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Coaches, admins, front office personnel may need PR, media refresher

While more than five dozen college basketball teams are getting ready to learn where they’ll travel for the first and second rounds of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, today’s social media focus is on a coach accused of behaving unethically toward a reporter.

I know those are strong words, but they’re what come to mind when I think of a coach that allegedly bans a reporter because he doesn’t “promote the brand.”

Coaches, administrators and professional team owners have long tried to exert their “power” toward media when reporters write or say things they don’t like. Reporters have been chastised, experienced limited access and reduced to covering sports from team-issued fact and quote sheets because they dared tell the truth. The latest is Bradley University’s assistant director of athletic communications who allegedly told veteran sportswriter Dave Reynolds from the Peoria Journal, “You don’t promote the Bradley brand, and basically we don’t want you here,” when he attempted to speak with a basketball player during a media day event. The directive was reportedly handed down from Braves’ head coach Brian Wardle and other university administrators.

This isn’t the only place things like this happen. We’ve certainly heard our share of stories about restricted media in politics, and coaches have tried to limit access to select reporters for years. In the best cases, people in more senior positions inject reason, reissue credentials and apologize for unprofessional behavior.

Whether you’re a front office communications staffer with a professional sports team or Sports Information Director at a university, you may need a refresher in public relations. Media is not on-site to be your friend. It is not there to be your public relations firm. Reporters are assigned to a team’s or league’s beat or report stories to tell their audiences the who-what-when-where and whys about your program. You employ public relations people — maybe you’re one of them. If you’re in PR, your job is to share stories you think may endear people to your athletes and organization. It is not to dictate what’s written or said about your program by professional journalists. If you have a problem with something they write, meet with them in private and discuss it like adults, but don’t pull credentials like a kindergartener that says he’s not going to invite a classmate to his birthday party because one pulled the others’ hair. The reporter is there to do his or her job.

Understand that are dozens of public relations and communications professionals that act professionally day in and day out, and lead by example. I hope they can speak at a CoSIDA, NACDA conference or professional league symposium. From conversations I’ve had today, it sounds like many need that refresher.

Bradley University and any other organization that exerts bully power over reporters, should be ashamed. I’ve worked on both sides of this business, many more years in public relations than as a reporter, which I did as a student. The bottom line is that I’m no stranger to each industry, which are essentially, cousins. We need to work together.

The fallout to stories like the one at Bradley is damning at a time the university should be celebrating a conference title and its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2006.

Public relations professionals and athletics departments might have to (re)study their roles. Public relations people promote and publicize, media reports. If you don’t want unsavory things to be reported about you, don’t say or do them.


Update — from Bradley University’s Twitter account:

©Gail Sideman, 2019

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