PR at the bat: Heartwarming or stunt?

by Sean Ryan

(Editor’s Note:  Sean is a long-time Hodger who played collegiate baseball and runs a college baseball website.  He also is a high school head coach (Benedictine) and manages our growing number of sports-related clients.)

The sporting world has taken a hit the past couple months in terms of public relations.

Lance Armstrong, cycling’s hero, was given a ban for life. The NHL – which I must confess grabs my attention for about an hour a year – is in the midst of its second lockout in eight years. The NFL’s “shield” has been beaten and battered for 1) its confounding assumption that replacement referees with entry-level experience could manage America’s most popular sport and 2) even more perplexing handling of the situation as it deteriorated right before our eyes. And the NBA, well, it’s the NBA, where Jim Rome’s dustup with commissioner David Stern was as entertaining as Miami claiming a crown.

Today, sports fans received a welcome break.

Greenberg after being hit by a pitch in 2005.
Courtesy Miami Herald

During the first hour of Today, Matt Lauer interviewed former Chicago Cubs major leaguer Adam Greenberg. What made it unique was that Greenberg was a major leaguer for all of one pitch – a pitch that caromed off his head, seemingly ending his dreams of a career in the big leagues in 2005. After feeling the effect of the injury for years, Greenberg made his way back into baseball and played for the Israeli national team in the recent World Baseball Classic.

Meanwhile, a filmmaker named Matt Liston had been conducting an online campaign – One At Bat – pushed for someone to give Greenberg the at-bat and chance of a lifetime that was taken away from him seven years ago.

The Miami Marlins, who themselves have endured a rocky season both in the standings and in the public eye, rose to the occasion. They contacted Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who has to be chuckling at some of the PR nightmares his fellow commissioners have created. Selig gave the Marlins approval to sign Greenberg to a one-day contract.

Greenberg, appearing on Today, got the news this morning: On Oct. 2, he will be a member of the Marlins and will get his one at-bat.

There are times when pulling a PR stunt is just that, a stunt. This isn’t one of those times.

The Today segment was emotional and brilliant, a nice boost for morning’s longtime news leader that has hit tougher times. The Marlins and Major League Baseball teamed up for a heart-felt gesture that creates excitement on the eve of its playoffs. And a player, whose dream ended seven years ago, will get a second chance.

On Tuesday, I’ll be a Marlins fan.

 

What is PR?

My dad died a little over a year ago, and to this day he really didn’t know exactly what I did for a living.

It’s not that my dad wasn’t smart, in fact as a small businessman he was one of the best marketers I ever met.  It’s just that it is very difficult to explain exactly what public relations is, especially to people who aren’t marketers.

Bottom line, is I’d love to have a dime for every person who after I explained to them what I did, they said something like “so y’all make ads right?

No, we don’t.

But we as the public relations industry do a very poor job of explaining what we do do, because we as an industry can’t really agree on what that is ourselves.

This was underscored in a great blog post by my Twitter pal Shonali Burke in which she outlines “The Problem with PR.” In it Shonali calls out the PR industry for poorly defining and promoting what it does for a living.

Are we a press release mill?  Do with just deal with the media all the time?  Are we writers?  Do we update Facebook and Tweet?

As public relations has evolved over the 20 or so years I’ve been in the business, it has become much more about the “relations” part of the equation.

The first question we at THP ask our clients is “what do you want to accomplish, or what is your end goal?”  And while they might think the way to reach that goal is to get a segment on The Today Show or Oprah, the truth is in many cases the best way is for us to introduce them to three people who can help them get their product or service to market.

As an industry we are too quick to write a release, promise the client two big media hits, or tell them the solution to all of their ills a Foursquare check-in strategy.  We are not good enough listeners or question askers to get clients and companies to drill down to what will really make them successful.

Read this post from Beth Harte in which she outlines about one hundred questions to ask when trying to solve someone’s business problem.

At the end of the day this is what it is all about.  Yes, some clients come to us because they have big egos and just want to be interviewed by Matt Lauer to scratch that itch.  I hate those clients.

The best clients are the ones that come to us to solve their marketing or business issues.  They come to us because we have the tools and relationships to help them achieve their business goals.

Sometimes that means getting them the big story, sometimes that means introducing them to the right people, sometimes that means writing a great piece of internal communications that they can share with their employees, sometimes it means engaging the “Twitterazzi” and asking them to help create the buzz for product, movement or event.

A great example of this is the recent Cookies for Kid’s Cancer event led by many folks including local PR diva Jennifer Pounders. Jennifer tapped into all of her relationships, friends, employers, clients, associates, media, social media, etc. to help raise more than $30,000 in a mobile marketing efforts that was as perfect a 21st Century grassroots public relations example as I can think of.  Hats off to her and those who participated.  It was accomplished on a shoe string with no ad budget, but EVERYONE knew about it and helped.   It was about relationships, it had a end goal and all the communications around it focused on that goal.

PR is uniquely positioned to take all the communications tools available from fax to Foursquare, from typing to Twitter, from LinkedIn to lunch and make those connections.

We are in the “relations” business and that’s how I will answer that question from now on.

Dad, now you know.

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