The NFL Combine – Why Athletes Need Media Training

This weekend the city of Indianapolis once again found itself host to the annual extravaganza of athletic prowess and skill, a chance for some to move one step closer to their dreams, and others to move two steps away from it. That’s right; it was time for the 2012 NFL Combine.

I had followed some of the Combine news on my favorite sports site, Bleacher Report. Something that stood out to me, that I had never noticed before, were reports on how the top two NFL prospects (Andrew Luck and Robert Griffith III) reacted to questions from the media and that got me thinking.

One of the things that potential NFL players rarely seem to understand is the importance of interview preparation, before they ever sit down with their potential coaches, or they go in front of the podium to address the press. The hoped-for end result of each interview is the same – the desire to leave a positive impression in the minds of those they are talking with. With stories of NFL players causing problems repeatedly popping up in the headlines, teams (and let’s face it, the league) are craving those “high character” players – the ones who go out and play, maintain their composure in stressful times, and who are relaxed when they are dealing with reporters.

Successful athletes tend to be hounded by the media, after games and especially when there are changes of some kind on the team (new coach, star player is traded away, new ownership group, etc). Reporters look for people they have relatively easy access to, and those who they know will be willing to talk with them. In this 24-7 digital media age reporters don’t have time to wait around for athletes who might be interested in talking to them to make up their mind. They need someone “RIGHT NOW!”

That’s where pre-interview preparation comes into play.

When you decide you want more time in front of the camera, you need to contact your agent (or your community’s local Public Relations Society of America chapter) to start investigating who would be a good fit to prepare you, or your clients, for time in front of the blaring media lens. There are a lot of great media experts out there, but you need to find a professional who won’t put up with being “one of the boys,” and who will be willing to be firm with the athletes they work with. As a professional athlete, and a professional “brand” (for lack of a better word) which many athletes are in this day and age of free agency, it is important to not feel too comfortable with your PR professional. It’s their job to focus on the long-term success of your reputation, how you are seen by the majority of fans and front office leaders.

An Aside: Recently GQ featured a story with Terrell Owens, talking about the trials and tribulations he has recently had to deal with – from his “friends” taking his money like he was an ATM, to the children he has fathered with multiple women, to his rebuilt knee, and finally to the lack of interest he received by NFL teams across the country. Coaches and GMs discussed his “bad attitude” or some kind of “character problems” and dismissed his attempt to return to the NFL outright.

There is no way that Owens couldn’t play an important role on the majority of NFL teams in 2011 and 2012, as a secondary receiver, and a mentor to younger wide receivers. But because he, or more importantly, his agent and publicists, didn’t address the concerns his actions were raising towards his long-term reputation when they happened, he is in the situation he is now, playing minor league football in Texas to make enough money to pay his bills.

Spending some time with a media trainer can help players maintain their composure under a different kind of stressful situation. It may be easy for a star NFL quarterback to avoid a blitzing linebacker, but 60 seconds into an interview with a reporter is a type of stress they may not be ready for. It’s the job of a good public relations professional to have their client ready for these interviews. Plus being a ready interview subject, especially a professional and composed interviewee when your team loses, is a good way to get the one thing that most athletes want – extra TV time on ESPN or Fox Sports.

A quick note: Speaking of those locker room interviews…

One thing that people notice immediately is when an athlete is on “cruise control” in their interviews.  You’ve all seen it, the overly used cliches (“We gave it our all”, “They really brought their ‘A-game’ today”, “I want to thank God for this win”, etc.), the thousand-yard stare that tells us they would rather be showering than talking to a reporter. Reporters don’t look for these interviews, they plead with the gods of journalism to not have these kinds of interviews, but all too often they end up quoting someone saying “we gave it our all.”

Do you or your client want additional TV time? Do you want to start attracting the media attention that might lead to endorsements, or after-career gigs? Then start putting some time in with your PR professional, or ask your agent to hire a PR pro (we’re called “pros” for a reason) to work with you on how to answer the media’s questions. PR professionals are used to putting executives, athletes, government officials and others through what’s called “media training,” which helps you get more comfortable in front of reporters.

Take some time every few days and try to think of quick, non-cliche answers to potential game winning and game losing questions. Sit down with a PR pro and ask how they can be used to help you work with the media to cultivate your image. After a game, take a few minutes to compose yourself, keep them on note cards or someplace in your locker, look at them before you try talking to the media, then remember what you’ve been taught by your PR professional and go out there and have a kick ass interview!

Is it hard? Yes it will be at first. But if you can memorize a three-inch thick playbook, pick up a late blitzing weakside linebacker, read the quarterback’s eyes and still get into coverage for the interception, cross the middle for a first-down pass before getting knocked on your ass, or beat a triple-team block to sack the QB in the end zone then by God you can master talking with the media.

After all, this isn’t the impression any athlete wants to leave with coaches or the media:

A Quick CES Note

A quick note to PR pros and publicists out there. If you work with a very high profile client, and your client is announcing a new product at a trade show – don’t schedule the hour-long autograph session before the event announcement, unless you want a lot of pissed-off reporters at the end of the event.  I was at CES for a couple of days this week, and a friend and co-worker of mine got stuck in the cluster around a Justin Bieber “technology” announcement, and all I can say is the Biebs’ PR team really needs to learn some actual PR and basic event planing principles.

The Death Of “Death Of …” Posts

Just a quick post to get this off of my chest.

Public Relations... not dead

Advertising… not dead

RSS Technology… not dead

Newspapers… not dead, just evolving (the smart ones are)

OK, these things are not dead. Let’s all get over the fact that despite everyone’s best bet, they aren’t dead.

What might qualify as “dead”

  • Friendster
  • MySpace
  • Kirk Cameron as some kind of religious leader

Before we all jump on the easy linkbait stories about the death of RSS, or Public Relations, or JR Ewing, or whatever, let’s all take a step back and think about what ever is being touted as dead and if it’s really useless to business needs, instead of our needs.

That’s what should be an overarching theme in social media, business and public relations for 2011. Is there going to be a shift back from the “social media” expert to an incorporation of social media into your communications plan?

Don’t Overthink The Little Things

Don’t overthink how you connect and help develop community with people, especially your online community. This is a card I received in the mail today from Artbeats, a company that sells royalty-free video footage. I’ve written about them before on Twitter and Facebook when they were giving away free weekly video clips last year.

Unlike most cards, it wasn’t a preprinted message. It was handwritten by one of Artbeats’ employees, thanking me for picking up a piece of footage that was insanely cheap and asked me if I enjoyed using the footage and to provide them with any feedback, with the letter writer’s card inside.

Now I know they might have people writing these cards every so often to customers, but to hit me up with a personal note, someone who might only pick up one or two pieces of video a year, depending on how much cash I have to spend, that gave me a warm fuzzy the rest of the afternoon. And someone who has never spoken with an Artbeats rep on the phone, much less ever met one face to face.

And something else it did was help convince me that when I finally start shooting my first documentary, any budget we get for extra footage might end up in their bank account.

People too often end up forgetting about the small things that touch people. Writing this card might have taken a few minutes more than sending out a quick email or hitting me up on Twitter, but you know something? This handwritten note made an impact on me, more than any email or Facebook hit. Don’t put too much thought into how to reach potential customers only online, sometimes something as simple as a note will have more of an impact.

Play to Your Strengths

Some of the online discussion has recently asked who is the best to represent your organization in social media. Your PR or marketing agency? Or your in-house experts and communicators?

I’m going to go with your in house people. Having your social media team (which needs to be made up of people in your company from many disciplines – marketing, PR, sales, operations, development, programming, etc) spearheaded by your own employees allows your company to tap into a much deeper knowledge of the products, services, issues, etc. Much more in depth than your PR firm working 40 hours a month on your account.

This isn’t to denigrate the work that firms do for a client – it actually promotes a firewall separating the strengths of a firm and the company in question.  The primary social media content and creation needs should come from your company’s evangelists while your firm can bring the team important insights about your company or a new idea for social media tools (for example). Sometimes that outside viewpoint can give your firm the great ideas to move your organization into a new communications phase.

When you start a communications team/Firm partnership, you need to establish the ground rules for what each side of the equation will do. Be careful to not let the line blur too much, each team will work to their strengths, and the people on each team can hold the other team accountable to working to those strengths.

PR is not a four-letter word – A Discussion

Note: This is an edited transcript of a Google Wave exchange between Will Reichard of CrossCut Communications (http://will.crosscutcommunications.com) and Benson Hendrix, author of Net News 54 (https://bensonhendrix.com/about/), a blog about new media. It is being cross-posted on both sites.

Several times in the last couple of years, we’ve been asked to present to budding communications students to give them an overview of the world of public relations. We have both been struck that their perception seems to be that public relations as an industry is equivalent to “spin.” We’re not naive. We know there’s a reason that PR people have been called “flaks,” and we know there’s a reason that shows like “Mad Men” continue to capture the popular imagination. Still, we thought we were past all that. We’re both huge fans of PRSA’s code of ethics, and in our experience, the PR industry is conscientious about doing the right thing. We’re both former passionate journalists who believe that PR has a vital role to play in modern organizations. Here’s part of the conversation we’ve been having on the subject.

Will: My theory is that PR is like legal representation–we’re all entitled to a vigorous defense within ethical bounds. That’s our system. But many of the people I talk with seem to feel the world exists in black and white, as though each situation has one “right” and one “wrong” answer. When I try to explain that situations are intricate and that the best PR people work to ensure that organizations are communicating everything they should be to their multiple publics, I see blank faces. I try to point out that all of us, every one, makes choices about how to present him or herself each day. We choose our words, our clothes, what to post on our Facebook pages, how to sit in a class or walk down the street. We are constantly choosing what to communicate. People seem to have a very hard time separating conscious communication from malicious manipulation. They tend to forget we’re all using these techniques every day.

Benson: One of my greatest concerns about public relations is that we as PR professionals are all too often seen as “spinners” by members of the C-Suite. This is a view that has been perpetuated on the profession not only by members of the media, including some memorable rants from Rachel Maddow – comparing one PR firm to “The PR Firm Hell Would Hire” – but also by a minority of public relations professionals who are beyond willing to please their bosses. There are firms willing to do what is necessary, and usually those same firms specialize in taking on clients whose public personas are seen as less than positive (see Wal-Mart, oil industry, nuclear industry, etc.). (And now to contradict myself, this isn’t exactly a bad thing. These companies can stand behind a record of providing jobs, bringing in money, etc., to a local community–if it’s true. When they get into problems is when they say these things without actually doing it, in the hope that the PR team can “spin the facts.”)

One of the main tenets of Edward Bernays’ book “Propaganda” is to not sell a product, but to sell the need for a product. Following up on that idea, good public relations professionals try to sell causes, ideas and concepts that might impact a person’s beliefs, instead of selling a group, or just a cause, etc.

Will: Perhaps it’s that our society is gravitating as a whole toward polarizing platforms. A world of “American Idol,” a world communicated in 140-character bursts, doesn’t have a lot of room for acknowledging that nuance is essential, that the “truth” is an intersection of multiple viewpoints, each of which must be clear and critical.

Or maybe it’s that we’re all so conscious of the controlled and mediated nature of communications that we want to dislike anyone who acknowledges it and calls attention to the fact. Maybe PR–as, ironically, one of the most upfront institutions when it comes to its motivations–occupies an important space as something we can point to and say, “We are not that.” We’re not so hyperattentive to our personas that almost any image we can project is by definition manufactured and, thus, largely impersonal.

Benson: Another reason could be that most people don’t realize the impact that public relations efforts have had in their day-to-day lives. Have you ever signed a petition for a politician? What about called in to a talk radio show on behalf of a cause? These are but two tactics that PR pros helped craft into the effective tools you see today. Many non-profits, especially non-profits that advocate, have taken cues and clues for effective communications strategy from public relations efforts of the past. In fact, later this month there will be a big communications conference for progressive non-profits (some of which don’t really realize how PR has impacted their groups).

How the public personally views each of these industries should be less of a concern for PR people (because for every person opposing a site like WIPP, there’s another in favor of the jobs it brings to the area). What should be a bigger concern for PR professionals is the ongoing view that we are nothing more than cleanup. Perhaps a future role for PR professionals is to go beyond PR and into Corporate Social Management, looking at the best moves for a company to make before they make them.

Will: Great points, Benson. In the executive MBA program at UNM, we spent a fair part of the program studying corporate social responsibility, which is heartening. Cultures change very slowly, but at least things are changing. Communications as a management objective is creeping closer to the C-suite. And fortunately, part of what managers are learning now is to look for a certain level of professionalism when they’re hiring public and community relations staff. I know you had mentioned recently that we’re seeing a lot of unskilled agents creeping onto the scene.

Benson: That really is another problem we in PR have been dealing with–the tendency for anyone to say “I’m a publicist” after watching 4 episodes of Entourage or Arliss, and the unwillingness of people who represent PR (either in PRSA or “stand-up guy” PR practitioners) to call out these faux-publicists when they do something wrong. I’ve heard stories about PRSA wanting to institute a “licensure” test for people to conduct PR professionally, but I don’t see that happening. Because unlike practicing law or medicine, you can’t stop people from getting in front of a camera and talking, regardless of how they sound.

Conclusion: What do you think of when you think of public relations? What does the industry do well, and what could it do better? Thank you for reading.

PR is not a four-letter word

Note: This is an edited transcript of a Google Wave exchange between Will Reichard of CrossCut Communications (http://will.crosscutcommunications.com) and Benson Hendrix, author of Net News 54 (https://bensonhendrix.com/about/), a blog about new media. It is being cross-posted on both sites.

Several times in the last couple of years, we’ve been asked to present to budding communications students to give them an overview of the world of public relations. We have both been struck that their perception seems to be that public relations as an industry is equivalent to “spin.” We’re not naive. We know there’s a reason that PR people have been called “flaks,” and we know there’s a reason that shows like “Mad Men” continue to capture the popular imagination. Still, we thought we were past all that. We’re both huge fans of PRSA’s code of ethics, and in our experience, the PR industry is conscientious about doing the right thing. We’re both former passionate journalists who believe that PR has a vital role to play in modern organizations. Here’s part of the conversation we’ve been having on the subject.

Will: My theory is that PR is like legal representation–we’re all entitled to a vigorous defense within ethical bounds. That’s our system. But many of the people I talk with seem to feel the world exists in black and white, as though each situation has one “right” and one “wrong” answer. When I try to explain that situations are intricate and that the best PR people work to ensure that organizations are communicating everything they should be to their multiple publics, I see blank faces. I try to point out that all of us, every one, makes choices about how to present him or herself each day. We choose our words, our clothes, what to post on our Facebook pages, how to sit in a class or walk down the street. We are constantly choosing what to communicate. People seem to have a very hard time separating conscious communication from malicious manipulation. They tend to forget we’re all using these techniques every day.

Benson: One of my greatest concerns about public relations is that we as PR professionals are all too often seen as “spinners” by members of the C-Suite. This is a view that has been perpetuated on the profession not only by members of the media, including some memorable rants from Rachel Maddow – comparing one PR firm to “The PR Firm Hell Would Hire” – but also by a minority of public relations professionals who are beyond willing to please their bosses. There are firms willing to do what is necessary, and usually those same firms specialize in taking on clients whose public personas are seen as less than positive (see Wal-Mart, oil industry, nuclear industry, etc.). (And now to contradict myself, this isn’t exactly a bad thing. These companies can stand behind a record of providing jobs, bringing in money, etc., to a local community–if it’s true. When they get into problems is when they say these things without actually doing it, in the hope that the PR team can “spin the facts.”)

One of the main tenets of Edward Bernays’ book “Propaganda” is to not sell a product, but to sell the need for a product. Following up on that idea, good public relations professionals try to sell causes, ideas and concepts that might impact a person’s beliefs, instead of selling a group, or just a cause, etc.

Will: Perhaps it’s that our society is gravitating as a whole toward polarizing platforms. A world of “American Idol,” a world communicated in 140-character bursts, doesn’t have a lot of room for acknowledging that nuance is essential, that the “truth” is an intersection of multiple viewpoints, each of which must be clear and critical.

Or maybe it’s that we’re all so conscious of the controlled and mediated nature of communications that we want to dislike anyone who acknowledges it and calls attention to the fact. Maybe PR–as, ironically, one of the most upfront institutions when it comes to its motivations–occupies an important space as something we can point to and say, “We are not that.” We’re not so hyperattentive to our personas that almost any image we can project is by definition manufactured and, thus, largely impersonal.

Benson: Another reason could be that most people don’t realize the impact that public relations efforts have had in their day-to-day lives. Have you ever signed a petition for a politician? What about called in to a talk radio show on behalf of a cause? These are but two tactics that PR pros helped craft into the effective tools you see today. Many non-profits, especially non-profits that advocate, have taken cues and clues for effective communications strategy from public relations efforts of the past. In fact, later this month there will be a big communications conference for progressive non-profits (some of which don’t really realize how PR has impacted their groups).

How the public personally views each of these industries should be less of a concern for PR people (because for every person opposing a site like WIPP, there’s another in favor of the jobs it brings to the area). What should be a bigger concern for PR professionals is the ongoing view that we are nothing more than cleanup. Perhaps a future role for PR professionals is to go beyond PR and into Corporate Social Management, looking at the best moves for a company to make before they make them.

Will: Great points, Benson. In the executive MBA program at UNM, we spent a fair part of the program studying corporate social responsibility, which is heartening. Cultures change very slowly, but at least things are changing. Communications as a management objective is creeping closer to the C-suite. And fortunately, part of what managers are learning now is to look for a certain level of professionalism when they’re hiring public and community relations staff. I know you had mentioned recently that we’re seeing a lot of unskilled agents creeping onto the scene.

Benson: That really is another problem we in PR have been dealing with–the tendency for anyone to say “I’m a publicist” after watching 4 episodes of Entourage or Arliss, and the unwillingness of people who represent PR (either in PRSA or “stand-up guy” PR practitioners) to call out these faux-publicists when they do something wrong. I’ve heard stories about PRSA wanting to institute a “licensure” test for people to conduct PR professionally, but I don’t see that happening. Because unlike practicing law or medicine, you can’t stop people from getting in front of a camera and talking, regardless of how they sound.

Conclusion: What do you think of when you think of public relations? What does the industry do well, and what could it do better? Thank you for reading.