Larry Dougherty is currently the Senior Associate Athletic Director for Communications at Temple University. In his 13 years with the university, he also served as the Associate Athletic Director for four years. Prior to joining the Owls’ staff, Dougherty spent 15 years in the media relations office at Saint Joseph’s. In addition to his professional ventures, he was part of the CoSIDA Executive Board for six years, serving as president from 2010-11.
SportsPR: For aspiring PR pros out there who have their sights set on working for a major sports organization, what are the major differences between working at the collegiate level vs the pro level, and what additional legal/liability concerns exist when it comes to working with collegiate athletes?
Larry Dougherty: One of the major differences between handling a college team and a professional team is that at the intercollegiate level the communications professional is concerned with the overall brand of the University, as well as the team. At the professional level the team and organization are viewed more as one in the same.
There are definitely more legal hurdles when dealing with student-athletes than professionals. In particular, ones that involve the student-athletes rights as students at the University, and release of information to the media.
SPR: One of the ongoing issues journalists seem to have with communications departments is the perceived lack of access to athletes — what are some valid reasons that may restrict access, especially with a collegiate team?
LD: Lack of access has been an ongoing issue, especially with football programs at the FBS level. Student-athletes schedules are demanding, and not fully understood by most media members. Besides practices the student-athletes take a full load of classes, have individual coaches meetings, strength and conditioning sessions and at times medical treatments. It is tough for the communications professionals to find time in their schedules for one-on-one interviews outside already scheduled media availability.
SPR: College is a big culture shock for many students, including athletes — how are Temple student athletes coached to handle the media?
LD: At Temple we work with media coaches, especially in the high profile sports, to better prepare our student-athletes in how to properly address the media. Our coaches, either freelance professionals or faculty members at the University, address our teams as well as work with some of our student-athletes individually. Our communications staff, which includes four full-time professionals and two graduate assistants, also works with our student-athletes to prepare them for scheduled interviews. I believe this training not only enhances the Temple University Brand, but gives the student-athletes a tremendous life skill that will help them in their future career paths.
SPR: When it comes to digital media, does the department deal with social media slip ups?
LD: We instruct our student-athletes on the proper usage of social media prior to each season, and fortunately we have not had any major incidents with any members of our teams. As a department we do not track each individual student-athletes social media accounts, but some teams monitor their student-athletes more closely than others.
SPR: What are future communication trends at the collegiate level?
LD: As the print media continues to shrink and the electronic media time allotment continues to be reduced, there has been an increased movement in the communications staffs “telling their story”. Departments have hired full-time writers for their websites and, at Temple, we hired a full-time team of three video professionals to enhance tell our story visually to our students, alumni and fans. In coordination with a full-time digital media manager we have been able to push our story to our fan base through our social media platforms. This has been an incredibly effective way of promoting our brand in a timely manner.