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SBD/Issue 86/Sports Media
McGwire Chose MLB Network For Costas; Experts Analyze Strategy
Published January 18, 2010
Mark McGwire's decision to grant MLB Network the first television interview after his admission to using steroids was driven by Bob Costas' role with the network, according to a source familiar with McGwire's strategy. "If Bob had been on HBO, they would've had the first interview," the source said. "If Bob was on, name your station, they would've had the first interview. So it was the host that drove that decision." The decision to go with Costas was part of a PR strategy that focused first and foremost on getting the news out and in the open to allow McGwire to get to work as hitting coach for the Cardinals, according to the source. The strategy -- which included a statement and simultaneous AP story on Monday afternoon, followed by the Costas interview that evening -- has been lauded by some in PR circles for its targeted approach but criticized by others for its brevity. Sports and entertainment marketing and communications consultant Joe Favorito praised the decision to lead with the AP and follow with Costas. "It was a very good way to manage the news cycle and get the main message -- about the use of steroids -- out very clearly," he said. But MGP & Associates President Mike Paul disagreed with the approach. "I don’t think a one-day-and-done strategy ever works," he said. "Not in politics and especially not in sports and entertainment. If McGwire were my client, I would have had the exact opposite strategy."
Most Public Relations Experts Agree With
McGwire's Choice Of Costas, MLB Network
MISSING THE MARK? Some observers disagreed with the decision to lead with MLB Net. Communications consultant Vince Wladika, who spent years at Fox Sports and MLB, said McGwire's first public interview should have been in the form of a press conference. "I’m a little old school," he said. "To me, the right forum was a press conference -- that is the 'fairest' way to not play any favorites with the media." But Wladika said he believes McGwire's reps likely were worried about his ability to handle the forum of a press conference. "By doing Costas," he said, "McGwire and his advisors were counting on -- and trying to take advantage of -- Bob’s extremely strong credibility as an interviewer to bolster McGwire’s believability to the media and public." MGP's Paul said McGwire's reps likely chose MLB Net because they "believed they would go easy" on McGwire, as the league-owned network "has a biased interest in his future." Paul also pointed to MLB having previously worked with sports communications consultant Ari Fleischer, who advised McGwire ahead of his admission. "No coincidence there," Paul said.
NO RESTRICTIONS: No restrictions were set prior to the interview with Costas, according to the source, who added that McGwire wanted it to be "no restrictions, take what comes, explain it all." Of the hour-long interview, the source added, "There was an initial consideration of doing it shorter, but the more it was thought through, the decision was the longer the better; the more time for Mark to just tell his story." Meanwhile, McGwire has been criticized for refusing to admit that steroids enhanced his performance. But he truly believed everything he told Costas, according to the source, who added there was a consensus among his reps not to "put words in someone's mouth that they don't believe because you think it will lead to better PR." The source added, "It has to be authentic; it has to be genuine." That did not mesh with most observers, who criticized McGwire's performance in the interview for his refusal to admit that steroids enhanced his performance. Wladika said McGwire's assertion that his records are "completely legit" was a "travesty." He stated McGwire was "either poorly prepared by his PR handlers -- or he didn't listen" to their advice. Paul believes McGwire is "giving only a half-truth, which is one of the most hurtful types of lies," and his assertions showed he is "not fully humbled himself and he is lying about portions of his story." Paul added, "As a result, McGwire's reputation is still in crisis."
DON'T FORCE IT: Several execs noted the importance of not forcing McGwire into a scripted story. Ketchum Sports & Entertainment Managing Director Ann Wool said an athlete's handlers can "make suggestions on how to approach an answer to a question, but the best media training comes when advice is given, not a script." McGwire "clearly articulated his guilt, which was the goal of the interview, not the anecdotes surrounding it." Favorito said you "can't force anyone to say what they do not want to say." He added, "All you can do is advise and counsel. The main message, which was an admission of steroid use, was the one that needed to be conveyed and was conveyed pretty clearly." Seibel agreed, saying well-crafted messaging "will quickly unravel if, at some level, it's not a reflection of what the newsmaker actually believes -- and the media will quickly recognize and dismiss this as spin, not substance."
McGwire Has No Plans To Further
Discuss His Admission In A Formal Setting
See tomorrow's issue of THE DAILY for more commentary from our panel regarding various aspects of McGwire's admission strategy.