Tony Grossi is one of the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s many excellent sports writers. I often reference Tony’s colleague Terry Pluto here, who really is America’s finest sportswriter, but the paper is rich in excellent sports reporters, columnists and editors, a testament to the city’s and the region’s love of its teams and the paper’s commitment to overserving the niche by bringing in great beat reporters as well as very talented columnists like Pluto, Bill Livingston and Bud Shaw, and beat reporters like Paul Hoynes and Mary Schmitt Boyer. I think it would be tough to find a small market paper with so great a bench of talent.
Grossi is the lead Browns guy, a terrific reporter who also runs a weekly column called “Hey, Tony!” Buried at the bottom of Sunday’s offering is an exchange which really should be sent to any organization that is trying to sell anything to anyone:
Q: Hey, Tony: I’m watching a NFL Network show where they’re discussing the relationship between the media and players and coaches. In it they mention that Herm Edwards once had a mini-camp for reporters to help educate them on what really is involved in the game. Considering that we have a lockout and that Pat Shurmur is a first-time head coach, do you think it would be a good idea for him to have such a camp? It would help him build relationships with the media and also might slightly, very slightly, kind of dry run some of the stuff he’ll do with real players later. My other question is how well do you think current coaches in the modern NFL understand that reporters are representing the fans? — Glenn Studevant, Tucson, Ariz.
A: Hey, Glenn: The Browns and the NFL have been on hiatus since March, yet the team never had a formal meet-and-greet with the media or any other introduction of their new coaches, other than Shurmur. So what does that tell you? Do I think current coaches in the modern NFL understand that reporters are representing the fans? Some do. But to be honest, I have not seen that to be the case here on a consistent basis.
It is astonishing that a franchise and a game that depends so much on the intermediaries of reporters, columnists and editors wouldn’t overcommunicate with them, especially the key guys within the market. But it is the same thing in politics and business and I suspect in every endeavor. Most organizations think press relations is an afterthought, a chore, an unpleasant duty –until an election nears or a new product roll-out or a season ticket drive.
I have taught a lot of seminars over the years on communication strategy and effectiveness, and it remains the first rule of communication that you have to overserve the key intermediaries with your core customers. It is why Republicans should live on Fox and talk radio, why senior Defense Department officials should be in daily touch with the military media specialists and think tank essayists, and why the Browns should have Tony and his colleagues in the building for a weekly sit down.
Who does it well? Authors. When Vince Flynn, Ken Follett, Steven Pressfield or Daniel Silva have a new book to sell, I get the word early, the book a few weeks before the release date and a scheduled commitment they never break. They are pros, and know that radio shows sell books.
The Browns need to figure out that reporters sell tickets by providing information and excitement to fans, and thus they need to take care of the scribbling class. The reporters are the gatekeepers to existing and new fans. How can you an organization not be thinking about them and working to make sure they are fully uinformed even knowing that they will often be hostile?
This is obviously not rocket science, but how many professional sports teams actually spend even a half day a year meeting to think through how to make their reporters’ lives easier? Ditto every single organization that depends on any branch of the media to carry any messages?
If you know of any organization in any field that consciously and consistently excels at taking care of the media that cover it, let me know. It won’t be a hard list to get on.