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Volume 20 No. 42
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Plugged In: Tim Tessalone

Tim Tessalone is starting his 39th football season working at the University of Southern California, most of those as the sports information director. It’s an antiquated title in a media world where most of his peers now say they work in strategic communications or media relations, but the SID title works just fine for the USC graduate. In his time there, Tessalone has promoted five Heisman Trophy winners, and the sixth might be playing quarterback for the Trojans right now — Sam Darnold, one of the most unusual athletes Tessalone has worked with.

Sam is more than just media. He’s a student, an athlete, he has a social life and a family life. We have to stay cognizant of that. But it’s not our first rodeo with this sort of thing, either.

Photo by: USC
On handling all of the requests for Darnold: We have built-in advantages with Sam. He’s a great kid, very humble. He’s really unaffected by all of this. He, I guess you’d say, enjoys this. We try to manage his time the best possible; we knocked out a lot of stuff in the summer. We have a time block in the morning once a week for national calls; we have local availability after practice on Tuesdays.

On some of the more unique requests that you just can’t accommodate: We hear from lots of out-of-town radio and newer podcasts and some foreign-language media that want interviews with Sam. We also had one request where the media outlet wanted to focus on the basketball angle (Sam was a very good basketball player in high school and credits hoops with his ability as a quarterback). They wanted to take him to a Drew League game to experience a basketball game with him, but for a number of reasons we couldn’t fulfill that request, so they just came to campus and did a normal sit-down interview, talking basketball.

On Darnold’s media savvy: One cool thing he’s doing now is a podcast called “Season of Sam” with Yogi Roth. It’s a cool concept. Sam is interviewing people he wants to find out more about. Not just sports guests, but film directors or authors, maybe Justin Turner of the Dodgers talking about life as a redhead. Yogi sets it up and Sam does the interview. We think it’s a first-of-its-kind thing.

On being in the L.A. market: You’ve got pro teams, college teams, the entertainment world, the desert, the mountains, the beach. You’re not always the focus like you might be in a smaller college town. But here, it’s Lakers, Dodgers, USC football and UCLA basketball. Those are the big ones.

On promoting a player for the Heisman: Today, things are so immediate. The favorites change week to week. Someone throws an interception and they’re out of the race.

On the biggest trend in PR: When you tell a story now, you’re not just writing a press release. You craft the story for video, graphics, for social media, for the blog, for the website. We are our own media outlet. I get it when people say, “You’re the house organ.” But I’d also argue that everyone is a media person now. That’s the biggest challenge we have — everybody with a phone is a journalist. Anybody can tweet something out and we don’t know that person’s background, what their ethics are, what the agenda is. How do you counter the message out there against all those other voices?

— Michael Smith