WHAT PR PROS CAN LEARN FROM THE U.S. WOMEN’S WORLD CUP TEAM

Posted in Workplace Affairs with tags , on July 10, 2015 by sairahusain

One of the biggest headlines of the past week was that the U.S. Women’s World Cup team won 5-2 over Japan, marking its third Women’s World Cup title. Anyone who watched the game was inevitably swept up by the excitement and adrenaline. The American women handily defeated the Japanese in an impressive display of athleticism, poise and nerve.

But beyond the thrill of watching the game, as I witnessed these American women claim victory over Japan, I observed a few key traits that every one of these professional athletes have in common, which great public relations professionals must also embody.

  • Teamwork: Although Carli Lloyd may have stolen the show and taken the lead in the final game with her record-setting hat-trick, the U.S. win was undeniably a team effort. In the world of PR, teamwork is equally important. While different members of a communications team will take on different aspects of a project, nothing can be accomplished without the collaboration of an entire team working together like a well-oiled machine. From the interns to the Communications director, all members play a vital role in the success of its clients, whether they’re working behind the scenes or are at the forefront of scoring top-tier media placements.
  • Preparation: The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team made winning the World Cup look effortless, but it took years of hard work and preparation to make that achievement a reality. While preparation in PR doesn’t involve sprints or footwork training, it certainly involves its own fair share of prep work – we’re constantly scouring the news, researching new reporters and publications to pitch, seeking timely opportunities to increase media exposure and becoming experts within the industries we represent. Only once this preparation is complete can we seize an opportunity to build our brand profile, create a successful pitch or tactfully manage a crisis.
  • Mental Self Care: In sports and PR, alike, success often comes down to getting back to the basics. Reflecting on her outstanding performance in the final World Cup game, Carli Lloyd explained, “…you can have all the tools out there, but if your mental state isn’t good enough, you can’t bring yourself to bigger and better things.” It seems simple, but a healthy and positive mental outlook can be the most important tool, whether you’re an athlete or a public relations professional. While you can’t control a lot of external factors or circumstances, you don’t have to let undue stress or chaos unnerve you. Healthy lifestyle practices, such as getting enough sleep, staying organized and maintaining a healthy work-home balance will help you to confidently tackle each day’s challenges.

While most of us aren’t World Cup-caliber athletes, PR practitioners (or anyone for that matter) should aim to incorporate these key principles in their own professional and personal lives.

Do you have any tips for aspiring PR professionals?

Image Credit: Getty Images

THE INDECISION: THE FREE AGENCY OF DEANDRE JORDAN

Posted in Social Media with tags , , , , , , , on July 9, 2015 by sairahusain

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More than any other professional sports league, the NBA is an ongoing telenovela, structured around the games outside the games, dependant on the personalities of the odd and whimsical multi-millionaires whose thoughts are now readily available, unfiltered, on social media. It is one long inside joke, and this is why the highlight of the NBA calendar often occurs weeks after the Finals themselves, during a free agency period that is fraught with the kind of off-court unpredictability that hardcore basketball fans embrace almost more than they do the games themselves.

Five years to the day of the LeBron James famous “The Decision,” came the wildest day in NBA offseason on Wednesday. After verbally agreeing to sign with the Dallas Mavericks last Friday, free agent center DeAndre Jordan changed course, opting to instead re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers on a day that will be forever known as “The Indecision.”

According to reports, it involved Chris Paul leaving his banana boat behind to join the recruiting effort, the Clippers refusing to leave DeAndre’s house until midnight, Mark Cuban calling out an ESPN reporter for saying he was frantically driving around Houston looking for DeAndre’s house, and some very good tweets.

If you were paying attention Wednesday night, it was hilariously riveting stuff, a cocktail of Clipper guile and Dallas desperation playing out in real time (There was some mild faux-outrage over Jordan backing out of the Mavs agreement, but give me a break: People in every profession have changes of heart and go back to their old jobs, even when they’ve signed contracts. Happens all the time. It’s just not on Twitter). And in the flurry of messages, which peaked around midnight Houston time with Pierce sending out a photo of himself standing over Jordan as he signed his new Clippers deal, it was possible to see how social media has transformed sports.

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Think about it: This whole incident didn’t go down on a network or a news site, or with handlers or agents or publicists and carefully crafted statements. There were NBA reporters getting good stuff (Woj and Shelburne, as always) but most of the hard info was coming from the participants themselves. All of the good jokes, too. Whether it was a grand plan or not, the Clippers were using social media to control a tricky narrative—those tweets did a fairly brilliant job of turning a bit of backroom corporate maneuvering into cheeky, off-the-cuff comedic theater. We’ve seen social media backfire on athletes quite a bit, and there are times that Twitter can degenerate into a cesspool of hate, but it did not on Wednesday. Does anyone—besides Mavericks fans, of course—not like Blake Griffin a little bit more now?

That’s not a small thing. This remains an era of intense and overwrought scrutiny of public figures, and yet social media has allowed high-profile people to pull back the usual layers of phoniness and controlled environment overmanagement and showcase something closer to their real selves. (Again: Social media is a high-wire act, not for everyone, and there are plenty of high profile people who should try as hard as possible to avoid showcasing their real selves.) But when the timeline happens like it did during the battle for DeAndre Jordan, it’s hard not to see value for sports and the people who follow them. The game, it’s clear, is changing.

Image Credit: Canstock Images

FOUR WAYS FIFA CAN RESTORE ITS TARNISHED REPUTATION

Posted in Reputation Management with tags , , , , on June 30, 2015 by sairahusain

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Money and soccer have not been far from the news over the past month, with FIFA’s long-rumoured corruption finally exposed. For most people, soccer fans or not, it is heartening to see the crooks who lined their pockets hopefully being brought to book. The scale and audacity of the bribery is astonishing. Just take the millions supposedly sent to support football in Trinidad and Tobago that allegedly ended up in the pockets of former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner. Added together it could probably have funded multiple stadiums the size of Wembley, for a country with a similar population to Glasgow.

However, the tangled web of corruption, ongoing investigations, and the fact that current FIFA president Sepp Blatter has gone back and forth about stepping down shows that the scandal will not be over anytime soon.

FIFA needs to rebuild its reputation, but this is not going to be easy – after all, the next two World Cups have already been awarded to Russia and Qatar making it difficult for the organization to simply draw a line in the sand and begin the bidding process again, without upsetting the potential hosts.

So from a PR perspective, what can FIFA do to change its reputation? I’d say there are four things it needs to look at:

  1. Bring in independent experts The public perception is that FIFA needs root and branch reform – and that existing senior management are not the right people to do this. It needs to bring in a team of independent experts who understand governance and compliance to create a completely new structure for the organization and everything it does. This can then be voted on by delegates at the conference, but should follow external best practice, rather than simply tweaking existing ways of doing business.
  2. All senior remuneration to be transparent MPs have to publically declare all of their outside financial interests and have a fixed salary. The same should be true of senior FIFA officials, allowing them to be scrutinized by the media and any wrongdoing brought to light. After all, the fact that ex-FIFA vice president Chuck Blazer spent nearly £4,000 per month renting a flat for his cats should have led to questions about exactly how much he was earning. Additionally, money needs to be shared more equitably – particularly with countries actually hosting the World Cup – so that it doesn’t cost them billions for little reward.
  3. Bring in new blood Soccer players are idolized around the world – yet FIFA is seen as broadly being run by stuffy bureaucrats. More current and recently retired soccer veterans need to be involved in FIFA, particularly in its initiatives to spread grassroots soccer around the world. In the same way that the UN uses celebrities as goodwill ambassadors, so should FIFA. This would both provide a stronger link to the game itself and highlight positive initiatives.
  4. Move HQ Switzerland is the home of many international sporting governing bodies, from cycling to the Olympic movement. But in many people’s minds it is also a country known for secretive private banks, allegedly happy to help with tax evasion. If FIFA is serious about improving global soccer, it should move its HQ from Switzerland to somewhere more in keeping with a new, open culture. It could follow the lead of the UN and open up in New York or be more daring and move to Africa or Asia. That would have the added advantage of helping with a fresh start, with new staff, a new office and new ways of working. Yes, it would be expensive, but FIFA has the money and it would send a strong signal to the world.

Rebuilding FIFA’s reputation will take years, but as the International Olympic Committee has shown, strong leadership, transparency and a desire for change eventually translates into major improvements.

The public relations task starts now – and is going to last for a lot longer than 90 minutes.

Do you have any suggestions or comments on how FIFA can repair its reputation? Discuss

THE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE GENDER TRAP

Posted in Workplace Affairs with tags , , , , , on June 24, 2015 by sairahusain

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So this is what equality looks like. Finally, sports writers care enough about women’s sports to bother digging into a female athlete’s personal life and find out she’s a mess: married to a man once accused of hitting her, brawling with her own family members, and getting belligerent with cops when they pull over her husband for driving drunk in the team van.

But damn can Hope Solo play—and that’s why she should play. For the same reasons Allen Iverson played, Ray Lewis played, and Ty Cobb played. Don’t let Roger Goodell’s optics-oriented attempts at turning football (a sport based on beating people up) into a morality play disguise the truth. Players play to win, fans watch teams that win, and only a fool thinks the U.S. Women’s National Team can go all the way without Solo.

But she’s an example for the children! Sure. She’s also an example of great goalkeeping—and of how being amazing at one thing doesn’t automatically make a person any less screwed up off the field. The Brands have no problem letting men market themselves as flawed, dangerous, and difficult. Nike built an entire ad campaign around Charles Barkley, who spat on a little girl, drank before games, and lost $10 million to a gambling problem. All Barkley had to do was stare into the camera and declare “I am not a role model.”

Barkley’s still on TV, and still not a role model. Solo doesn’t have to be one either.

But this was domestic violence, and the Brands want to get tough on it! But that’s pretty much where the similarities end between what Solo did and the actions of the person she often gets compared to, Ray Rice.

Kicked off by an ESPN Outside the Lines report that detailed the sordid police report about an unresolved domestic assault case from last June, which involved a fight with her stepsister and nephew, Solo’s presence on the field has been called into question.

The U.S. Soccer Federation made a misstep in trying to claim a moral high ground, saying it did an investigation that, like any sports organization’s investigation, was brief, cursory, and flawed. That’s no surprise. Goodell convinced football fans that he could do a better version of policing domestic violence than our court system. So far, he’s given us pithy donations, domestic violence training that its own players say isn’t working, and a celebrity-driven, shadily financed PR campaign that doesn’t provide any services to victims. And football teams still employ fixers to make these “problems” go away before they become public. Why? Because the NFL is entertainment, the Women’s World Cup is entertainment, and the men and women running these shows are just as unqualified to play judge and jury as music label owners or Hollywood studio heads, who should looked to for moral guidance on absolutely nothing.

So go ahead, get mad at U.S. Soccer’s Sunil Gulati for being really bad at faking like he cares about anything beyond fielding the strongest team possible. Get angry at Solo for being, at best, a flawed and unlikeable person. Roll your eyes at talking heads trying to discount Solo’s assault as a distraction, a cue straight from the NFL playbook. When a young girl asks to buy a Solo jersey, by all means say no and explain why.

But don’t get mad over Solo playing. Sports fans long ago learned to accept our male heroes as anything but heroic. It’s time to let our women be the same.

What do you think? Should Hope Solo be allowed to play?

Image from Getty

THE DISMAL DOUBLE STANDARD OF THE WOMEN’S WORLD CUP

Posted in Workplace Affairs with tags , , , , on June 18, 2015 by sairahusain

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It’s game on for the 2015 Women’s World Cup: soccer’s most prestigious tournament opened on June 6 in Canada, with 24 teams – eight more than ever before – competing in the game.

Good news for sports media, right?

After all, the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany lured in more than 400 million viewers worldwide. The final between the US and Japan was ESPN’s most-viewed soccer match ever and the second most viewed daytime telecast in history.

But surprisingly (or not), finding information about the Women’s World Cup has been exceedingly difficult, at least compared to the onslaught of readily accessible coverage that the World Cup typically receives.

There are no auto-populated Google results for the match schedule. No CNN breaking news alerts for game results. Sports websites like ESPN, CBS Sports and Fox Sports that regularly create bracket pools for major sporting tournaments like the Super Bowl and the men’s World Cup, do not have bracket pools for the Women’s World Cup on their websites this year, making it difficult to follow and support.

The message is loud and clear: Women’s sports aren’t deemed as important.

One frustrated sports fan in particular, Kate Goldwater, launched an energetic Twitter campaign on June 4th, targeting every major network urging them to pull together a platform for the millions of Women’s World Cup fans.

“The Women’s World Cup in 2011 took the country by storm,” Goldwater said. “Everybody was everywhere in magazines and papers and everyone was talking about it all the time. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t want to start off the momentum early with a bracket.”

Goldwater continued, “We have a really good time and we have a shot. The U.S. men’s team has never won but there are brackets for them all over the place.”

What are your thoughts? Do you feel women sports face a double standard? Should media cover gender-based sports equally?

A WARRIOR MENTALITY VS. A CAVALIER ATTITUDE: WHO WILL WIN IT?

Posted in Campaign with tags , , , , , , , , on June 8, 2015 by sairahusain

Michael Jordan. Kobe Bryant. Peyton Manning. LeBron James. All these sport superstars have two things in common: They are all endorsement kings and they’ve all won championships.

Stephen Curry, son of NBA veteran Dell Curry, may soon join this club and ultimately boost his endorsement potential. Curry’s Golden State Warriors are currently playing against the Cleveland Cavaliers for the NBA title. Game 3 is Tuesday in Cleveland.

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However, the NBA Finals aren’t just a matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors. It’s a chance for Under Amour and star Stephen Curry to challenge Nike’s decades of basketball dominance.

Nike’s star basketball endorser — LeBron James— plays for the Cavs. Golden State’s Stephen Curry, named as this year’s Most Valuable Player in the NBA, is the cornerstone of Under Armour’s effort to build a $1 billion basketball business. Both companies have rolled out marketing efforts to capitalize on the Finals.

Here are some key numbers in the on-court battle:

While Under Armour is growing, Nike remains dominant in the basketball business, controlling roughly 95 per cent of the U.S. basketball-shoe business. It sold $3.1 billion in basketball shoes at wholesale price in its most recent fiscal year. That doesn’t include sales directly to consumers.

James remains the No. 1 active shoe endorser. Nike sold $340 million in James products in the U.S. last year, according to SportsOneSource. It’s no wonder Under Armour wants a bigger piece of the basketball pie!

David vs. Goliath

If there ever was a match-up that embodied the David- versus-Goliath state of the basketball-shoe market, this is it. Curry faced long odds to reach this stage. He played at Davidson College, a fringe program, and was often deemed too small to excel in the NBA. But Curry has made up for his skinny frame with record-breaking shooting, earning him a most valuable player award this season.

Curry is taking on the Cavaliers’ James, a Nike-sponsored athlete who was anointed “The Chosen One” on the cover of Sports Illustrated in high school. Unlike many players, James lived up to early hype. He’s won two titles and four MVP awards. This is James’ fifth straight trip to the NBA Finals, earning him the nickname “King James.”

Like Curry, Under Armour is an underdog in its battle with Nike. The Under Armour brand stands for relentlessly overcoming obstacles and becoming winners on the field. The brand essence revolves around being the underdog, being hungry, competing against the best – and winning. Its tagline “I will” captures this passion, intensity and drive.

Kevin Plank, CEO, started Under Armour in his grandmother’s basement, making moisture-wicking shirts. Since going public in 2005, Under Armour shares are up more than 1200%, fueled by Plank’s desire to dethrone Nike as the default king of the athletic apparel industry.

Why superstars are so important

As the success of the Jordan brand indicates, basketball players have more power to sell shoes than any other type of athlete. Curry is probably not Under Armour’s best known athlete. That honour likely goes to New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady or even Masters winner Jordan Speith, but football cleats and golf spikes don’t move the way basketball sneakers do.

Teenagers and the other basketball amateurs buying the sneakers want to identify with the player behind the shoe, which is why the player’s popularity is so important, and it’s why an icon like Michael Jordan, who has his own “Jumpman” logo, can continue selling shoes more than a decade into his retirement.

Fortunately for Under Armour, Curry, the Warriors’ baby-faced point guard is one of the more likable players to hit the hardwood in recent years. His jersey was the No. 2 seller in the league (behind James), and he was the top vote-getter for this year’s All-Star game. His Facebook page has over 2.8 million likes.

Curry’s 2-year-old daughter, Riley, also has broadened his appeal. She’s become a star in her own right during the playoffs after appearing on her dad’s lap during post-game press conferences. As of last week, Under Armour’s stock is up 51 percent over the past year.

For Under Armour, toppling Nike is no easy feat, but Curry’s appearance in the NBA Finals will likely help the company build inroads on Nike’s footwear empire.