Industry Spotlight: PR Pros, Journalists and a Developing Relationship

Michael D. Colangelo is the Assistant Director of Projects for University of Southern California's Sports Business Institute and Managing Editor for the sports business website The Fields of Green. He joined the Sports Business Institute in 2013, and currently manages the consulting projects between the SBI and its partners. He also provides thought leadership and opinions through The Fields of Green and media appearances. Colangelo received his Bachelor's degree from The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester Massachusetts, and his Masters in Business Administration from University of Southern California.

On changing newsrooms and the way reporters work with PR pros…

USA TODAY actually approached the USC Sports Business institute (SBI) to partner on the launch of The Fields of Green. There was coverage by USA TODAY, but they felt the SBI could provide a greater depth of expertise because we were in the industry and talking to industry stakeholders about current events and new trends. We try to work hand-in-hand with the news desk. If they are covering the news and events happening, we want to provide an opinion or an explanation to fans on why this affects the business side of sports. The push to digital consumption has increased consumers' (fans) appetite. They want to know more, and they want to know what is happening as soon as the news breaks. Sometimes “what does this mean” is just as important as what is happening.

Because of the fast pace of the industry, it is almost essential to work with PR professionals because they can provide you the first look and the logic behind their clients' decision. If something new is launching and you get an embargoed story, you can help better explain why a decision is made as well as just saying “Team X or Company Y announced a new initiative or offering.”

On the challenges of working with PR pros…

There really haven’t been too many challenges with PR professionals on our end. Obviously they want to get what they feel is a story out on their clients’ behalf, so sometimes press releases need to be prioritized. There are some situations where something may be breaking that takes all of our bandwidth so a sponsorship announcement or new partnership has to take a backseat to breaking news. This could mean we get a press release on Monday, but don’t address the story until Wednesday. There are also some things we don’t cover because they don’t click.

The only other challenge The Fields of Green has encountered is mixed messaging. There have been a few times where certain groups give you access to players or leadership and their quotes aren’t really in line with the goals of the PR firm or league/team/company/union, etc. We can’t just replicate a press release, we have to point out the positives and negatives in a story. Sometimes PR professionals can get a bit too involved in the language of the story or angle we choose to cover.

On digital strategy…

Whenever we get a released or embargoed story from PR professionals, we try and give them a heads up on when we will publish the story. This way we can both promote the story at the same time and hopefully draw more eyeballs to the breaking news.

On top of typical social (Twitter, Facebook), we are working closely with USA TODAY to get promoted stories to the front page of their website. We also work with Yahoo! and MSN to provide stories and posts into their feeds. The more platforms you use, the higher chance you can get the message out.

Tips for PR pros pitching The Fields of Green…

Do’s:    Always email first. We are often out of the office and email is the best way to get in touch.

If you want something covered the day it breaks, make sure to give us a heads up a few days before. Even if you don’t have an embargoed release, we make sure something off the record stays off the record before it can officially be announced.

Make sure it’s newsworthy. We don’t like turning people away on stories, but if we get three ‘blah’ press releases, we are less likely to get excited about their big news. Prioritize which messages you want to get out there.

If you want client leadership or decision makers quoted, help us set up the meeting. Just offering a call is tough because matching up schedules is always an issue.

Don’ts:

Expect us to consistently and specifically mention your client. We are not an advertorial service and we need to discuss how this impacts the overall industry.

Get involved in semantics and language in the posts. We can’t use your client’s tagline or consistently point to it as a ‘leader in the industry.’ If something is incorrect, point it out, but trying to influence too much of the story is actually a hindrance.

Stop sending us stories if we don’t cover one release. In some cases a story could be covered one week, but not the next due to the news cycle and what we are focusing on. Giving us a story on MLB or Olympic athletes during football season isn’t topical, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t cover it at a different time or slower part of the news cycle.

PR pros are welcome at all USC Sports Business Institute events…

We love working with PR professionals and their clients, and invite them all to our events. Historically we have had Gary Bettman, Mark Emmert, Lorenzo Ferttita, John Skipper, and Adam Silver as speakers. Most recently we hosted Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball Commissioner, as part of our Commissioners’ Series. Our events are a great place to network, and meet our board members and other industry professionals. Meeting PR professionals in-person is always helpful because we can put a face to a name, and these events are one of the main ways we work with our industry stakeholders.