During his 21 years as a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, Rick Reilly has been voted National Sportswriter of the Year 10 times - most recently in 2005.
His biting, comedic, and sometimes touching "Life of Reilly" columns appear every week on the last page of SI. Reilly, author of the recently released Shanks for Nothing: A Novel, spoke to PRWeek about good sportswriting and bad PR.
PRWeek: Are there stories that get too much ink or not enough?
Rick Reilly: It's people stories that make good reading. I don't feel like I'm a sportswriter. I feel like I'm a guy who writes about people who happen to do sports. The best columns are the ones where you tie it somehow into the fabric of the country.
PRWeek: Do you have much interaction with sports PR people?
Reilly: All the time. I'm dead without them. They're always the first guy I have to call. I just think that's a very tough job because you have to please both the Montagues and the Capulets, which is not easy.
PRWeek: Are there any particular qualities you appreciate in a sports PR professional?
Reilly: I give them crazy ideas: Hey, let me ride in the blimp, let me be your water boy, let me crash cars, or whatever. I like it when they at least go, "OK, that's different; I'll give you credit. They're going to say no, but at least I'll try."
The other day, [I'm talking to] the PR guy from the New York Giants because I'm trying to get an interview with Jeremy Shockey... So he checks and tells me, "Shockey wants to do it, says he will do it, but can I just tell you something? Your odds of him showing up are so low I just think you're crazy... He's going to blow you off, and you're going to drive all the way to Albany, [NY]."
And I said thank you, God, thank you so much I could kiss you. Somebody that is really telling me the truth... I thought that was playing both sides really well.
PRWeek: So when are you speaking to him?
Reilly: Later in September when he's around. And I said, "Pat I really appreciate that. I've been in this game for 28 years, you're totally right. A guy with a day off, he's going to blow out of there so fast." I've had more guys take the back exit on me than an FBI guy. They all know the back way out and that would have been a big pain in the butt.
PRWeek: Who are some of the best PR people that you've come across?
Reilly: I've seen every kind of bad PR person and every kind of good one. I hate it when you're sent to a remote PR guy. I just did a story this week on a minor league team in Illinois, and the PR woman is in LA and she did not know the first thing about baseball. She said, "The 'pitch off time' is going to be 7:30."
Pitch off time! What the hell are you talking about? What I would say to PR people is don't try to snow it; be honest. You don't have to give away the company safe, but be honest. If this guy's a jackass, then tell us. Or tell us: If that's going to be your question, that better be your last question.
PRWeek: Do you have any opinions on A-Rod?
Reilly: He's got a PR person. A-Rod is like his own PR guy. He's kind of overly smooth. It's kind of like Dave Winfield; it was always like you were talking to Dave Winfield's PR guy. Certainly any time Dave Winfield appears in public, Dave Winfield wants to put forth … I was like, "Come on, talk like a real person."
That's what I would say to PR people: Don't try to snow it, be honest. You don't have to give away the company safe, but be honest. If this guy's a jackass, then tell us. Or tell us: if that's going to be your question that better be your last question. The poor people who used to handle Sammy Sosa were hilarious.
Oh I‘ll tell you who the worst PR people are - the Barry Bonds set of two or three young girls. They try to snow you: "Barry's really a nice guy." "Really? Because I just saw him out in the parking lot stiff a guy and his three kids when he had nowhere to be." "I don't know why you don't like Barry, he's really great." Then you'll see him blow off the three PR people. That's not team PR people by the way. Just like everything else with Barry, he's got his own PR, his own trainer, his own cook, and his own stretcher. Imagine being the manager and you have to go through that, it's ridiculous.
Name: Rick Reilly
Outlet: Sports Illustrated
Title: Senior writer
Preferred contact method: firstname.lastname@example.org
Web site: www.si.com