Seeing The Whole Field

Any baseball player would tell you that you have to see the whole field to be effective. What happens on one corner of the diamond has the potential to impact the outcome of a play at the other end.

When I joined Jackson Spalding almost nine years ago I knew that I was not joining a “sports public relations agency.”  It would have been a stretch to say that we even dipped our toe in the sports world at that time, as we had one client in the field.  Fast forward to 2014, and we have seven-figures in sports-related revenue, a blue chip roster of clients that involve sports and an experienced team of sports professionals.

It’s an impressive success story, and one that would indicate that Jackson Spalding has positioned itself in the world of athletics, sponsorships and activations. Yet, then as in now, I am proud to say that we are not, and never will be, a sports public relations firm.

While I could go into the benefits of industry diversification in an agency setting, I will save that for another column. In the end, we’re not a sports firm because sports, in the world of branding, are more than the action on the field. I’ve seen public relations and marketing reps from other agencies fawn over Chipper Jones when they meet him, and honestly, I’m more interested in watching that person’s actions (who is part of the brand’s target audience) than I am in telling Chipper how he was one of the best third basemen of all time. For me, it’s about the fan in the bleachers. That’s who I want to fawn over.

In order to reach that fan, we’ve seen an increasing attraction toward integrated marketing approaches. Clients, particularly in the sports world, are seeing the benefits of connecting with audiences across all types of media. They are seeing their brand more like the way Coca-Cola sees its brand, rather than simply as the mascot or a logo.

Today, sports brands transcend the playing fields that dominate our screens day in and day out. They spill past the court or gridiron or diamond into the boardroom, the realtor’s office, the neighborhood and, as we’re all aware, our social media feeds.

This move to integration has been fueled by what I deem the “Three Es”:

•    Integration leads to efficiency for the client. Rather than devote considerable time and resources to basic project coordination, the communication process is streamlined through the utilization of one fully integrated firm.

•    Clients are increasingly seeking diverse expertise from their firms. The business of sports is increasingly business-oriented, and that means possessing expertise in multiple industries, ranging from real estate, legal affairs, public policy, etc. Possessing individuals with those types of industry experiences is appealing to traditional sports clients as they deal with issues related to internal communications, construction projects and consumer-oriented campaigns.

•    Clients need their firms to be effective. At the end of the day, results matter, and the right results matter. A summary report showing 487 media hits doesn’t cut it; what’s the impact on the business? Each client has a series of goals they wish to accomplish, and integration – through enhanced collaboration, a streamlined approach and deep reserve of resources – enables firms to meet them.

How have we seen these trends play out? Consider these two examples:

For the College Football Hall of Fame and Chick-fil-A Fan Experience, our mission has been to be with their team every step of the way. Their story has largely focused on the construction of a new facility and the opening of a new world-class attraction in downtown Atlanta. This has required our firm to tap into the deep pool of our skill sets, from event planning to media relations to digital media strategy.

For the Atlanta Braves, it’s been to shepherd their message and counsel their executive team throughout the process of building a new ballpark in the heart of Braves Country. While the future successes of the franchise will be realized on the new diamond at SunTrust Park, the client’s ongoing needs revolve around the construction of a significant real estate project and massive economic development opportunity for the metro Atlanta area.

In both instances, the clients needed expertise that went beyond a simple public relations campaign designed to boost fan attendance or promote an accomplishment on the field. They needed integrated, strategic counsel that provided guidance and direction in industries where they weren’t as well versed.

That’s where the sports business industry is moving, and that’s where real opportunity for growth exists – helping those teams, franchises and organizations navigate unfamiliar waters.

So, yeah, it’s true. Jackson Spalding is not a sports public relations firm, just as the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise is not a social club of steel mill workers getting some exercise after their shift. The business of sports has evolved, and the way in which public relations and marketing professionals serve these clients has evolved as well.

So, as you conduct your work in the sports field, remember the “Three Es.” No one wants a client to call them out on an E-3.

An edited version of this column first appeared in the December 2014 issue of O’Dwyer’s Magazine.