As a quick surf around our company website will tell you, the core of our business is helping athletes to understand the media and to use it to their advantage.
As you can imagine, our virtual office is always buzzing when yet another story emerges of an sportsperson coming a cropper by tweeting first and thinking second. These case studies instantly get absorbed into the athlete media workshops that we we run for organisations like Tennis Australia, British Fencing and Tennis Europe so that we can use them constructively to help sportspeople understand that their Twitter account should be handled with care.
There have been several high-profile examples of this recently in football - notably Ashley Cole’s now notorious description of the Football Association as a “#bunchoft**ts”. His England squad-mate Ryan Bertrand also got himself into the dangerous cycle of reaction and retraction when he tweeted an angry response to suggestions that he was missing England duty because of a sore throat rather than something more serious.
Having worked closely with athletes and seen first-hand how much distraction, stress and - in some cases - distress these media hiccups can cause, our initial reaction is always somewhat sympathetic. Of course all athletes are responsible for what they say and do in the public domain but those who have missed out on the sort of media workshops that we run can sometimes find themselves exposed in the big, wide, media world without a real understanding of what is expected of them.
Sportspeople making ill-advised comments and paying the consquences is not a social media phenomenon, but the advent of these intimate, instant forms of communication means that the line between what is said in private and what is said in public is getting harder for athletes to define.
If our media sessions have a message, it’s that sportspeople - just like politicians, actors and anyone with a significant profile - must understand the difference between their public persona and their private self. That is not to say that they must create a facade or be somehow ‘two-faced’; instead it means presenting themselves in the best possible light. This is important for attracting, representing and keep sponsors; for promoting their sport and for acting as a role model to young sports fans.
Some athletes are more comfortable than others with being in a public eye but these days it is an inescapable part of the job of being a professional sportsperson. That’s why organisations which take a proactive approach to media training tend to save themselves and their athletes a lot of trouble further down the track. By preparing sportspeople for life in the public eye, they are investing in a long-term safeguard for the reputation of their sport. No media/PR team at a governing body or management company wants to have to deal with the fall-out from an athlete saying or tweeting something ill-advised.
Some might say that the difference between thinking something (or saying it to a close friend) and tweeting or speaking about it to a journalist should be obvious. Surely it’s a matter of common sense? That may be true if, like most non-athletes, you have been in a workplace or been through the experience of saying something rash to your boss but that is not the world of young sportspeople. If they have been training and competing from a young age, most have not ever worked 9-5 or attended school regularly. Their time is often spent around coaches and other athletes, sometimes in a cosseted world which revolves around them and their sport and does not necessary help them develop an understanding of how the outside world might see them.
It can, therefore, come as a shock when they find themselves and what they say being discussed and judged by that outside world but such shocks can be avoided with a few short sessions and a bit of expert advice ahead of time. Organisations which prepare their athletes for life in the public eye might well be saving themselves from having to prepare for an an #epicfail later on.
If you want to discuss our media workshops further, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let's talk about how we can help you or your athletes.