By Megan Stewart
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Public relations professionals often field questions from reporters for the organizations they represent.
The relationship is often one of need — PR professionals needing coverage and media needing information – but it’s not always without complications.
Five veterans sat down on a panel for a Saturday morning AWSM convention session titled “Improving PR/Journalist Relations” to answer questions about their roles.
“There’s often an inherent conflict between what I do and what you do,” Michele Himmelberg, an AWSM co-founder who now is public relations director for Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., said as she addressed the crowd. “A PR department will value someone who can think with a news hat on.”
Mark Dalton, the vice president of media relations for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, followed up with, “There’s far more common ground that we have. We welcome the coverage we get.
“Knowing what people like to write about helps with selling ideas.”
Doug Tammaro, assistant athletic director for communications for Sun Devil athletics at Arizona State, said people in his position have to walk a fine line with the message they are trying to get the media to cover.
“We’ve started inviting more media to places [where ASU football coach Todd Graham] is talking to someone other than the media,” Tammaro said. “This is where the coaches have to be on their ‘A’ game to sell tickets. When the fans see the media at some of their events, that’s exciting to them. But it can be real tough to call the media. We don’t want it to seem like a PR stunt.”
Rose Bowl Game director of media Gina Chappin and MLS senior director of international communications Marisabel Munoz also participated in the discussion.
Another thing public relations professionals don’t want is surprises. Enter the world of social media, where truthful information and rumors are often seemingly the same.
When asked about a recent news story, Himmelberg told the crowd about a loud noise in one of the Disney parks that blew up on social media. She said pictures were then posted on Twitter and other sites that showed a line of people being evacuated from an area of the park.
“They posted photos on social media sites without explanation and then the media jumped to conclusions. Police said later the noise was caused by dry ice placed in a container in a trash can. We had to verify that before we could respond to media,” said Himmelberg.
Regarding teams, Tammaro said the solution to hyperactive coverage is managing access to the athletes. This approach, of course, negatively affects reporters’ time spent covering teams, so the battle for access is ongoing.
“The main thing is for you to find out what’s most important,” Tammaro said. “Do you really need to see the entire practice? Ask for things you really need. Be specific, and make the most out of that access.”
As social media complicates reporters’ jobs and threatens to make the jobs of public relations professionals nightmarish, Tammaro highlighted a new path – the use of athlete’s personal accounts – to deliver messages.
“Our point guard [Jahii Carson] has 10,000 followers on Twitter,” Tammaro said. “I send out a tweet and I mention him in it, and he re-tweets. That’s a greater reach than our entire men’s basketball Twitter account.”