Reifert helps White Sox transcend Chicago divisions

As VP of communications for the Chicago White Sox, Scott Reifert works to give the team a place at the very heart of the city and its fans - and outside of the shadow of the rival Cubs.

As VP of communications for the Chicago White Sox, Scott Reifert works to give the team a place at the very heart of the city and its fans - and outside of the shadow of the rival Cubs.

One kind of love brought Scott Reifert to Chicago. Once there, he was able to indulge in a second passion, as well. The two have kept him in the Windy City ever since.

Reifert today is VP of communications for the Chicago White Sox. In a town that in recent years has become gaga for a different team - the Cubs - Reifert has perhaps one of the most challenging jobs in PR.

"He's got to work twice as hard to get the same kind of coverage," notes Scot Gregor, the White Sox beat reporter with the Daily Herald, a suburban Chicago newspaper. "Scott understands that the Cubs are going to be big news no matter what they do. If the Sox lose, they're back-page news."

Reifert says he relishes the challenge. "Obviously, for some people there's a bias [to the Cubs]. They're the number-one brand in that sense. We're number two, but we can be a very successful number two," he says. "For our fans, we're certainly not number two."

Rather than rely only on coverage of the team's wins or losses, Reifert has sought to expand the PR outreach of the Sox beyond the sports pages.

"Our challenge is to look at all the ways we communicate with our fans," he says. That has meant taking on Burson-Marsteller for the past year to help generate more ideas on how to differentiate the Sox from the Cubs. It's also meant getting more notice for the charitable works the Sox do.

There was a time when the White Sox were Chicago's team. Their old stadium, Comiskey Park, on Chicago's hard-scrabble South Side, was where the city's blue-collar populace went to see baseball.

But as the city's old industrial base of stock yards and steel mills has disappeared, and its work force has changed from blue collar to white collar, loyalties have shifted from the South Side Sox to the more upscale North Side Cubs and their homey Wrigley Field.

"The White Sox have some inherent challenges that the Cubs just don't have," notes Scott Kirkpatrick, an SVP and director of the sports marketing practice with Hill & Knowlton in Chicago.

The difference between the teams was summed up several years ago in a sign a White Sox fan held up during a cross-town game that read, "Go back to Wrigley yuppie scum."

Reifert says the Sox want to be thought of as a team with a Chicago-style work ethic, an image that transcends white collar or blue collar.

"We want to be gritty; we want to be Chicago," he says.

That's a big job, but one Reifert has come to love in his nearly 14 years with the Sox.

The love who brought him to Chicago was his wife. The couple had met in graduate school, and, when she received an offer to coach soccer at the University of Chicago, Reifert left his job with a sports management firm in Connecticut and followed her.

Once in Chicago, Reifert had to find a job. He had loved baseball since he was a child.

"In sixth grade, I wrote letters to all the Major League Baseball PR directors," recalls Reifert, now 39. "It said, 'I want your job. How do I get there?'"

By high school, he knew his baseball skills wouldn't propel him to the big leagues, so Reifert instead wrote about sports for the local newspaper in his hometown, Muscatine, IA. He went on to study journalism at the University of Iowa while stringing for The Des Moines Register, writing for the college paper, and working in the university women's sports information office.

When he landed a job as assistant PR director for the Sox in 1991, it was a dream come true for him. "It's fun to work with a product people care so deeply about," he says.

Reifert obviously cares deeply, as well, given the time and effort he puts into his job.

During the season, Reifert's day at the ballpark starts around 10am, when he checks in with senior management to see if there are issues likely to come up with the media. By afternoon, he's more focused on the team's clubhouse.

While he has two staffers who shepherd reporters and players, Reifert likes to stay in touch, especially with Sox players. "That's our product," he notes. "If I lose touch with that, I can't do my job."

When aging Sox star Frank Thomas recently spoke with reporters about his health, for example, Reifert briefed him on possible questions.

Reifert says a constant challenge is knowing when to get involved and when to let his staff handle something.

Jack Yeo, director of client services with Burson's Chicago office, says Reifert is good at giving his staff kudos for work well done. "He's very clear-headed and calm," says Yeo. "He takes care of his staff."

Game time usually finds Reifert in the general manager's box, watching the game and staying alert for any problems that might need his attention.

In 2002, he had to deal with two spectators who ran onto the field and attacked a coach, an incident that received national media coverage.

"I'm really proud of how the organization responded to that," says Reifert. The Sox worked to get Illinois to pass new legislation that made such attacks felonies.

Most nights, Reifert is home by 10:30pm, but when the Sox make the playoffs, his life begins to resemble an extra-inning marathon. In the fall, his wife's soccer season is also under way, so juggling parenting duties with his job becomes more complex.

Reifert recalls that when the Sox were in the 2000 playoffs, his wife gave birth to their fourth child a week into her season, and they also had to manage having one child start kindergarten and another first grade.

"The pace during the season is so hectic that, over the course of a day, it just gets busier and busier," says Reifert. But he shows no signs of wanting to give it up.

"I grew up with a passion for baseball," he says. "There's still enough passion there for me that I'm more than comfortable. Whenever that runs out, it's time for me to find something else."

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Scott Reifert

2004-present

Chicago White Sox, VP of communications

1997-2004

Chicago White Sox, PR director

1991-1997

Chicago White Sox, assistant PR director

1990-1991

Wirz & Associates, account executive

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