Getting more Rugby PR, part 1 of 2

The column below is something I had written about ten years ago for e-Sports Media when they were still around.  The Web site was kind enough to give me a little bit of a space on their server to write my random rugby thoughts. (by “kind enough” I mean they took anything written for them by anyone with a pulse – breathing was optional back then).

This evening I was walking the dog listening to the most recent edition of American Rugby News’ Rugbytalk podcast. Brian Lowe and the broadcast team were talking about NBC’s recent announcement that they will broadcast some of the games from the upcoming 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, and the low attendance figures at some of the recent Churchill Cup games. A mention was made of how the American Rugby community needs to work with, or work on, the media to start raising rugby’s profile in the U.S.

For far too long, too many rugby players and teams across this country have treated the sport like it was something that was to be kept secret.  Hidden away in enclaves such as the San Francisco Bay area and the preppy areas of the Northeast, the sport was to be kept away from the unbelievers and those who can’t get its nuances.

And in the meantime, those same people were busy playing rugby and then partaking of some of the sport’s more unseemly activities after the game – drinking at the pitch, “Shooting the Boot,” or everyone’s favorite, the “Zulu” (where you strip down and dance around naked after scoring your first try, or touchdown). I don’t need to say that these are not the most “family friendly” activities and are sure to turn off some potential players and supporters.

That said, let me end this post with a blast from the past, and a brief look at how some rugby teams should be trying to get better PR.

Benson

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Recently, I took a phone call while working in the sports department of the local daily paper, from the coach for the local university team. He gave me information about where the team would play in the first round of the collegiate championship tournament, who they would play, general information that a coach would give the media to publish.

He then began to relate how he was very disappointed with the newspaper, for their lack of coverage of the team last fall.

“We were promised a story and never got it,” he told me.

He went on like this for a few minutes. I was polite, informing him that I would pass on the message to the sports editor and tried to convey to him that we would do better in the spring. He then asked for the editor’s name and told me he’d call him the next morning, along with faxing me a letter that USA Rugby had sent him.

After I got off the phone, I began thinking and got angry. What the hell just happened? This is the only coach that I hear from that is, confrontational.

None of the other coaches or players have acted like that. For the most part, they’re professional and understand that there’s only so much space in a sports section, and they do not fall in the most reported sport categories. While this coach wants as much press as the university women’s basketball team (which at this paper get covered every day of the week during the regular season), that will not happen.

Then I started wondering, “How can local rugby teams get more (or any) press?”

This hails from the journalism side of the desk, what I as a journalist would like to see rugby teams do. We’ll just go over a few ideas here, with more coming in the second part of this column (including how to write a press release)

The first thing to hit me was, they need to put wins on the field. Newspapers will follow teams with W’s on the board. This is a double-edged sword, though. As soon as the team starts to lose, the press will go elsewhere.

Work for charities, or a members notoriety (for example, killing someone – which did happen with the former player for a team I was covering), are probably the majority of instances that a team will receive coverage.

Rugby is not well-known or understood. The press won’t learn unless you take the time to teach them. Invite the press to an afternoon on the rugby field. Show them a controlled scrimmage, where they can see a ruck, scrum, maul, lineout, etc. Do it in such a way that they will learn the basics of the game. Oh yeah, collect some money to feed them; journalists have a tendency to gravitate to free food and drink. Every little bit helps.

You also need to nominate, strong-arm or bribe a player into becoming the Media Relations guy for the team. This is the guy whose responsibility is to keep the editors and reporters up to date, once or twice a week. Don’t email them everyday if there’s nothing new. Let them know who you are playing next, why it is important (a rivalry, cross-town grudge match?), the leading players on each team, when and where the game is. Remember to answer the W questions: Who, what, when, where, why (and how, although it’s not a W question). The more information you provide, the easier it’ll be for the person writing the story.

In next week’s column, we’ll put together a small media kit, write a press release and look at the dangers of requesting too much coverage (remember all coverage isn’t just good, we get to start questioning your decisions and covering your team’s bad days).

Getting more Rugby PR, part 2 of 2

Keep in mind, these two posts are dated from 2001, so I’ll be updating them soon with some information about how clubs should be using social media and social networking to their advantage.

Synopsis: Building a relationship with the local media outlets can be HARD work, but it will pay off in the long run. Use short, snappy headlines, brief press releases that pack a punch and a solidly built press kit, and you’ve taken care of half the battle. (And hopefully cut down on your headaches)

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In the last column, we addressed several methods for rugby teams to attract media. Now, we’ll study means teams can utilize to attract that attention. Writing press releases to pull in media coverage and the essentials of a press kit for your team.

First, we’ll assemble a press kit. This is the prime tool for a team to create a presence with the local media, because it enables you to easily send a copy to the local newspapers, radio and TV stations. If a reporter features your team, then they can get ideas from the press kit, or if a they need to know about a player during a game, all they need to do is jot his name or number down and look it up when he gets to the newsroom. Having information at the reporters fingertips in a clear concise format makes the reporters job easier, and in that you stand a much better chance of coverage.

A press kit takes some time and effort, and a small amount of money to put together, but it’s well worth all three. First, find a team member with a computer and some spare hard drive space to store all of the press information (usually the guy you strong arm and put in charge of the media relations, or the team president are good choices).

Then devise a letterhead, something the team will use on all their official mail. This is impressive on letters to other teams, or regional unions. Most office supply stores carry software for small businesses that allow you to create the letterhead for letters, envelopes and business cards. All starting pages for each section of the press kit should start with these. Letterheads should be simple, no more then two colors, with the team logo at the top.

Use the business card program part of the software to make business cards for each of the following positions: team president, vice president, team captain(s), coaches and the media relations person.

Include a team history. If you’re an established team, it lets the news organization know you have roots in the community; if you’re newer, it lets them know you’re (fresh, new and) interested in staying in the community. In addition you can use your press kit to help recruit new players, as well as using some of the things you recruit with in your press kit.

A separate section giving a brief overview of rugby, near the front of the press kit, is a good way to reinforce what you’ve shown the media in your controlled scrimmages and games. Add some recent photos, both action and stills, for an overall professional appearance. Add short biographies of each player. If you can’t get bios from everyone, make certain there are biographies from the team president, vice president, team captain(s), coaches, any star players (ones taking part in ITT or All-Star teams) and the media relations person. Feature articles can emerge from anywhere, and the hobbies and personal interests of your players are certainly a starting point. It would be wise to copy everything onto a disk or CD-ROM and include it as a back-up for the editor.

Mention each of the other teams in the local union as part of the press kit, possibly including a separate section devoted to the area union. If there are only a few teams in town, then all of the teams can work together to make one kit. Also include contact information for the local and regional union officers.

As an organizational tool for your kit, purchase a ½” binder with a clear cover (for a cover sheet) for each media outlet. Bingo, a media kit.

It is essential your media representative be familiar with writing a press release. This will be a quick overview, as your release doesn’t need to be fancy or overblown. Keep it simple. Here are some tips.

1. Collect all the information about your event. A journalist generally writes a story in an hour or two, but the majority of their time is spent collecting facts. When the facts are already gathered for them, there’s less time the writer needs to spend researching. Use the “W” questions (who, what, when, where, why and that pesky non-“W” word, how). These are the body of the press release.

2. Is your press release newsworthy? Make certain your press release has impact. What is the important angle? If your local university team is going to lay another 65-0 pasting on a state school, then you probably won’t get much press. But if the team will play a touring team, has a big match against a cross-town rival, or is playing for the local union championship, that’s the time to send a press release. Is your team sponsoring a game for a local charity? If staging an event with a team from another state, get the governors for both states involved, perhaps laying down a little bet. Money might not be the best wager. For example, the governor from New Mexico could bet 5-pounds of green chile vs. 5-pounds of brisket from the governor of Texas when the Albuquerque team plays the El Paso team in a union game.

3. Writing the press release: Start with a snappy headline, something to attract attention. Keep it short, under 12 words, and avoid promotional words. The lead article needs to be strong, answering all those W questions at the start. Many newspapers write articles in an “inverted pyramid” format, giving the vital information at the beginning, then using the other paragraphs to support the information in the introduction. Write in the third-person, don’t use the words “we”, “I”, “us”, instead use “he”, “she” and “they”. Quotes are a great addition. Reporters use quotes from the main players and the coaches. This is when to include personal opinions. Do it in quotes, and never include such statements in the introduction. If you give any stats or facts, reference them. (For example, “John Doe from the Richville Roe RFC has been cited for unsportsmanlike conduct more times then any other player” (according to the Generic Local Union Disciplinary Committee) said Jonesville Jacks RFC coach…) Again though, try to keep it clean, don’t make accusations.

4. Summary: This is for background information on the team, players and contact person for more information. Include as much information as possible, including phone numbers, email addresses and the team’s web site URL.

5. Keep it short! Your release should be no longer than 500 words (unlike this week’s column) and maximum of two pages. The shorter the release, the greater the punch, as long as it’s long on facts and important info.

6. Call the editor before you send it to let them know it’s on its way, and follow up to make certain it was received clearly.

7. BEFORE you send it out, update the team’s Web site with a copy.

This is not the end-all of press release writing rules, merely some rules to follow for a solid release. For more ideas on press releases, or public relations, a good Web site to check out is publicrelations.about.com

The other end of the media sword. When your team gets recognition, they’re open to criticism. The same reporter that covers the team, may write a column asking why Joe Schmoe is starting at wing, when he can’t catch a ball but has blazing speed, while John Doe is slower, gets caught from behind, but can catch. Someone who has a very limited knowledge of the game may question coaching and player desire. If a player commits a crime, that might attract media attention. You need to be ready to answer those questions.

A word of caution: it’s fine to invite members of the press to a post-game party, especially if they’re covering you (they’d probably love it!). But remember that even though you may be friends, they’re still writers, and you never know what they’ll print.

Hopefully this has been helpful, given you ideas for “spreading the gospel of rugby,” as a coach in Wales once told me