The A.D. as the public relations practitioner
Many corporations and large organizations have an individual who serves as the public relations point person. And celebrities often have their own publicists. In both of these examples, this individual’s purpose is promote the positive aspects and to minimize any negative developments.
As the athletic administrator, this is exactly what you have to do. Sure, you are busy with hundreds of other details, tasks and responsibilities. But make no mistake, you are the director of public relations for the athletic program and perhaps the lead person for the entire school.Athletics is, after all, the most visible aspect of education. It is not the most important feature of a school —the academic side has to be — but often it is the major or only component upon which the community judges a school. Due to the role that athletics plays, many have opinions and this is where public relations comes into play.
Even casual fans will know the scores of games, seasonal records and who the leading scorers are for the various teams. As the public relations person, you must promote all of the positive aspects — beyond winning — that are involved in your program and there should be lots of them. If you don’t perform this role, who will?
In your role as the public relations director, here are some ideas to help in this pursuit.
1. Embrace preseason meetings. Think of your preseason parents’ meetings as the premier, proactive public relations effort of the school year. This is your opportunity to not only present necessary information about your program, but to do it in a positive, enthusiastic manner. You set the tone for the season, establish expectations and develop a good working-relationship with parents. This is basic public relations.
2. Use your websites. Post articles on both the school and athletic department sites that positively highlight individuals and teams. While the local media will highlight scores and leading scorers, you must take a slightly different slant and feature an athlete who overcame adversity or a team that performed well despite being outmatched. And don’t forget to include illustrative photos.
3. Use social media. Employ the same approach with your athletic department’s Facebook page or send a weekly or monthly email newsletter. Both of these vehicles accomplish the same goal. Any time that you can provide your parents and community with updates concerning your young people and teams is worthwhile in terms of public relations.
4. Create newsletters. Don’t forget that you can still use a hardcopy newsletter format. This technique can be extremely useful to communicate with parents, booster club members and selected community members. It may be possible to include pertinent articles and notices in newsletters that are already established and employed by the school such as your Parent-Teacher Association or booster club newsletters.
5. Host gatherings. Host “special evenings” to help the parents of your athletes recognize the symptoms and understand the treatment for concussions, the basics of the college athletic recruiting scene and other critical issues which arise in your setting. Your public image and respect will rise with each successful effort to assist your parents.
6. Recognize outreach efforts. Think creatively and publicize your teams’ community service efforts. While the primary and obvious purpose of these activities is to help organizations and individuals in the community, it also has excellent public relations value. Let everyone know that your athletes are outstanding, caring and selfless young people.
7. Reach out to media. Invite the local media to your awards banquet or evenings. While they may be unable to attend, you can get credit for the invitation and still send them the names of the award winners for all of your teams. In essence, you are providing the local newspapers, radio stations and television stations with great positive examples of young people achieving success.
8. Create programs. Whenever possible, produce programs for your awards banquet or special evening. Granted, an athletic administrator probably doesn’t have the time to personally complete this project, but with a little work, you can probably find a booster club member or parent volunteer who is willing to undertake this project. These programs often become keepsakes for parents and grandparents, and they represent a great public relations effort.
9. Provide media with positive stories. Provide the local media with article ideas to feature athletes who exhibited exceptional sportsmanship and served as a leader for other team members and fans. Athletes who have overcome a serious injury or exceptional hurdles in order to play the sport or to make the team also serve as great subject matter. Collectively, these stories would fall under the category of human interest and provide outstanding public relations value.
10. Use email alerts. Use the email notification feature involving game cancelations associated with Internet scheduling sites. This application instantly and automatically alerts parents or anyone who signed up for the notification feature that a game has been cancelled. Not only will this feature cut down on phone calls asking if a game is still being played, but it also increases the appreciation from some of your stakeholders and hence it is good public relations.
11. Respond to messages. Always respond to messages — phone and email — in a timely manner. This shows that you are conscientious, dependable and committed to the development and welfare of young people. Even in the face of possible complaints or problems, your response should always be polite, positive and professional. Isn’t this the public relations image that you do want to project?
12. Post signage. Use signage to welcome fans to your venues and set the standards for behavior and sportsmanship. Creating a positive, education-based environment is a great example of a public relations initiative that should be undertaken by an athletic administrator.
13. Confront problems. Address any misinformation, concerns or community-wide questions by using whatever efficient methods available to you — Twitter, Facebook or websites. Making corrections and providing the appropriate information is an important step in creating a good public image.
While many athletic administrators may not have considered that one of their responsibilities is to lead the public relations efforts for the athletic department, it is vital. Your school’s image — and not only of the athletic program — may largely be dependent upon your effort or lack thereof.
Public relations is the effort of presenting the positive, valuable aspects that individuals and organizations may have accomplished and to minimize the effects of a problem or mistake. Don’t miss this opportunity to present the image that you want and deserve.