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7 Things Collegiate Athletic Directors Wish Their PR Teams Did Better

NACDA has come and gone for another year and the collegiate sports world turns its attention to incorporating what they learned into strategies for the next academic year.

I took the opportunity of waiting in the long lines of the hotel's Starbucks to ask a dozen collegiate athletics directors their thoughts about the top three areas their communications staff should strive to improve in the next 12 months.


Here are the most common replies:

1. Pitch better stories.

I’ll start with a brief editorial comment here. It’s not pitching “better” stories, it’s about understanding what makes unique and “relatable” stories.

The most oversold pitch in college sports is the story of the athlete who returned to play after an ACL tear, broken bone or other season-ending injury. First, it's too common a scenario to be newsworthy. Second, it doesn’t relate to the 9-to-5 desk jockey who is buying the tickets. The pain and anguish of rehabilitating catastrophic injury isn’t easily conveyed to a middle-aged adult who gets a back strain from bending over to pick up the Apple TV remote. Rule No. 1 of journalism and, therefore, public relations, is know your audience. There’s a great NPR podcast on knowing what stories deserve to be pitched. Here’s the synopsis

2. Be a relationship builder.

You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. Being a publicist means being the bridge between the media and your VIPs, not the wall. (You also maintain, repair, upgrade and police the bridge!) It’s natural for personalities and egos to clash, but it’s your job to resolve the issues; not take sides or make excuses. Multiple ADs expressed that they often see an SID be the coach’s flack or a student-athlete’s shield. Agents promote the individuals; communications teams are paid to promote the organization.

3. Provide data.

Not batting averages or free throw percentages, but media placement data. Though snake oil salesmen have tried convincing you that advertising cost replacement shows earned media value, there are several credible ways to quantitatively analyze the work you are doing. Share of voice in your market against competitors and like organizations is a key metric. So are message resonance and article quality scores; whereas, impressions are not. If the subscription-based reporting tools break your budget, start with the basic logging of interviews as a show of performance. Here’s a list of effective KPIs for PR teams.

“I have an assistant A.D. who can recite the football entire record book from memory but can’t tell me how many stories were printed in the local paper this week.”
— anonymous Group of 5 A.D.


4. See the future.

Sure, PR professionals can’t predict when the next crisis will happen. We can predict that it will happen. How did other organizations respond in a comparable situation and how did they fare? The tough lessons have already been learned elsewhere. Do your research today and don’t wait until the news vans are driving up to the gates to think about a strategy. Two ADs I spoke to had the words “crisis management” rolling off their tongues before I could finish asking the question.

5. Communicate internally.

A great story doesn’t travel far if your biggest advocates don’t know about it. Don’t assume everything on your website is read by everyone in the athletic department. Several ADs noted that their department's primary touchpoints (ticket sales, development officers and event personnel) can’t recite current points of pride or promotional messaging. Be sure to regularly brief the entire staff, hitting the highlights of what might be important topics of discussion, and consider doing the same for all your student-athletes.

Pro tip: If this is your only dinner option, you left the office way too late. (Photo by Matthew Feeney on Unsplash)

6. Give athletes a larger voice (within the brand).

Coaches too often restrict media access, and this is counterproductive. The faster you can flood channels with your (consistent) message, the less likely bad news resonates in consumers’ minds. The less often your brand’s voice is presented, the more the opposing view controls the narrative. The C-suite level gets this. It’s your job to open access, coordinate quality media training and then provide feedback to show everyone its working!

7. Go home.

Another favorite among the ADs this year. For some reason, SIDs glorify being the ones who shut off the lights. That’s not heroism. Stave the burn out, the personality disorders, the family strife and the inevitable depression from the lack of self-care. Organize tasks based on organizational goals, do your job more efficiently, spend time where it matters, and go home at a reasonable hour even if it means some work doesn’t get finished  —  put that all together, and be a SuPR hero among your team.


 Jared Thompson is the customer success and content development lead at Blinder and formerly an SID at the University of Oklahoma, and digital media director at the NCAA and Purdue University. Connect with Jared to learn how Blinder can help you find instant success with points 1, 2, 3, 6 and 7 in this article. 


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