By Kelli Grashel
ORLANDO, Fla. — “Every day is a challenge. You learn something new every day.”
The other two panelists nodded their head in agreement when Trish Wingerson, the Orlando Magic’s assistant director of communications, opened the session with that quote. “Managing a hot situation” was led by Melinda Travis, CEO of PRO Sports Communications, and featured Tracey Judd, NASCAR’s director of racing operations communications and Chris Yandle, the assistant athletic director for communications at the University of Miami. The panelists discussed various ways they as communications professionals manage moments of crisis.
Wingerson said the first step is to get a public relations group together and talk about what they know. They gather all the facts, talk to the player and determine how to make a statement. The problem is handled internally and the main focus is to mobilize the team. She says to come to terms with the situation and to understand its legal boundaries.
“There is no purpose in telling people why or how it happened,” Wingerson said. “Admit that it happened.”
Judd had a similar approach with laying out a strategy of what executives will say and how it will be presented. An executive must have a concise statement and one spokesperson. She said to make sure the updates you are giving on the go are correct. The news media is about getting it first, but it also needs to be right. Judd also suggests having a plan ready if it is not already in place.
Yandle has a different view because college sports and the NCAA present more bumps in the road. There is an extra layer with student affairs. Yandle says the department does have a crisis communications manual with foreseeable situations. He said it all depends on the scenario, but they don’t always know the answers and will bring in unbiased outside sources.
As professionals in the communications field, Travis describes them as often having to be the middleman between the media and the team. This presents issues with trying to find the right balance.
With NASCAR, Judd says there are 36 event weekends so when problems hit they are in different places. It is important to know where it happens and who is dealing with it. When you mobilize, make sure everyone has the same information to give out.
“The communication itself is so imperative on what the media receives,” Judd said.
Judd and the media have to work together because both have jobs to do. It is a mutually beneficial relationship and knowing the media on a personal level helps.
Judd spoke on having a “go-to person” in the media. Wingerson agreed it is important to have a relationship with your beat writer. She says it is a give-and-take relationship, and they deserve to get information first. She said if you work with the media and are honest and respectful, then they are more willing to listen to you.
There are often times when these relationships lead to “off the record” conversations. Yandle believes nothing is really off the record.
“We wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t make you dig,” Judd said.