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Preparing for the Mediaby: Matt Scherer
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Successful football coaches are prepared for every detail when it comes to preparing for each football game but when dealing with their local press representatives, many could/might consider changes in their media relations’ efforts. By understanding how media members cover their teams and especially their deadlines, coaches can create a better working relationship with their press representatives with some minor adjustments to their game preparation. As a retired Air Force public affairs supervisor and now a high school sports writer and radio color analyst, I have been amazed at how most coaches don’t get the most basic of media relations concepts. Having counseled admirals and generals on how to respond to the media, I find a similarity between then and some coaches when talking to the media. Like coaches, senior military flag officers don’t often appreciate the media’s help in communicating information. Yet, if a general officer can learn to deal with the media, so can a high school football coach. An effective media relations program can create appositive image for a school and their athletic program. So here’s one public relations professional’s attempt at helping coaches understand their local media by following these simple rules. Call it Coaching Media Relations 101 and please understand that things can and often change with media:
Understand deadlines: The first rule that every coach and his staff should understand is deadlines. Every media outlet has them. Many of them cut it closely every Friday and Saturday night to get the scores and highlights on the nightly news or high school scoreboard show. By understanding that even a five-minute to ten-minute delay can impact the reporting of their team’s story, coaches can help ensure better coverage of their program.
Have a media roster available for each reporter and broadcast team: Every head coach should consider providing a two-deep roster sheet to every reporter, broadcaster and TV crew. With the help of computer processing programs, a coach can create a professional looking lineup sheet to be given to each media representative or organization. While many coaches may not like to work with these programs, there’s probably a computer savvy student manager or statistician who can create a professional looking roster to be given to each reporter, broadcast team member and TV station cameraman.
When creating this document, coaches should make sure that their students stick to regular type fonts such as Times New Roman or Garamond. Those fonts are easier to read, especially in the limited lighting of an outdoor stadium.
In addition to giving the media each player’s full name and number, it’s a good idea to add stats from the season and last week’s game or season such as “Senior John Smith ran for 150 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s game,” or “Junior linebacker Bill Green had 15 tackles and an interception last season” in the document to be given to each media.
If a play-by-play radio or cable TV broadcast is scheduled, broadcasters like Bobbie Stautzenberger say they would like to get each coach to send them this type of lineup 24 to 48 hours before game time. “Some coaches will wait until the last minute which impacts the quality of the broadcast,” he said. “Others will hand you a program and circle the starter with either an O or a D nest to it. You have to guess the position for each starter.” Stautzenberger, who has been broadcasting games for 10 years at Texas Sports Radio, said it’s hard to prepare for a broadcast with coaches who don’t want to give him the information needed for the game until minutes before broadcast. He said his broadcasting teams typically prepare their own pre-game material from these two-deep lineups a day ahead of time so they can memorize the name and pronunciation of each player’s name ahead of the game.
Put together a team of volunteers to call scores in to all media: Once the game is over, coaches should get a team of their managers, a faculty rep or a teacher to help report the results of their home games to the local media. It’s better to have a team of volunteers calling local radio, TV, prep websites and newspapers with the scores, the stats and results from each game. LeAnna Kosub, an assistant editor for the San Antonio Express News, supervises a team of 12 to 15 people who take scores over the phone each Friday during football season. She said it’s important for those contacting newspapers to double check the spellings and give the full names for all players. “The most frustrating thing is probably trying to get all the names spelled right,” she said. “Many of the people who call in do not take the time to confirm the spellings. Sometimes, the people who take the calls assume they know how to spell an name and don’t check it.”
With the Internet, many media outlets have established email reporting systems where schools can report their scores, stats and give a short game summary of the game. Kosub said it’s a good idea to check each media’s fax number or email address a couple of days before the start of the football season. “Because we include the information from more than 75 schools, we can’t have reporters at every game and it’s essential that they have the right contact information to reach us,” she commented.
Set up a professional press box: Today many press boxes are what former San Antonio Express News sports editor Richard Oliver calls “de-facto suites for school and school district officials.” The biggest problem for most newspapers these days is keeping press boxes open to the press,” he said. “After a ballgame, schools must recognize that writer’s jobs don’t simply end with the final gun.” In some cases, high school media have been asked to leave a press box so that a stadium crew or press box operator could secure it. Many were still filing stories to their newspapers, forcing them to shorten their stories. Some Texas newspapers have contacted the Texas University Interscholastic League for help in keeping the press box open so that media could complete their articles.
Give working media contact information: Calling a coach at most schools involves either using an automated phone system or some high school kid who doesn’t want to take a message. If a coach wants to strengthen his relationship with his media contacts, he or she should give a cell phone number, the direct telephone line and a working email address.
By following these simple guidelines, most coaches can help the media covering their team do a better job covering their programs. While most media will never openly admit it, many will prefer working with a coaching staff that understands their needs and deadlines. And if give a choice between covering a program that meets their basic needs and one that doesn’t do anything to help them, most will prefer to work with coaches and schools who will help them make their job of covering their team a little easier.
Matt Scherer is a sports writer and radio analyst in San Antonio
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