Saturday, October 22, 2011

MEDIA TRAINING: Talk the Talk? Not Always in the Cards

   Tonight is Game 3 of the World Series, which by all accounts has already been a classic.  Two games - each decided by 1 run - showing that good baseball is a combination of defense and timely strategy as well as the long ball and strong starting pitching.
    Tony LaRussa is a Hall of Fame manager and the Cardinals have played their way into the World Series in a fashion not seen in years.  Make no mistake, the St. Louis Cardinals are one of baseball's best franchises and one of the the most supported teams in all of sports. The front office is filled with class and the "brand" is as solid as they come.  St. Louis is a big-time baseball town, with fans who support it's star players much more than you'll see in other markets.
    I'm a Chicago guy with ties to the Show-Me state.  And even I must admit that St, Louis fans make White Sox fans (my team) seem like a non-entity.
    All this being said, Thursday night's finish to Game 2 was a head-scratcher for me.  And I'm not alone.  In case you didn't know, several big name Redbirds made a quick get-away after the game without commenting - leaving the media in a lurch and die hard fans looking for quotes in the Friday morning papers - well..... empty.
     Here's a small sample of what's being written....

* John Paul Marosi... a National MLB Writer for FoxSports.com

Missed Opportunity?
 It’s unclear how St. Louis will respond after fumbling away a grand chance to take command of this series. Pujols didn’t stick around to address the media after the game, after his botched cutoff of Jon Jay’s throw from center allowed the winning run to advance into scoring position. The lack of accountability was inexcusable from a man who is frequently described as a good teammate — and will soon want to be paid like the greatest player in the game.


A number of other St. Louis veterans — Lance Berkman, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina — were noticeably absent from the clubhouse afterward, leaving younger teammates to face the large World Series media contingent. Unless there were extenuating personal circumstances, it was a weak showing on a night when the international baseball spotlight shined on St. Louis.

In almost every case, answering questions from the media has little to do with whether a team wins or loses its next game. But this was one occasion when Pujols, as a team spokesman, should have accepted the blame for his defensive blunder and reassured those inside and outside the clubhouse that the Cardinals were going to be fine. (There is no doubt Texas leader Michael Young would have done so if the Rangers had lost.)

Maybe Pujols didn’t want to hear any reporters ask about what could have been his final home game in St. Louis — if the Rangers win three straight, and if Pujols signs elsewhere this offseason. But that’s not a credible reason, particularly because the Cardinals should be able to bring this series back to St. Louis for Game 6.


   So, that's what's being written.  And the local papers aren't happy either.  Listen to sports talk radio on Friday?  Hosts around the country were pretty hard on the man most believe is not only the best player of his era... but one of the top 10 in the history of the game.
   I spent much of Friday with the radio on in my card.  Heard "Mad Dog Chris Russo?"  He said it was unacceptable and chastised Pujols for being a guy who can turn on the smile for shows like "60 Minutes" and turn on the charm for hosts like Bob Costas or Joe Buck, but for whatever reason has little time for local writers in baseball markets who might be on a deadline.
   This was tough commentary to hear for my 14 year old son who's grown up in a house with a St. Louis Mom who loves her Cards to the point of watching every playoff game like it was her last and who has adopted the Cardinals as "his team" and Pujols as "his player."
   My point in writing this is not to crush Pujols, or lay blame on the Cardinals franchise for not forcing its players to "fall in line" with the post-game press ritual that's been around for years.  Neither has been the first to fall under such scrutiny.  But instead to use this example to make a point.
   My question is not "Why didn't Pujols and Holiday talk?," but instead "What if Pujols and his fellow Cardinal star players had talked?"
    For the past two years, as many of you konw, I've been running HTK Media, LLC http://www.htknow.com/ - a media consulting company I founded with designs on helping athletes, teams and professionals from various corporations deal with media opportunities.  Through seminars, media training and consulting, I've delivered the message that folks should view the media as "an opportunity - not an obligation."
    Every person is in charge of his or her own brand and the choice to speak is the opportunity to create awareness and shape your reputation and image.
   How often do you hear the saying "its not how you handle success, but how you handle adversity."  We all have.  And that's my point.  Pujols, Holliday and others could have done more for themselves by talking in this situation than if the ball Pujols hit to right-center had actually cleared the wall and the Cards had won.
    Russo went on and on about how Derek Jeter "absolutely would have been there in front of his locker."  True perhaps... and Jeter's reputation is thus cemented as a team leader and a "stand-up guy."

Speaking at U of Arizona recently
     When I speak to college athletes - as I recently did at the University of Arizona, I tell them that there's a lot of be gained by simply acknowledging the tough question.  From that point on you have control over the message and the delivery.
     I spent 25 years in front of the camera with a microphone talking to athletes and my experience tells me that some are prepared for all questions and some are afraid of the first that might come their way.  My advice... take a breath... and prepare yourself for the message you'd like to deliver and do it.  You don't have to stand there for a long time... you just need to give some time.

Media is a Branding Opportunity
     My new role as Chief Communications Officer for the LPGA is giving me a chance to help some of the best athletes in the world see things from the other side and realize just how valuable a media opportunity really is.  For some, getting the chance is the difficult part.  For others, its about using every interview to build your brand and create value in your name.
    So here's my question to you.... Where do you sit on this?  Should athletes be required to talk?  Is there a responsibility for guys like Pujols?  Should teams require players to stand and deliver?
    For the record, I hope the Cards rebound (so does my household) .... but now they're not just rebounding from a loss... but also a lost opportunity to get that bad loss off their chest.  Comments??