PR in Sports

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The Anatomy of a Trade in the PR World

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With today being the NBA trade deadline, I thought it would be fun to discuss what it’s like to be a PR person for an NBA team when a trade goes down. This might not be a real sexy post, but hopefully you find it interesting.

I won’t get into all the details, or else we’d be here all day, but I’ll discuss some of the more interesting aspects. My time with the Boston Celtics was particularly hectic, as Executive Director of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge is usually one of the more active GM’s.

Every team is different, but in my experience the calm before the storm was more like being a really tapped in fan. The Celtics business office is about 30 minutes from the basketball facility, so the PR staff was pretty much watching ESPN and Chad Ford’s chats just like everybody else.

The difference lies in that when a rumor comes up you have the ability to verify it pretty quickly. If I heard from one of the executives that a rumor was completely false, then I would just sit back and laugh at some of the ridiculous online chatter, and there was always plenty of that. If it was real, then I’d do my best to get all the details and put our plan into drive.

One of the most enjoyable parts of working the in NBA is that the PR people from different teams are more like a fraternity as opposed to competitors. If you’re working on a trade then you’re in constant contact with that teams PR people. You discuss who sends the press release first, usually the team making the bigger splash, and timing of the release. This is important, because the first release out usually frames how the ticker on ESPN and other outlets report the trade.

We’d also swap player bios and stories, but PR people in sports don’t discuss stats in this instance, your looking for information that can help you in your job. Is this player difficult to deal with? Is it hard to get him to speak to the media pre-game? Is there a certain angle when approaching him that will make it easier to get him to do press for you?

Of course the PR staff wants to win games, but you also need to be able to do your job, and some players are more willing than others. When you see a player on ESPN or your local news, chances are a PR person from that team had to convince, or even beg, him to do the interview, no matter how big the smile on his face is on your screen.

I specifically remember swapping stories with PR people in the Cleveland Cavaliers front office back when the Celtics traded for Ricky Davis. Anyone familiar with that trade knows that the Celtics were losing Tony Battie and Eric Williams, both popular players, phenomenal locker-room guys and fairly easy for us to work with.

So, our PR staff was a little worried when we found out about the trade. Besides being good guys, T-Batt and E-Will were our go-to-guys when we needed someone for an interview. For a PR person in sports the trade is just as much about stats, as it is about guys that are great with the media, in the community, and easy to work with. Those players are golden to PR and Community Relations pros.

Needless to say I was put at ease a bit when the Cleveland PR people, to my surprise, let me know that Ricky Davis was pretty easy to, despite the public’s’ perception of him.

Now that we had all the details and info, the rest of the afternoon, prior to the press conference, is debunking rumors, calling reporters to notify them of the time and location, and setting up the podium and mics. Real fun stuff, but the calls can come quick when a rumor is out there. Usually reporters have aspects of the trade right, it’s the throw-in players they’re usually off on.

The press conference is where the fun gets going again. Besides the actual press conference, you have the post podium scrum and one-on-ones need to be set up. Everybody wants a one-on-one, but you only have so much time, and the GM and coach only have so much patience, so keeping all the different media outlets happy can be challenging. Usually the major metros will get a one-on-one and the smaller suburban papers and stations are relegated to the scrum.

You also have to make sure you get the first exclusive to the flagship TV and radio. They pay a lot of money for broadcasting rights, and access is one of their main added benefits. Giving them first dibs or added access is a must, for the most part.

After the press conference, one-on-ones and flagship exclusives, it’s usually time to break everything down, grab a beer and get some rest. What? You thought it was over? No, we have to do it all again tomorrow when the new players arrive in town. It seems pretty quick and easy, but I probably just went over an 8:30am-8:30pm day.

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Written by Brian Gleason

February 19, 2009 at 10:19 pm

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