One of the goals throughout the year is to ensure that our athletes are represented on a consistent basis in both our local and regional media. However, with this increased exposure in the media also comes the responsibility of ensuring that your programs are not only communicating with the media, but doing so in a manner that represents your entire department.
Let’s be clear about a few things when talking about the relationship between high school athletics and the media. First of all, the days of local beat reporters handling only one or two schools are nearly gone – in most areas. Granted, there are still local papers that focus on hometown coverage, but most of the regional media outlets have shrunk dramatically during the past couple of decades, so the workload of those remaining has increased in order to ensure coverage for a large number of schools.
As a result, it is more important than ever to promote the successes of your athletic department, and to do so in a consistent and recognizable manner. In most cases today, the quickest and easiest way to get word out to the media is through social media channels. Establishing consistent, branded graphics for each sports program makes those programs quickly recognizable and identifies the athletic department.
In an effort to save time and increase efficiency while promoting every team on campus, a suggestion is to make pre-made templates for teams, so that the final score can simply be plugged in along with a new picture into each graphic. From there, it is a matter of making sure that it is seen, and this process also becomes almost automatic.
For media exposure, Twitter is our first stop. Because we are using graphically enhanced posts, we are able to tag all regional media in the photo, saving space in the post to include key details from the competition. From there, we make sure students and parents see the same information, which is why we also utilize Instagram and Facebook accounts. It seems redundant at times, but it is not very time consuming because we use the same graphics and wording across each platform.
The big thing is to remember that athletic directors always promote their schools, so we must remain consistent in message, tone and appearance. In the digital age, any variance among those aspects can lead to inconsistency in the way an athletic department is perceived.
Creating the Message
There are always going to be certain programs, coaches and athletes from whom we regularly hear the same thing, regardless of the details of what had happened. Athletic directors appreciate having a consistent message for both coaches and athletes.
One of the best things coaches can do for their athletes, aside from preparing them for their actual sport, is to spend time building culture, the message behind the culture, and reinforcing how to share that message when they get the opportunity to do so.
Some of our athletes have had the opportunity to be featured by not only our local media, but also larger regional outlets. It was great to see quotes from our athletes that reflected the message of the program. They had heard that message every day from the coaches, started to emphasize it themselves as athletes, and embraced the opportunity to share it with the media. This doesn’t happen by accident.
Create Your Story
Creating your story is different than creating the message, in reference to actually writing the game stories or press releases after an event. Don’t be afraid as a coach or athletic director to collect quotes from your own athletes and write an actual game story to share with the local and regional media. This can give them a head start, and make it more likely to get your results included in a round-up since they can either copy and paste, or do a quick follow-up to add another small detail or two.
If this becomes too much on a regular basis, consider a weekly roundup or regular newsletter that you share with the media, giving them a synopsis of the success on your campus so they can follow up when possible. And if you find that possible, consider adding in some non-event based stories, focusing on your athletes behind the scenes and making it known to the media that there might be a great story to tell on your campus.
It’s Okay to Delay
Maybe the scariest part of media communication is the postgame interview. Coaches and athletes both can get so caught up in the emotion of what just happened, and what comes out of their mouths might not always represent what they truly would want to say. Coaches and athletes should be under no obligation to give a full answer in the heat of the moment, but also recognize that the media may be on a deadline and they do need to get responses in a timely fashion.
One alternative method instead of conducting the standard post-game interview is to request the interview questions by text right after the game. By seeing the questions and being able to process for even just a few minutes, a coach or athlete can send their best thoughts, and see them in writing before hitting send. The best way to do this is also have the media members send their questions for the athletes to the coach, so phone numbers of students are not distributed.
For feature stories and other non-game story items, a phone or in-person interview is certainly appropriate, but the questions should be requested ahead of time via email. This gives time to write out the answers and make sure that we are staying consistent with the desired message.
It’s a Two-way Street
We all want exposure and recognition for our programs, while recognizing that there is certainly never enough room in the local paper to include all of a program’s successes. As a result, it is important to build these relationships and be responsive to the media. Not every question is going to be an easy one, and we must be able to communicate with the media even when things do not go our way. These can be the times that truly define your department.
One of the rules to remember after a loss or setback, especially when discussing it with the media, is the “No BCD” rule. We don’t “Blame, Complain or Deny” the results of what has happened. We accept responsibility for a defeat in the same manner that we accept praise for a victory – from the top down in our programs. This lets the media know that they can expect a consistent response from your programs, regardless of result.
In the end, a good relationship with the media is about consistent communication. This includes communication from the athletic director to the coaches, from the coaches to the athletes, and from both the athletic director and coaches to the media. If it is happening in a consistent and recognizable manner, your relationships with the media will flourish.
Nate Smith is a NIAAA Certified Athletic Administrator at Heritage High School in Brentwood, California. He is also a board member of California’s North Coast Section Athletic Directors Association and focuses his work on providing opportunities for athletic administrators to network and learn from each other. In his educational career, Smith has coached multiple sports and also worked with local press outlets as an on-call reporter.