CORPORATE CASE STUDY: The season never ends for the New York Jets' PR staff

With Coach Herman Edwards' integral involvement, the New York Jets' PR team constantly adjusts its game plan to build the team's brand among fans and media alike.

With Coach Herman Edwards' integral involvement, the New York Jets' PR team constantly adjusts its game plan to build the team's brand among fans and media alike.

"You play to win the game." This was New York Jets head coach Herman Edwards' response when a reporter asked him how his then-struggling football team would stay motivated for the rest of a seemingly lost 2002-2003 season. Those words not only cemented Edwards' standing as a media favorite, they served to rally an entire organization looking to make a name for itself. How could a pro sports team in the world's biggest market suffer from an identity crisis? Even Ron Colangelo, the Jets' VP of PR, admits that the team's strong sales - the club is consistently among the NFL's top three in terms of tickets sold - led some to question the need for his four-person staff. In response, Colangelo says, "It's harder to stay on top than to get there." That objective becomes more challenging by the existence of the Giants, the other pro football team in town. The Jets don't only share the spotlight with the Giants, they play their home games in Giants Stadium, in essence making Gang Green (the Jets' oft-used nickname) a team without a home. The PR staff, in turn, is constantly challenged to create a distinct Jets brand, a process that involves everything from the push for a new stadium, to establishing a healthy player-media relationship, to having Edwards inherently involved with the department's efforts. "Sure, people can identify us with [quarterback] Chad Pennington, [running back] Curtis Martin, and our star players," admits Colangelo, "but it's not easy to pinpoint our brand, particularly pertaining to our efforts to reach the non-sports media." Staking its claim on New York While the Jets and Giants share a field and the distinction of representing the Big Apple, the Jets are, according to Colangelo, the real New York team. The Giants operation is run exclusively out of New Jersey, and the Jets train at Hofstra University on Long Island, where the PR staff is located. But they are moving the entire business operation into Manhattan. "We're carving our own niche as New York's team," says Colangelo. "It's incumbent upon us to emphasize that." One way the Jets hope to advance this campaign is to get a new stadium on Manhattan's West Side. The PR team has already put together two presentations on the new venue, one for Manhattan-based season-ticket holders, the other for corporate sponsors. The team has also recently hired various consultants for the project, including Lou Tomson, ex-president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and a former top aide to Gov. George Pataki (R-NY). Former Jet quarterback Joe Namath has also joined the effort. While the initiative is still in the nascent stages, it's a sign of the team's commitment to New York City and its economic future. As the stadium drive crystallizes, the PR staff's media relations plans will be characteristically aggressive - a necessity given the tremendous spotlight under which the team operates. "We have nine beat reporters who cover us daily, not to mention myriad other local and national outlets who constantly crave information," notes Doug Miller, media relations director. "That's great potential for coverage, but it's also huge pressure to satisfy a large media contingent. Proactivity is key, particularly during the off-season." "In fact," adds Colangelo, "a strong argument can be made that we're busiest during the off-season because there's little we don't have a hand in." Some of those aspects even catch Colangelo, who is entering his second season with the team, by surprise. "During my early days here," recalls Colangelo, "I was driving along, and called in to check voice-mail. Going through the menu. I heard, 'To voice a complaint, call the PR department....' I nearly drove off the road. Little things like that have long been a problem for the staff. We want to change that." Reaching out to reporters Media accessibility is another area the PR staff constantly looks to upgrade. This point was driven home at a recent staff meeting. On August 2, the Jets are playing the NFL's exhibition opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the defending Super Bowl champions, in this year's American Bowl in Tokyo. It's an event over which the media should be inundating the PR staff with calls, but instead of waiting for the press' inquiries, a good 20 minutes were devoted to discussing media outreach. "This trip must be as accommodating to the local media as possible," Colangelo reinforced at the meeting. "This is a special trip for the Jets. We don't want the coverage of our first preseason game against the champs, the team's first-ever game in the Far East, to be a little newswire blurb. We want that beat-writer coverage, so we must aggressively facilitate it. "If local stations need help with travel or lodging, we'll take care of it for them," he added. "We may go beyond the call of duty, but reporters appreciate it. That's a big reason why we're here." Of course, as part of the never-ending balancing act the PR staff performs, there's a fine line between media access and the team's privacy. On this Japan trip, reporters will be allowed to fly on the club's jet. However, strict parameters are set in place to protect the team members' space. Certain things are off-limits to the media, and the PR staff has a year-round responsibility to police reporters in order to protect players, coaches, and all Jet representatives. A task the PR staff takes equally to heart is developing its non-traditional media base. Following the meeting, the Jets entertained a media-management service company for that sole purpose. Particular focus was placed on reaching out to Hispanic outlets. "Just because we're the Jets," explains Colangelo, "doesn't mean we get all the coverage we can. We must not rest on our laurels." The players' willingness to deal with the media is another aspect the PR staff doesn't take for granted. "When selling players on the importance of media relations, it isn't enough to say, 'Our door is always open,'" says Colangelo. "Many players are convinced that the media is out to get them." To combat this reluctance, the PR staff collects positive clips from every news outlet on each player, creates a PowerPoint presentation, and shows it to the team. Individual copies of each clip are also sent to players' homes to reinforce the message. "Player cooperation is vital to our efforts," says Miller, "Their interaction with the media, or the lack of it, has a wide-ranging impact. It's our job to keep them mindful of that." It starts with the coach One person who never needs a reminder on media relations is Edwards. In fact, his willingness to work with the PR staff is unmatched: He meets with Colangelo daily, and often reviews and critiques his interviews and appearances. "Herm gets it," says Colangelo. "He makes the department's job easier. He will always be a key component to any branding efforts we undertake." "Media relations is a major part of any high-profile job in New York, period," says Edwards. "If you aren't truthful with the media, and back them into a corner by being uncooperative, they can't help but look at you differently. Give people the ability to do their jobs better, which is what I try to do with everyone, including the media, and they'll form better opinions. "It's a shame so many people look at the media as adversaries." Edwards adds. "I don't see it that way. The more you educate them, the more facts you give, the better it will be for the league, the fans, and the press. I must represent the class, the work ethic, the team spirit of the Jets. If I antagonize the media, I'm not fulfilling a crucial job requirement." Edwards' "you play to win the game" mantra did much more than instill a confidence in his football team that led it to the AFC Eastern Division title last season. It unified an entire organization - including a PR staff that is determined to excel on a playing field strewn with worthy competitors. ----- PR contacts Vice president of PR Ron Colangelo Media relations director Doug Miller Media relations coordinator Jared Winley Media relations assistant Kristin Ianiero PR budget $750,000

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