From Powerplays to Pitching: Similarities Between Sports Reporting and Franchise PR
I remember my very first time interviewing an athlete for my college newspaper. After the initial excitement of landing a coveted position as the Men’s Hockey beat writer for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s The Daily Cardinal faded away, the panic set in. I had to actually talk to an athlete. I arrived at that first hockey practice notebook in hand, nervously pacing the hallway of the facility. In my head, the scenario of interviewing athletes and coaches always played out smooth. But as I stood there waiting for my first interview to show up, all I did was worry that I would come off as uninformed, uneducated and unsure.
However, once that I met that first player and started asking my questions, the fears, jitters and trepidations I had disappeared. As the season progressed, I built a relationship with the team, coaching staff and media personnel. There was a comfortable familiarity and ease that I became accustomed to, and I really missed it when the season ended and I graduated.
Funny enough, I had no idea I would go through almost the exact same process in my post-graduate job as a Public Relations Associate with All Points Public Relations.
The first time my boss Jamie asked me to pitch a story to a reporter over the phone, I’ll admit that I had a mini heart attack. I’m from the technology generation. We text, email and tweet, rarely do we actually call someone!! You’ll have a much better shot over the phone, Jamie said. I sat at my desk with the pitch in front of me, staring at the reporter’s phone number for a good five minutes. Finally picking up the receiver and punching in the numbers, it felt like the phone rang agonizingly long. The reporter answered, so I told her my name and why I was calling. As soon as she told me she’d love to know more, I released that breath I had been holding since I dialed her number. It was at that moment I realized my days as a sports writer were paying off… Sharing a story idea with a reporter is a lot like interviewing an athlete. Here’s how I took my experience from powerplays to pitching:
- Do Your Research And Know Who You’re Talking To: You wouldn’t ever ask a goalie about offensive strategy, or a defensive linebacker about a running back’s job. You know who you’re talking with to better write your questions. Well, it’s the same story while pitching. You don’t want to approach a business reporter with a lifestyle story. Sometimes doing the research can take time and feel arduous, especially with bigger publications. But when you find the right reporter, the process can feel smoother and the conversation will flow.
- Be Personable: While covering a football story, I had to interview a freshman on the team. I quickly realized he was more nervous than me, and made a joke to put us both at ease. We both relaxed, and things felt less like an interview and more like a conversation. It’s a similar process while pitching reporters. I’ve learned that opening an email with “I hope you’ve had a great weekend,” or asking how they are when you call them makes reporters more open to talking with you. It won’t feel like another PR person trying to get a placement for a client, but rather one person talking to another about something that potentially might interest them.
- Keep It Brief and Be Concise: I went into an interview once for a game night preview with a list of 10 questions for a player. I got through about four of them when I realized he was getting pretty antsy. There was no way I was going to get through ten questions with this guy, and I had better be content with what I did get from him. The next time around, I condensed my questions to get straight to the point that I wanted to hear. The answers I was given were lengthier, providing me with more info for my article. One of the first pitches I put together for a reporter looked like a short novel. I realized that he didn’t want to read through that whole thing and try to find what he thought might be the potential story angle. After working through it with my boss Jamie, he helped me bring it down to a few key paragraphs, with the main point at the top. It’s a useful tactic that has always served me well.
- Compliments Never Hurt: This one might be the oldest trick in the book, but it’s worked every time. I interviewed one of the younger members of the hockey team who had been the subject of a feature on NHL.com. Since the team was coming off a tough loss the weekend before, congratulating him on the achievement lightened the mood and made him more open to my questions about the game ahead. The same can go for a reporter you’re pitching a story to. Most interviews and placements that I’ve secured came from pitches that started with “great piece about X,” or “I loved the feature on Y.” It kind of goes hand-in-hand with doing your research. Showing a reporter that you’ve taken the time to learn more about who they are and what they write can only increase your chances of securing something for a client.
When I stepped into that hockey practice facility for the first time, I never would have guessed that one year later, my rink-side days would serve a dual purpose in my PR career. But, it’s usually the experiences that we least expect are the ones that we can draw on for inspiration in our careers.
Although, I have to say that I don’t miss the occasional sweat that dripped down on my notebook during interviews. I’m completely okay leaving that experience behind.