Athletes & PR: Striking While the Iron is Hot

Not long ago, we had a conversation with a recently retired NFL athlete who was considering professional PR help to generate awareness around some of his business ventures and philanthropic efforts.  He was explaining that he’d never hired a PR person in the past because when was playing, he didn’t need publicity since he was in the news all the time. 

While that might seem perfectly logical on the surface, it’s the stuff that makes PR people crazy. Before I go further, let me first say that this is not a knock on that particular athlete because he’s not alone.  He’s one of many athletes who enjoyed a great run and reaped the “built-in” publicity benefits of being a solid player.  But that’s exactly what makes us crazy.  The fact that he was doing such a great job on the field and getting recognized in the media week in and week out, is precisely why he should have jumped on the PR bandwagon.

It’s about striking while the iron is hot. The time to build your brand is when you’re visible – when you’re scoring touchdowns, when you’re on TV and when fans are talking about you. When you’re relevant.  

That’s the time to show people who you are, what you’re about, which causes you support, what your hobbies are off the field and what business interests you have long term.   Playing is your platform to tell your story.  And your story – and the connection it has to your fans -- is ultimately what sells. Since your primary responsibility is to play the game and perform at the highest level, you should enlist PR professionals to tell and sell your story.

Athletes who wait until their careers are over to capitalize on their accolades often find out very quickly how much their influence has waned following retirement.  While more athletes are better positioned for their post-playing careers and do walk away from the game with many opportunities, for most it’s much more difficult.  You never want to have to remind people who you are. 

As PR people, we are the ones often doing the reminding and we know all too well what it’s like trying to convince media to pay attention to a lesser known retired athlete or actor who is no longer on TV.  Trust us, it’s challenging work.

Every athlete is a small business.  Like any small business, growth happens when you build on your successes and keep the momentum going. When you’re given the spotlight, you seize it, and maximize every opportunity to propel your business forward. 

In the NFL, where the average career is just three and a half seasons, that’s an extremely short window. Professional PR help should be a part of the plan from Day 1 and incorporated into the long-term business plan.  Wait until retirement and squander opportunity that doesn’t come back.