While in college I had a three pronged debate going on in my head.
I knew I wanted to work in sports, primarily because I believe you are only good at things you are passionate about, but I wasn't clear on what I would actually do in the industry. The way I saw it, my options were three: Sports Broadcasting, Media Relations or Physical Therapy.
I began college as a double major, Biology and Chemistry, which was the predetermined path to a career in Physical Therapy.
After a year, I switched majors to Communication so I could decide between my other two options. Physical Therapy felt loosely connected to sports, while the other two options seemed more in my wheelhouse...well, that and Biology and Chemistry are stinking hard.
My road traveled to Sports Broadcasting, but at points of my career I always looked back and thought, "Media Relations for a team or collegiate athletic department sure would have been fun and challenging." Which leads us to this weeks Sports Jobs Q&A column:
Hey Brian - my undergrad degree is in English, which means I've taken many writing classes and debated far too many Classic novels (I love you Herman Melville). Alas, I don't aspire to write the Great American Novel, or pursue my PhD to become a professor. High school English teacher seems like a maddening career choice and I fear I'll end up like Walter White in Breaking Bad, the kingpin of an under-reported black market novella empire. I've set my sites on Public or Media Relations and have a two part question... how, and what's the difference (if there is one)?
Trent C. - Indiana
Trent, I too have always feared becoming the kingpin of a black market novella empire, we should start a support group and if we aren't led astray by our own dark tendencies we just may be able to make a true difference in the world.
That was fun - let's move on.
Public Relations vs. Media Relations
The Public Relations Society of America defines public relations as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
Which is exactly how you would expect any "...Society of America" to speak - technically proficient, while still making you wonder, "So...what does that mean?"
The key word in the description is "publics" which refers broadly to anyone touched by an organization including customers, competitors, stockholders, employees, community members and you guessed it, the media. Public Relations is the communication between the corporation and everyone else impacted by the corporation in order to achieve mutual benefit.
Media Relations is a piece of the Public Relations action, a singular focus of strategic communication with the plethora of former journalism majors who bombard your organization with requests and questions.
Let's relate this to sports, because that is what we do.
The public relations group for a professional sports team will undoubtedly be charged with crafting internal and external organizational communication such as:
A press release to announce a new Fan Festival
In internal document from the President to the staff
Media guides full of statistics and information
Team magazines (and much more)
Part of the Public Relations group will be a few members dedicated solely to Media Relations. Their task will be dedicated to dealing with the Media, without a real concern for customers, community members, stockholders etc.
A: Design, edit and layout media guides for various sports. As a member of the media, one of my prized possessions was the mass of media guides located directly behind my desk. They are the hands-on tool of the journalist and before you snarkily remind me of the glory of the internet, media guides are better. They have all of the information you need easy to find and already verified. Stats, contact information for executive staff, pictures and biographies of all players, historical information ...you name it, and it's all built by the media relations staff.
What does this mean for you? Media relations is more than making friends with influential media members and rubbing elbows with the athletes, it requires great writing, publishing and even design skills.
B: Responsible for management of the MSU Athletics web site, including content and configuration of the site: Digital responsibilities! Again publishing and writing come to the forefront, even a knack for reporting and content creation.
What does this mean for you? Learn and understand the differences in creating digital content. Things like SEO, title tags and HTML aren't relevant coursework for english or communication majors, but are vital in the ever evolving world of digital messaging.
C: Write and/or edit media relations materials such as press releases, media guides, player/coach information and other documentation. Reporters often are allowed to use their personality or style in story-telling, but in Media Relations oftentimes the tools of the trade are press releases which are not a mode of personal expression. Instead they are technical writing masterpieces, set to get a point across with clarity. It's a different type of skill compared to the shoot-from-the-hip commentary style so many of us gravitate toward. (Hello!)
What does it mean for you? You'll need to remind yourself that Media Relations jobs are "just the facts" roles. Being able to debate last night's big game doesn't exactly help you in this position. Being able to clearly communicate and disseminate facts is what will help you most.
Job Description #2 delves into the other side of Media Relations, the relations with the media part:
A: ...coordination of communication, publicity and athletic information to the news media and public...: Any first year journalism student is familiar with the terms agenda-setting and gate-keeping, both extremely relevant in media relations jobs.
Gate-keeping is just as it sounds, in a media relations job you are the gate that sits between internal information and public knowledge, deciding what gets out and what stays in. That's what they mean by "coordination of communication to the news media". It's not always "if" you decide to share or comment on information, but when and how it will be shared.
Agenda-setting in the world of journalism is more a responsibility than a task. A journalist attached to a mass media outlet has a powerful voice, their words and the way they share information informs their listening, reading or watching public what is important. They set the audiences agenda.
In media relations, you play a role in this by promoting stories you want told, developing contacts in the media to get your messaging out and being able to work with the media on story angles and helping craft public perception.
What does it means for you? Judgement is vitally important.
Deciding what to share and what to hold back on
Identifying stories the media may be likely to pick up on that tell a positive story about your employer
Building relationships with media members
Being a skilled communicator
...are all necessary traits.
B: Ensure the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics receives adequate coverage: Beyond all the writing, content creation and press releases, media relations jobs are often about identifying and promoting the attributes that make your employer unique and newsworthy. Media members are always looking for a good story to tell, the better you are at becoming their eyes and ears in the organization the better the chances are your employer will get positive press.
What does this mean for you? Building relationships with the media is only part of the job, you also need to be able to identify what makes a good story. If you are always pitching stories to the media that aren't worthy, no matter how nice you are you will start to get tuned out. If you lose the trust or faith of a media contact it sure is going to be hard to ensure adequate media coverage.
Media Relations jobs have a high-ceiling, often growing within a team or organization into Director of Public Relations or VP of Communication roles. Writing skills are essential, but remember it's a special type of writing where personality doesn't usually play. It's also a job where charisma and relationship building is important, so it challenges both sides of your brain.