PROFILE: Hicks' media savvy scores comms goals for DC United

Doug Hicks, VP of communications for Major League Soccer's DC United, kicks PR into high gear to boost the image of his team, the league, and 14-year-old phenom Freddy Adu. Coach Peter Nowak is working on his media relations skills.

Doug Hicks, VP of communications for Major League Soccer's DC United, kicks PR into high gear to boost the image of his team, the league, and 14-year-old phenom Freddy Adu. Coach Peter Nowak is working on his media relations skills.

"In the media room! In the media room," he's pleading with the small crowd of reporters across the field. "Let him go. Let Freddy go to the locker." In truth, because this is soccer, it's not a field, but a "pitch." And because this is US soccer, it's not a "small crowd" of reporters. It's a teeming horde. About two dozen reporters have braved a cold April rain to come catch a glimpse of the sports world's hottest new rookie, "Freddy" Adu (real name: Fredua, same as his younger brother, "Fro"). He's just finished up a mostly closed-door practice and is winding his way back to the locker room, but not before the horde's had its fill. Adu is the kind of sports prodigy that sportswriters, fans, and publicists dream about. He's 14, wildly gifted, and as photogenic as he is comfortable in front of a camera (some credit for which goes to the media training he received at IMG Academies, a Florida sports camp). For Doug Hicks, DC United's young VP of communications, Adu is a godsend - and a handful. Earlier, in the player's lounge, a conversation with Hicks is made nearly impossible by the constant buzzing of his cell phone. He darts from the room every few minutes on some urgent errand, once to corral an enterprising reporter wading into the supposedly closed practice. In between emergencies, the 33-year-old talks about the challenges of being the PR point man for a struggling new league's flagship team. Because of United's prominence in MLS (they won three of the first four titles), it's fallen upon Hicks to promote the sport as much as the team. Thanks to Adu, both jobs are getting easier. "We've always gotten plenty of attention from the sports pages, so we'd been focusing most of our pitches in years past on off-the-sports-page media," he says. "We'd have a good off-the-field story and we'd call [The Washington Post] Style section or we'd try to call The Washingtonian. We're in the fortunate situation now where we have a lot of that media calling us." "That media" includes 60 Minutes, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the International Herald Tribune - all before Adu ever played a single professional game. Now that he's out there, the list is growing. Hicks has an unprecedented swarm of journalists, some from as far away as Japan and Poland, wanting credentials for home games, and publicists from other teams are angling for Adu time when United comes to their cities. All of which is to say nothing of the usual sports reporters who want special access to the teenage phenom. Lucky for this Indiana native, his time on the Washington sports scene has earned him a lot of goodwill. "You can tell that Doug loves what he does," says Alex Parker, executive sports producer for the local ABC affiliate. "Obviously, Freddy has made his job more exciting and more difficult, but I can tell he's kind of pumped about it." "I think that he clearly gets it," offers Dave Johnson, play-by-play announcer for Washington's WTOP radio. "He has a good understanding of what writers' and broadcasters' needs are, and he does everything he can to make it easier for them to do their jobs. That's not something that every PR person has." Johnson has watched Hicks' career from the start, when he interned for the Washington Bullets (now the Wizards) and bartended at night. Hicks displayed a passion not just for the job but for the sport and, hence, rose quickly through the team's PR ranks, eventually ascending to the assistant director of PR post. From there things got complicated. Just inches from the top job with the Bullets, Hicks was suddenly offered a last-minute deal to take over PR for the Capitals, the hockey team that shared a front office with the Bullets. Most people in Hicks' position would have considered it a huge step up. "It wasn't that I didn't like hockey or want to do it," he recalls. "It's just that I've always been a basketball and soccer guy. I loved basketball. I was really enjoying being with the NBA." But he trusted his bosses, who promised they'd make things right if he wasn't happy after the first year. Turns out they didn't need to. But the ultimate for Hicks came in 2001, when United was looking for someone to help jump-start their flagging media operation. Johnson caught wind of the search and suggested Hicks. "He clearly had been in the market for a long time. [As such,] he would be able to jump right into that type of position," Johnson says. "Plus, he'd built up a great reputation with all the media contacts in town, so it would be an easy transition to a place like DC United, where you're trying to raise the profile." Hicks won the job and his first opportunity to blaze some trails. "It was exciting for me because I went to the NBA, and they did things a certain way," Hicks says. "And I took a lot with me to the NHL, but they also did things a certain way." Now, with the media knocking down his door, Hicks says he hopes to write the playbook for MLS. Later in the day, in the small media room where Hicks prepares reporters for appearances by Nowak and Adu, a voice with a thick French accent is heard laughing among the din: "Looks like we'll be a little busier this year." Had he heard her, Hicks would agree. Doug Hicks 2001-present DC United, VP of communications 1997-2000 Washington Capitals, PR director 1993-1997 Washington Bullets - various posts. Assistant PR director (1997); Assistant creative services director (1995); Assistant customer service director (1994); Marketing and PR intern (1993)

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