On Tuesday, February 14, 2012, the PRSA National Capital Chapter hosted an event at the U.S. Navy Memorial & Heritage Center in Washington, D.C. “What Sports Team Communicators Can Teach Us.” Panelists included Kevin Byrne (Senior VP, Public & Community Relations, Baltimore Ravens), Lara Potter (Vice President & Managing Director, Communications & Brand Development, Washington Nationals), Ben Guerrero (Manager of Media Relations, Washington Capitals), and Mex Carey (Sports Information Director, Georgetown University). The event was moderated by Aaron Cohen (Vice President of Media Relations, MSL Group).
The discussion began with opening remarks from Cohen who noted that whether or not you are in sports communications, every PR professional can learn something from the sports industry.
The conversation focused on social media’s role in sports communication. Byrne noted that during the most recent Super Bowl, more than 22,000 tweets were sent each second and concluded that, “everyone is a reporter [in the digital age].” More often than not, teams aren’t breaking their own news so it’s that much more important to stay ready and be aware of what is happening around you.
Similarly, Ben Guerrero echoed the importance of social media’s role with the Capitals, thanks to owner Ted Leonsis who is a huge social media advocate, particularly blogging. As a result, the Caps probably have a bit of a social media head start on other NHL teams. Bloggers are welcome in the locker room and players, Guerrero noted, are given the freedom to express themselves, showcasing their personalities, but educated to do so in smart ways.
With all the positive impacts social media has had on the sports world, it has also had its fair share of setbacks. When it comes to college sports, GeorgetownUniversity’s Mex Carey stated that he has to closely monitor his players’ social media footprint, as many students don’t realize that they are not just representing themselves, but also a brand. One of the benefits of working with students rather than professionals, is that he has the ability to educate his players on communication, noting, “I’m their teacher when it comes to PR.”
The panelists also answered questions from the audience. Several questions were asked about management of crisis communication within sports teams. All panelists noted that it is important for players to go through extensive media training as most simply don’t realize their media influence when they turn professional. In instances where there is a crisis, Byrne cited the importance of the PR person to be at the table from the start, helping immediately to guide the communications response. Potter agreed and added, “stay true to your DNA and stay on message with a consistent story.”
As the event came to a conclusion, questions of crisis, scandals, and lockouts were discussed. Of the ups and downs in sports, Guerrero put it best when he stated, “whether you are winning or losing, you can always help the community.”
Moreover, when asked about a responding to game or season losses, Byrne eloquently summed it all up with, “we are always selling hope.”