One of our favourite sights of 2012 was Novak Djokovic breaking away from his post-semi final press conference at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals to personally to hand out chocolates to the assembled journalists as a thank you for their cooperation during the season.
It was a simple act, one which not only endeared the World No.1 to those in the room but also became a hit piece of viral video on social media, circulated via Twitter, Facebook and You Tube within the hour so that fans could celebrate his thoughtfulness as well.
So, for the price of a few boxes of chocolates and a few moments of Djokovic’s time, the World No.1 and his management team pulled off brilliant piece of positive PR that should serve as an example to other high profile athletes and their advisors.
Watch the video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2h31XCIrXNo
There are many mutual benefits from having a good relationship between an athlete and media but too often the two are kept apart, as though they worked in parallel universes rather than within the same sport. Having seen the relationship from both sides now, I can see how this happens. There are usually many layers of people between player and journalist and the very formal press conference format - with its inherent time pressure to get a list of interviews done quickly - leaves little room for friendly, relaxed interaction. The opportunities to chat as colleagues, working in different sides of the same industry, are few and far between.
The onus is on the player and his or her advisors to create those opportunities. That could mean making time for the occasional coffee and an off-the-record chat with one or two journalists from your own country or it could be something as simple - and human - as remembering to smile and say hello when passing a familiar face from your press conferences in tournament corridors. This is something that we always stress to players that we work with - a smile here and a quick, friendly chat there can go a long way.
It is not just about stroking journalists’ egos - because, let’s face it, most journos develop a necessary thick skin early on in their careers - it’s about breaking down barriers so that you can help each other do a good job.
In talking to athletes, coaches and sports administrators about media, the same misconceptions, prejudices and fears come up time and again. The fear of the unknown can be a powerful force and it can make players unnecessarily nervous, defensive and wary of speaking to journalists or doing interviews. This can lead to bad experiences with media and a lack of confidence which, in turn, leads to poor interviews, unusable quotes and little or no profile for the athlete and his or her sponsors.
To an uneducated athlete - or one who has been given a negative impression of the media by well-meaning people around them - a journalist is an abstract figure, poised to ask them questions and, perhaps, publicly find fault with what they say or how they play. In my experience you can dispel a lot of myths by simply explaining what those strange men and women in the press room actually do, how deadlines work, why they asked certain questions and what everyone is trying to achieve. Players also need to be educated, as early on in their careers as possible, on how having a positive media profile can help them engage with sponsors and fans.
The more athletes can be helped to see journalists and broadcasters as human beings, the better for them and their sport, not to mention those trying to cover it. If they are in any doubt then they should follow Nole’s lead - chocolate is, after all, always a winner.