SBJ/September 17 - 23, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

Octagon puts together many-sided Vick strategy

Campaign: Pre-draft PR for Michael Vick
Vick’s PR team: Octagon
David Schwab, director of media and business development
Andre Colona, senior associate football/basketball
Time frame: January-NFL draft day (April 21)

 

On Jan. 11, Michael Vick, Virginia Tech’s junior quarterback, announced he was turning pro. That month, he signed with Octagon after some convincing from New Orleans Saint Aaron Brooks, Vick’s cousin and an Octagon client.

Knowing that Octagon most likely had landed the player who would become the top pick in the NFL draft in April, David Schwab, Octagon’s director of media and business development, quickly developed a list of pre-draft PR goals:

1. Immediately create a unique media splash.

2. Build a relationship/program for Vick with a charity or nonprofit organization.

3. Control the mounting media requests and minimize unnecessary media activity as the draft approached.

4. Lay a PR foundation for the NFL team that would draft Vick.

Strategies

1. To take advantage of Vick’s growing popularity, Schwab worked with ESPN to create a “Hands on the Heisman” series of television commercials. These are a spoof on a popular automobile promotion, commonly staged in a mall, in which the person who can maintain contact with a parked car longer than all other contestants wins the vehicle. In the spoof, Vick, clad in his Virginia Tech jersey, is a finalist in a contest with four other people. The one who can maintain his touch on the Heisman Trophy the longest wins the famous award.

Had he remained in school, Vick would have been a front-runner for the Heisman this season. The lighthearted commercials, which began airing nationally in April, are intended to show viewers that with Vick forgoing his senior year, the only way for him to win the award was through this contest.

Six commercials were created, and they will continue to air through April 2002. Before taping, Schwab conducted media training sessions to hone Vick’s interview and on-camera techniques.

2. Vick was already affiliated with the Boys and Girls Club in the Norfolk, Va., area. Schwab thought it was important for Vick to continue working with the club but wanted to extend that involvement to the national level. In March, Schwab set up an opportunity for Vick to record several television public service announcements.

National PSAs would be distributed throughout the country, while local PSAs would be distributed in the Norfolk area and within the region where Vick would be drafted (thought to be San Diego, whose Chargers held the No. 1 selection). The PSAs would not be televised until the start of the 2001 NFL season, but they had to be shot and ready to air immediately because of Vick’s pre-draft media schedule.

As the draft approached, rumors circulated that San Diego would trade the top pick. So, Schwab had Vick record seven local PSAs. In each, Vick mentioned a different NFL city/team that had one of the top seven picks in the draft.

3. During the shooting for the PSAs, Schwab was flooded with media requests. Not wanting Vick to feel pressured to do too many interviews during pre-draft workouts, Schwab granted interviews and photo sessions primarily to the national media and all local Norfolk-area media. Vick appeared on the cover of ESPN The Magazine, The Sporting News and USA Today.

4. Vick was selected by the Atlanta Falcons as the No. 1 overall pick. Octagon and ESPN jointly hosted a draft night party at the ESPN Zone in New York. ESPN Radio went live from the sports bar/restaurant, thus giving the station one of Vick’s first extensive interviews as a Falcon. This interview was one of the first steps in laying the PR foundation for Aaron Salkin, director of public relations for the Atlanta Falcons.

As soon as Vick became a Falcon, the team and Octagon began splitting the PR duties for Vick, with the Falcons handling much of the day-to-day PR activity. The Falcons’ PR department will juggle the many media requests and community-relations efforts. Schwab still handles a majority of the national PR activity for Vick and is responsible for developing the PR plan of attack beyond Vick’s rookie year.

Octagon must now take a step back. How Vick develops will dictate the next PR direction for Schwab. If Vick does not adjust well to the pro game, Schwab may be forced to deflect criticism and train Vick on how to answer the type of questions Ryan Leaf (who flopped as the No. 2 pick in 1998) has become accustomed to.

On the flip side, if Vick lives up to his top billing, moves into the starting role early in the season and is setting the league on fire, the media frenzy will be intense and positive, with career-enhancing PR and marketing opportunities by the handful.

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

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