THE PUBLICIST: Hollywood publicists should follow Alabama PR playbook

Our story has the makings of a Hollywood movie, but takes place in the South, and the ending needs a rewrite.

Our story has the makings of a Hollywood movie, but takes place in the South, and the ending needs a rewrite.

Our protagonist is Larry White, sports information director at the University of Alabama, whose storied football program garnered more national notoriety recently than that fuss over the Ten Commandments after the head coach was fired for breaking one of them. (Surely there's something in those commandments about strippers.) This on the heels of the abrupt departure of their previous coach to Texas, and an ongoing probation for NCAA infractions. The negative publicity rained down on White's shoulders during a long, hot summer in Tuscaloosa. "It's been tough, no bones about it," White told me. "But we've tried to accentuate the positives and draw inspiration from the great Alabama football tradition." White has been with Alabama for 14 years, and a strong sense of family pervades his nine-person staff. Student interns round out the workforce, with volunteers pitching in on game day. People tend to stay, which is why losing two coaches in a matter of months hurts in a personal way. To heal the wounds, the school turned to Mike Shula, a former player and son of coaching legend Don Shula, to restore the fractured family. "When it's time to band together, it helps to have one of your own at the helm," explained White. So the stage is set for our antagonist, the Oklahoma Sooners - the only top-ranked team ever to visit the Tide's campus stadium. The perfect Goliath for a program seeking an epic victory to cleanse its gridiron sins. Some 650 media outlets sought game credentials. ESPN's popular GameDay crew was even on hand for its morning telecast, attracting legions of enthused tailgaters. White handled the high-pressure event with courtesy and aplomb, allowing yours truly to shadow him as he deftly handled pre-game preps, last-second snags, an unauthorized person on the sidelines, a national outlet requesting additional press passes, etc. But he truly shined at the post-game interviews, shuffling coaches and players through the media ring like a circus master. It was a delicate task: the Alabama players were physically and emotionally spent after playing so valiantly before succumbing 20-13 to the Sooners. A Hollywood ending, no, but a new Bama beginning, and optimism for a hospitable community where football is second only to religion. Except on game day.
  • Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer

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