Public relations, baseball and the news media

Well, here we go again. I wrote in this blog on Dec. 18 about “Baseball’s black eye. Any PR problems here?” Now it’s time for Roger Clemens to take the mound.

I thought about this today while getting my five miles in on the treadmill. Nothing like a cold rain at 5 a.m. in December to keep you inside. And I was in Pittsburgh yesterday, visiting my parents and brothers and their families and talking about football, baseball and other equally important things.

So how did Roger Clemens get involved in all this? Well, he’s a star pitcher (now maybe permanently retired) with the New York Yankees and one of many named in the Mitchell report who was linked to using steroids. But Clemens denies this. And this situation provides a lesson in public relations , media relations and crisis management.

First, Clemens has denied the allegation – most visibly – in a video that he made and then posted on his own Web site and subsequently on YouTube. 

Chris Albrecht, in an article titled “Clemens Makes His Pitch on YouTube” on newteevee.com has a really interesting perspective on this use of YouTube, one that should interest PR pros involved with media relations and crisis communication. Albrecht says, “Clemens sidesteps the pitfalls of traditional press conferences, and gives us a glimpse into the future of public relations.”

Go ahead. Take a look. But then come back. I’ve got a few other points to make.

And they involve working with the so-called traditional media. In addition to trying to take control of the story with his YouTube video, Clemens has embarked on a series of interviews with reporters, broadcast and print. He is scheduled to appear on CBS’s “60 Minutes” on Jan. 6, for an interview with Mike Wallace. And Clemens apparently is going to talk to other reporters in conjunction with the “60 Minutes” interview.

Interesting strategy. Here’s my take.

  • Clemens says the Mitchell report was inaccurate, he never used steroids and he wants to protect his reputation. If he is being honest, he should have been more aggressive in making his case earlier. He didn’t step up to the plate until days after he was associated prominently with the allegations. Maybe Web 2.0 changes the game of crisis communication, but it has been my experience that the sooner you can respond the better.
  • If Clemens is going to be interviewed by Mike Wallace and others, he better not try to hide anything – and he better talk straight and honestly. Remember when Mark McGwire and some other heavy hitters appeared before Congress to testify about steroid use in baseball? When asked directly if he had used steroids, McGuire’s tongue turned to mush. What did he think he was going to be asked about? The designated hitter rule?
  • In this regard, Clemens would be well advised to prepare for the interview and seek the counsel of PR experts in this area. If he strikes out on “60 Minutes,” well, the game may be over. And I hope Mike Wallace does a better job interviewing Clemens than Larry King did in a similar situation with Paris Hilton. I also hope Clemens is telling the truth. Wouldn’t that be refreshing, coming from an athlete and a celebrity?
  • Yet I wonder why reporters are giving him a pass until Jan. 6? Gee, every time I was involved in a tough story, reporters were fairly insistent that I (we?) provide information and access to interviews immediately if not sooner. Maybe with Web 2.0 it is a new ballgame. Or maybe Clemens is enough of a celebrity that he can control the media.

This should be interesting. If the YouTube strategy works (again, look at Albrecht’s article), we can expect many PR pros to give it serious consideration. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that will be a good thing. Get your story out honestly, quickly and as completely as you can. Yes. But if the wizards in our organizations think they can hide behind the curtain and control the news media, well…Play ball!

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3 responses to “Public relations, baseball and the news media

  1. I won’t even get started on how disheartening it is that my favorite American tradition is tainted with addiction and lies…hmph.

    I will say that this is a good lesson you expose: say as much truth as you know when you know it. Goes for PR…and even our everyday relationships? Someone smart (code for I forget who it was…) once told me to ask myself these questions before I say something that may cause ripples: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it loving? Applying this to our lives is just as important as applying it professionally.

    Great post.

  2. This was an extremely informative post about sports PR. I am fascinated with this area of PR because it’s one that seems the most dynamic– there always seems to be a “crisis” when athletes are involved.

    I recently wrote a post (http://pr-interactive.blogspot.com/2007/12/victory-for-communicators-in-sports.html) about technology changing the way communicators will market sporting events, but I didn’t realize how drastically it would affect crisis communications. I wonder how the PR practitioners involved in the Michael Vick indictment or the suspension of over 30 Florida State football players would have used YouTube to improve strained relationships with fans, and if these tactics would be effective in the longrun.

    Should be a very intriguing trend to follow in the next couple of years.

    Take care!

  3. Pingback: Roger Clemens and public relations « PR on the run

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