic, probably considered now archaic, form of producing a team website. However, there are a lot of skills and many things that I learned then that would eventually help me down the road. In 2005, the decision was made to bring the Internet department under the direction of the PR department, so it fell under my direction. A lot of that stemmed from my experiences before that I can apply, and I can understand certain elements of it so you never know what kind kinds of skills will help you out. You should really try to master and accomplish whatever you can, whenever you can.
2) What types of responsibilities does your current job as Director of Media Relations entail?
I oversee the team’s media relations department. I basically separate the department into some key areas. One is media services and that’s your typical day-to-day coordinating interview requests and working with the media, working with the players and their media obligations and accreditation of the media. In essence, providing service and working with the team and utilizing the media in that aspect.
The second part is that I oversee the media information portion of our organization—any type of information, such as press releases, that you distribute to the media and to the public. We also have a team media website – http://media.detroitlions.com — that I oversee and we utilize that to not only post information, but we have unique registered media users so we send out all of our releases through the website so it’s sent electronically through the website. That’s how we distribute our information to our media.
The third part is the digital media portion of our organization and that’s DetroitLions.com and the development of that website. I’m really excited about this part right now because have been integrated into the new NFL platform that was launched in 2008. The operations of team websites from a hosting standpoint is being integrated into one platform hosted by NFL Media. Each team will still operate and have their direction of their site. It is a different approach compared to Major League Baseball or the NBA where it’s more of a league-level initiative—somewhat every site looks the same. What we’re doing is sharing resources.
The fourth part of our department is publications and that focuses on the team’s media guide, yearbook and game programs.
The last part is research and archives, and that starts with daily newspaper clippings that we do. We have scrapbooks dating back to 1934. We are the team’s archivist from a news and information standpoint, and I also oversee a lot of research projects whether it’s for the media, coaching, player personnel or anything else that is needed in this organization. I am currently researching the prospects of digitizing our scrapbooks. That’s a significant project that needs to be done to further preserve our history.
Basically those are five key areas of what we do. Overall, we deal with team communications and issues the media are covering—like what’s going on at practice, what’s going on at the game, what’s going on with player transactions and so forth. We deal with corporate communications, which is more of the business side, and obviously crisis communications, which deals with any kind of situation that is pertinent in terms of those situations. But that’s basically what we oversee here.