SBJ/June 25 - July 1, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

Though Battier's a dream client, pre-draft campaign is wide awake

As athletes prepare for Wednesday's NBA draft, PR pros, especially those working with projected lottery or first-round picks, are working frantically to make their clients attractive to the media, to sports fans, to the communities where they may be drafted and to organizations interested in sponsorship opportunities. True, it is mostly the athlete's talent on the court that will determine whether he is chosen by a team, but teams also take into consideration that the athlete is well-spoken, media-trained and community-friendly.

One of the most recognized athletes in this year's NBA draft is Shane Battier, whose agent is Lon Babby, an attorney with Washington, D.C.-based Williams & Connolly. To ensure that Battier's messages and image are controlled, massaged and presented correctly, Babby has teamed up with Potomac, Md., publicist Meredith Geisler.

Battier, the former Duke University star, is a sports PR person's dream. He's articulate and intelligent. He has a squeaky-clean choirboy image and won everything there was to win in college, including a national championship and the John Wooden Award. He is projected to be an NBA lottery pick and is expected to be a solid pro. As an added bonus, he understands the PR game, having interned at the PR firm Golin/Harris in Chicago.

That, however, doesn't mean that Geisler can sit back and relax. From the time Babby signed Battier in May, Geisler has been putting together and executing a detailed PR campaign.

When developing any campaign, a public relations pro must find what is unique about the "product" and carefully explain that uniqueness to the masses or to a targeted audience. With Battier, there are many unique attributes: his achievements on the court, his success in the classroom (religion major, 3.5 GPA) and his leadership role as chairman of the National Association of Basketball Coaches student basketball council.

Battier's face is already recognized by sports and non-sports fans because of his high-profile, four-year basketball career at Duke. The Battier PR program takes advantage of that face recognition.

This popularity, though, can be a double-edged sword. The more exposure an athlete receives, the more people want a piece of him, and thus the higher risk of burnout and overexposure. Burnout is dangerous for an athlete, especially during the pre-draft period, when his emphasis should be on performing well during the challenging NBA team workouts.

Babby and Geisler want to be sure they are not putting too much pressure on Battier to make appearances and do interviews. Because Battier is so familiar with the PR game, he has a great deal of input regarding his own campaign. When he feels too pulled and stretched, Battier simply says no to a media opportunity and Geisler and Babby listen.

The goal of the Battier PR campaign is to illustrate that Battier is the most interesting player in this year's draft. That theme opens the door for strong media placements and marketing opportunities. Geisler filters all the media requests and suggests to Battier the best opportunities. In just more than a month, the campaign has already garnered impressive results, including securing Battier in ESPN The Magazine, on ESPN's "The Life" and on the "George Michael Sports Machine."

Geisler seeks non-sports media opportunities as well, including pitching Battier to appear on Disney programming, MTV and political shows. Because of Battier's PR savvy and intellectual diversity, Geisler has even pitched him to "Meet the Press," something other PR pros would never consider for their clients.

The campaign includes localized PR programs in areas where Battier will be working out for NBA teams. The pre- and post-workout buzz built from this local campaign will help set the PR foundation in that area if Battier is selected by that team.

Geisler plans to work closely with the PR director for whatever NBA team lands Battier. The idea is to be sure he has a strong on-court and off-court local presence for the team that selects him and the community that adopts him.

  PR campaign: Shane Battier pre-draft PR program

  Publicist: Meredith Geisler

  Agent: Lon Babby

  Campaign time line: Open-ended, began in May

Wayne Henninger (wayne@wavepr.com) is co-founder of Sports Wave, a division of Wave PR in Washington, D.C.

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