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PR pros talk about the challenges of social media

Team PR in the Twitter Age

Barry Baum, Brooklyn Nets
Dan Courtemanche, MLS
Rob Thomson, Sporting Kansas City

When bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday, team and league public relations leaders had to deal with practical matters on top of their own concerns about the day’s events. At the time, Sporting KC’s coaches and players were in a plane on the way to New York for a game against the Red Bulls. Rob Thompson, the team’s executive vice president of communications, saw the news as soon as the plane landed. During a panel titled, "High-Stakes Team PR in the Twitter Age," at the 2013 Sports Facilities and Franchises conference, Thomson said his immediate reaction was to make sure that none of the players tweeted out any challenges or boasts, or even comments about looking forward to a good time in New York. Thomson: “I ran up and down the plane to say, ‘Hey, here’s what happened, so be very conscious of what you’re tweeting.’”

Dan Courtemanche, MLS executive vice president of communications, said the Mexican national soccer team was en route to San Francisco for an exhibition game. When the team landed, staff members with MLS’ Soccer United Marketing, which organized the game, immediately went to the coach of the Mexican team to not only help the team avoid making any insensitive comments, but to talk about what he and the players might be asked by the media. Courtemanche said the Mexican coach was hesitant at first, unconvinced that the team would be fielding questions about the bombings. But Courtemanche said the PR staff insisted, and the tenor of the American public in the wake of the bombings was effectively communicated. Courtemanche added, "All of this was occurring on social media, while the team was flying."The panelists discussed Twitter's ability to get news or information out that previously would not have had an appropriate outlet. Barry Baum, chief communications officer for the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center, said, "There are certain stories and certain photos that we don't necessarily have a particular place to go with. We have a lot of celebrities that come to our games, and you don't want to send a press release out, or an e-mail, of, say, Justin Bieber wearing a Nets hat. So we'll tweet those photos out, and they'll always get picked up by various publications." While Twitter's immediacy and scope is clearly advantageous for spreading news quickly, Baum said there are situations in which news will have more legitimacy if broken by more traditional means, such as the local newspaper. "Sometimes it's more meaningful to get a story where somebody else is announcing the news, rather than you're announcing the news," he said. Thompson added there are many occasions where Sporting KC uses Twitter as "more of a rah-rah tool" to drive the news, because the social media site "doesn't really paint the whole story."

Another topic was the use of Twitter as a source for news, and how various traditional media outlets treat Twitter differently. Courtemanche noted that when former MLS player Robbie Rogers recently announced on Twitter that he is homosexual, virtually every media outlet immediately went to press with the story. However, he noted that the AP did not, waiting until it had sourced the story either directly from Rogers or his agent. Thomson recounted a situation in which a K.C. journalist went to press with a former MLS player's tweet announcing that he was going to play for Sporting KC. But the tweet turned out to be an April Fool's joke. Thomson: "Unlike a poorly written, or misrepresenting article from five years ago, it's a short shelf life of him getting criticized, and it's kind of forgotten. So, it is different how information and how journalists are treated in the short cycles of news."

Baum said that Twitter usage for the Nets and Barclays Center is managed by a social media team, under the umbrella of the Nets' marketing department. But Thomson said, "For us, social media does fall under the communications department, which is rare in Major League Soccer. We're one of three teams or so that does this. It's really bridged the gap, too. I meet now way more with our sponsorship department team, and our marketing side, because it does help in our merchandise sales." He added that Sporting KC often tweets photos of new merchandise, and that a certain number of tweets or social can be built into the team's agreement with a certain marketing partner.

See photos of the panelists below: from left, Courtemanche, Baum, Thomson. Click any photo to enlarge.

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Related Topics:

Media, Twitter, Facilities, Franchises, MLS, Soccer

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