Why are so many sports PR folks unprofessional?
The non-relationships I have with athlete PR reps has been bothering me for a while so I figured I’d write my thoughts. In my experience, if you’re not calling from ESPN or Sports Illustrated the chances of people in an athlete’s camp responding to you are often next to none even if you work for a reputable web site with lots of traffic. This is in part it’s important to some bloggers to have access to locker rooms so that they can get interviews with players on site, routinely, and build relationships with them via direct contact. Covering guys in the locker room is something I’ve never once been able to drum up even remote interest in doing. Even back in the days when I thought I was going to be a sports broadcaster.
However, I do love to get guys on my podcast or do profiles and that has been the ultimate struggle project.
[To read some of my specific bad experiences with PR folks click Read More]
Some of the negative PR experiences I’ve had, especially w/football player reps, have to do with the fact that many athletes hire fast talking nitwits, homeboys, and scenesters to rep them. These people do not have much knowledge of the digital space and not much interest in anything more than hanging around players.
Even credible PR people seem to have issues understanding the digital sports media space outside of ESPN. They also don’t realize the flexibility and advantage to working with a blogger who has complete control over what they write when it comes to putting out the athlete’s side of a story.
This matters to me because the reason I started my blog in the first place was because I felt that athletes deserved to be covered more fairly. I know there are others of my colleagues (including professional journalists) who have an interest in ensuring athlete stories are told off the field but the roadblocks to do so make it all but impossible. To hear athletes complain incessantly about not being understood is laughable when their own people are handing out detour signs left and right.
To be completely fair, there are many athletes who have PR reps just because they believe they should. Those folks mostly field incoming requests–something that a high quality personal assistant can do with more care and on less salary. Further, some clients want notoriety and to establish a name but can’t be convinced to do the work that it takes. Their publicists have to regretfully turn down requests for comments, interviews and event participation because the client simply doesn’t want to do anything.
I’m totally fine with a PR rep declining to have their client talk to me. But when my emails and voicemails sit with no response I get very frustrated given the fact that those same PR people are more than happy to fill my inbox with press releases that I can’t do a damn thing with. Most of the press releases I receive don’t even list whether the client is available for interviews or the subject or not. Moreover, they often contain info that would be better and more efficiently expressed in a short media advisory email rather than some silly too-long press release with a generic quote. (Hey don’t PR people read Ragan.com? We off that!)
To give you some specific examples of my own experiences:
- Recently, I contacted an athlete’s PR folks about media availability at a football camp the player was holding. They told me they weren’t allowing media at the camp. Nevermind that same athlete went on a bit of a rampage on twitter complaining that the media doesn’t cover positive things like their charity football camps (something I’ve made a practice of doing as much as I can). When I woke up the next morning two members of the media had attended the camp and were tweeting from it. Apparently, they just assumed they were allowed and were let in. No other outlets covered the camp. And, quite frankly, I’m glad I didn’t either.
- I emailed a PR rep to request an interview with their client and to be added to their email list for updates. The PR rep added me to the email list and never responded to the interview request. I have since filtered all of their emails to trash.
- Recently, I had an experience where an athlete sent me a note expressing his displeasure with something that I wrote and it appeared to be a misunderstanding. I reached out to his representative and offered to clarify the situation since I hadn’t written anything negative about the player and was confused as to why he was upset. For all I know he confused me with someone else! The rep didn’t respond (spoiler alert!) even though it was clear his client felt strongly enough about whatever I said to drop me a PERSONAL note about it. This is important cause players love to talk and my blog name is PLAYERperspective for God sakes. I’m also pretty easy to recognize and remember. The last thing I need is a bunch of athletes thinking I’m not fair when that is the PRIMARY goal of the site.
- A couple months ago I contacted a rep to get clarification on information I received about their client. At that time I was in the market for my own publicist. I considered getting a quote from that person for retainer. However, since said person didn’t respond to me about their CURRENT client I highly doubt they would have responded to any bloggers or writers on MY behalf either.
- Another PR rep quickly emailed me back about interviewing their client and to set up a date. The suggested date turned out not to be good for the athlete and follow up emails from me were not responded to after that.
- In another instance an athlete told me specifically that he did want to do an interview but asked me contact his rep and to set up an interview time with them. He gave me the reps name and twitter name but he couldn’t remember the email address but gave me the phone number. I went to the rep’s web site and there was no email listed just a contact form. The contact form didn’t work. I called both of the office’s phone numbers–one was disconnected, the other was working but had a generic robot voice mail. I left a message but I’m sure you realize you’ve already guessed they didn’t call back.
I certainly didn’t expect to have better relationships with athlete agents than their marketing reps, but right now that’s where it stands. I’ve gotten emails from agents thanking me for things I’ve written about players, clarifying certain things, or responding to an email from me about an article I wrote to thank me for sending it their way. But from the people paid to do that kind of thing…nada.
I’m making this about bloggers and independent or freelance journalists cause it’s an experience I can confidently speak to. But the other day, on twitter, I saw a lucrative firm tweet a well known but not quite famous athlete about the fact that their representation has not responded to follow up requests.The athlete is a guy who is *this close* to being a super star and recently signed his first tremendous contract. All he needs is a good media push in order to become a household name and get the endorsement money pouring in. As it stands, they’re leaving money on the floor.
If you’ve ever looked at a commercial or product placement and said “why the hell are they using him?” cause that guy is a tier down from who you’d expect…keep in mind that some people’s camps are HUSTLING and some others are not. Plain and simple. I have a few PR folks that absolutely do their best for their clients but most of my experiences are with people doing the exact opposite. I’ve spoken to other writers about this and I’m definitely not alone in my observations.
I believe there is a blame to go around–athletes shouldn’t hire PR folks if they don’t plan to work for exposure or monitor their work. PR folks should be more professional and brush up on their new media marketing knowledge. Bloggers like me must be patient and understand we’re at the bottom of the food chain. I also realize it’s important to get to know publicists offline as much as possible so that they’re more likely to respond.
But for me the bottom line is this: a rejection is still a response and responses should be a standard practice whether the answer is yes or no.
If any athlete PR reps or writers have thoughts on this post, please feel free to comment below or contact me: Jessica@playerperspective.com