CORPORATE CASE STUDY: Mighty Ducks score with community outreach efforts

The Anaheim Mighty Ducks hockey team's communications department helps the team appeal to fans by setting long-term goals and reacting quickly to ongoing community events.

The Anaheim Mighty Ducks hockey team's communications department helps the team appeal to fans by setting long-term goals and reacting quickly to ongoing community events.

The Anaheim Mighty Ducks raised their profile last year by making it to the Stanley Cup finals. Although they did not take home the trophy, the Disney-owned hockey team did receive a PR boost from a great deal of press and fan attention. Now its in-house communications department is working to capitalize on that interest through a comprehensive PR strategy that reaches out to those who love the team, and also to the community at large. "We have a good, hard-core set of fans," says director of publicity, community development and synergy Charles Harris, "but we are still trying to appeal to a larger audience." Unlike most sports teams, the Mighty Ducks divide player media relations and general PR activities into separate divisions. Media relations specializes in traveling with the team, handling press interests at games and for players in general. That media relations staff has "3.5" people, says Harris. "They deal with the players on an everyday level," handling "very traditional PR for a sports team," he says, and "acting as spokespeople." For general PR, Harris heads a unit more centered on what he calls the "business side." His team is focused on raising the corporate profile of the Mighty Ducks by working with sponsors and driving ticket sales. "That's rather unique in a sports team," he says of the general PR division. Harris' department has a variety of concentration areas ranging from community relations to alumni outreach, and only a staff of eight to handle it all. In addition to his duties with the Ducks, Harris acts as a liaison to other Disney business units. The PR department prides itself on having a long-term strategic outlook, as well as the ability to react quickly to ongoing events. When it comes to the unit's work style, Harris says, "it's really a combination. On the community side, we sat down in the summertime and had all of our major events planned out by July." But, "On the publicity side, we have a whole program and some goals that we have set up, but that could change on a weekly basis." When it comes to long-term plans, Harris and his team are not afraid of big ideas. For the past year, they have been working to secure placement for the Mighty Ducks on the hit TV show The Bachelorette. The PR team eventually pulled that off early this year, when it landed an eight-minute segment that featured bachelorette Meredith Phillips on a group date at one of the team's games, wearing a Ducks uniform. "We had input in terms of the creative, and we had them doing things on the ice before the event," explains Harris. He calls the end result "great national branding." Teaming with the community Other long-term plans center on community relations and events, which Harris says are a centerpiece of the Mighty Ducks' PR plan. "The community relations department has many different elements," he says. "It includes outreach, grassroots, educational partnership programs, and just a proactive presence in the community," he says. While the list of programs is long, they are tied together by a few core values. "Education is very important to us," says Harris. "Family is also very important to us." So far this year, the Ducks are about halfway through the season, and halfway through the community events the team's communications team has set up. Some of the programs they have finished included a "Ducks in Tux" celebrity waiter event that put players to work for a night to raise money for cystic fibrosis research. The PR team also worked with the Navy Seals last year to launch the team's new jerseys. "They jumped out of helicopters and were wearing the jerseys," says Harris. "We had Jimmy Kimmel Live here, and we had reporters doing live shots from the event." The Mighty Ducks also recently hosted 9,000 local school kids for a "first flight" annual field trip that ties hockey to several scholastic subjects. The team puts together workbooks for the kids, and players put on skill demonstrations and host interactive games. "The day is a way to relate the sport of hockey to the subjects they learn in school, like geometry and geography," explains Harris. Upcoming events include a casino night to benefit multiple sclerosis, with players acting as dealers, and a celebrity poker tournament. The Ducks season (PR season, that is) concludes with a diversity program for young hockey players for which the team will host an all-star game with kids from across the country. "They are going to play against each other and they get to play at The Pond," says Harris, referring to the team's home rink. "They also get to meet the players and have a skills competition." Making a difference While long-term plans are pivotal points to the Mighty Ducks' overall PR strategy, the communications team also prides itself on being able to create plans on the fly. "We try to react to the current events that are happening in our community," says Harris. "There are a lot of things that came up this year that we did as responsible citizens." For example, when some of the worst wild fires in California history left many people without homes last year, the Ducks' PR team asked, "What can we do to make a difference?" recalls Harris. Among other initiatives, they helped auction off a jersey signed by team members on eBay and donated the proceeds to the Red Cross. They also hosted a firefighters appreciation night during a home game. Harris' team also has a new initiative in place to get former Ducks players involved in PR activities. "We're pretty young, but we're trying to activate our alumni, trying to bring other former players back into the mix," for events like golf tournaments, says Harris. The department head also spends some of his time searching for ways to capitalize on the resources Disney has to offer. "If we need access, it's great to have that," says Harris of Disney's willingness to support their initiatives. "Since I've been here, Disney has been really supportive." Harris says that a recent event conceived around the feel-good hockey movie, Miracle, which is now in theatres, provides an example. The Ducks were able to arrange an event with some of the actors from the film, as well as the original players the movie is based on. Some players have also worked synergistically with ESPN, which has a broadcast truck with a "fan zone" that comes to some games. The Mighty Ducks recently revamped their website in an effort to streamline online messages for consumers. Starting this past October, people could use the site to buy tickets to games and view interactive video clips. The improvements have helped increase traffic from 850,000 hits in 2002 to 2 million in 2003. Harris says, "Hockey is a very hard-core sport, and fans are looking for the latest information." The Mighty Ducks' website is "the point of contact for fans - not only for Southern California, but around the world." ----- PR contacts Director of publicity, community development and synergy Charles Harris Manager of community development Erin Bickmeier Website editor Michael Corcoran Communications and team services manager Alex Gilchrist Senior media relations representative Merit Tully

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