By William Younce
For many, the end of July means the end of one thing…three glorious weeks of one of the biggest sporting events in the world, Le Tour de France.
I was privileged to join the ASO (the owners of the Tour) for the last few stages of the 103rd edition of the race and while I’ve handled press operations for a variety of sporting events over the last 20 years, the Tour was a new experience.
Although press operations are a key component of a successful event/game or race, not everyone is doing it right. Success means creating a positive experience for media and making it easy for them to do their jobs. To deliver that experience (which benefits YOU, the organizer, in the end) for any sporting event, regardless of size or budget, there are six key things that should always be top of mind:
1. Know your audience – In the case of press operations, your audience is not the public, it’s the media – the reporters, photographers, producers and other media professionals setting up their remote “offices” in your media workrooms, in your press conferences and on your sidelines. It’s their job to communicate to the public and it's imperative this audience has all the right tools to communicate to the outside world. Take care of the people who are responsible for communicating your story to the public.
2. Make life easy – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to yell “It’s in the media guide!” when a reporter or photographer asks a simple question that was specifically added to the guide, knowing it would get asked often. But we must be respectful to our most powerful allies. The media work hard to find unique story angles and capture amazing moments. It’s your job to make everything else easy for them. So if they ask when an event starts and it’s conveniently printed on the back of your credential, give them the answer anyway (with a big smile on your face). Trust me, they will appreciate it.
3. Give them everything they need to do their jobs – before, during and after the event. The Tour did an amazing job at this in 2016. Each media workroom was equipped with more than 20 big screen TV’s with the live feed of the race. After each Stage, the mix zone interviews were fed to the workroom as well, allowing everyone to get immediate quotes from riders. Reporters never had to leave their seats and they could cover the entire day’s race, complete with post-race interviews. Add to that unlimited access to espresso machines, food and an assortment of treats, and the Tour de France’s media workroom turned into a home-away-from-home for an entire month for most of the working media.
4. Get personal – The men and women of the working media can start to feel like extended family, especially during an event that spans multiple days or weeks and happens year after year. Spend time getting to know them. Ask them about their kids. Learn their likes and dislikes. If you find out it’s a reporter’s birthday on event day, have a cake delivered to the media workroom. These small things can go a long way.
Over the years, getting to know my reporters and photographers was always a key goal at every event I managed. There will come a time when you will have to tell someone “no,” limit their access, or curb their wishes in some way. It’s the nature of the business. The media constantly push the limits to get their story, at least the good ones do. And being told “no” from a professional and personal colleague is much easier to accept than from an impersonal “Media Manager”.
5. Keep it clean – And I don’t mean tidy and neat. I’m talking about ensuring your media areas are filled with credentialed media only. This is especially true in mix zones. The time media spend talking to athletes is critical to their stories. Couple that with the fact that these interview availabilities often take place immediately after the contest, when the athlete is at his or her most raw, and emotions – win or lose – are at their highest. Don’t risk ruining a good media moment with an autograph-seeking fan or a coach’s barking.
6. Everyone is not created equal – This is a problem that didn’t exist 10 years ago, but now anyone with a smart phone is essentially a member of the media. While everyone has a right to cover an event, to some extent, there can be gaps in understanding the rules of journalism from people who are not formally trained. My biggest headache during awards ceremonies or post-event interviews is having a blogger with an iPhone stand in front of a ‘professional’ photographer and accidentally ruin the shot. The pros get ticked off while the bloggers get upset because they also have a right to be there. It can be a combustible situation if not handled quickly and professionally. For now, until we can start using different credentials for different levels of media representation, I implement levels of access based on cameras. It’s simple and easy to enforce. If you have an iPhone or a small handheld camera, you will likely be escorted to the sides of the photo pit. If you have multiple zoom lenses and/or are shooting for Getty or AP, you get a special roped off area perfectly placed in the middle of the photo pit. It’s not an exact science, but it has helped ensure everyone still gets good access.
Other Important Tips:
· Feed them – a well-fed reporter is a happy reporter.
· Provide multilingual press releases.
· Signage, signage and more signage. You never want to hear a media member ask, “Where’s the press room?”
· Never limit accessibility unnecessarily. If you have the space, use it. The lesser known media love getting next to the USA Today’s, AP’s and Getty’s of the world, when feasible.
· Ask for feedback. “Is this a good angle for you?” or “Are you OK with us moving the press conference a day earlier?” You might have good intentions, but the media know their needs best. If you provide a listening ear and a willingness to work together, your event will run much smoother for everyone.
· When the event requires media to travel, ensure accommodations options are adequate, clean and in close proximity to the event.
William Younce has more than 20 years of event operations, project management and media relations experience in large-scale, international events. He has worked four Olympic Games and 17 multi-stage professional cycling races and was also the Director of Operations for the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour and the International Surfing Association.