While players use spring training to get ready for the everyday challenges of a 162-game Major League Baseball season, most PR people working for the athletes' teams aren't afforded that luxury.
They must hit the ground running and be in midseason form every day. A perfect case in point, especially this year, is Staci Slaughter, VP of communications for the San Francisco Giants.
On March 7, news hit that an excerpt from Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports, a book detailing Giants left fielder Bonds' alleged abuse of steroids for the past five seasons, would run in that week's Sports Illustrated. Needless to say, a media frenzy quickly ensued.
It was the type of day, Slaughter says, when crisis communications skills are critical.
"I can't really get into specifics about that day, but those are the times when your crisis skills kick in while having to deal with a lot of media calls," Slaughter says. "In this situation, because the commissioner [Bud Selig] is reviewing it and there have been legal proceedings, we let the legal strategy take precedence over any PR strategy, if you will. So we can't really comment beyond that. But it's a busy day, that's for sure."
Some members of the Giants' PR staff were handling media inquiries on the ground in Scottsdale, AZ, the club's spring training base. Slaughter was stationed back in San Francisco.
"The reality is that we needed to be staffed in both cities," she says. "I have an extremely talented staff who are well-versed in handling tough situations. They were already in Scottsdale, and I was in San Francisco. We worked closely together to respond to the media calls in both cities."
Shana Daum, director of public affairs and community relations for the Giants, has worked with Slaughter since 1999. He says Slaughter's handling of the situation was a perfect example of how she refuses to micromanage.
"She didn't fly to Scottsdale when it all happened," Daum says. "She communicated with her staff, but let them handle it. She didn't come in and say, 'I'm taking over.' That's appreciated by all who work for her. She dealt with it and was on the phone, but she trusts her staff."
Daum describes Slaughter as a "strategizer" who constantly thinks about the big picture "and how what we do as an organization - and this traces back to her background in politics - affects our fans and the city."
The Giants have announced they will "celebrate appropriately" when Bonds hits his 715th home run to pass Babe Ruth for second on the all-time list. When asked if there was ever an organizational meeting about potential backlash from honoring Bonds though he's suspected of having cheated, Slaughter says, "I can't really comment on it publicly," but adds, "we've always recognized or done some type of celebration centered around his accomplishments."
Another major project Slaughter will undertake this year is promoting the latest name change of the ballpark. When the stadium opened in 2000, it was called Pac Bell Park. Two years ago, it was changed to SBC Park. With the recent SBC-AT&T merger, it will be changed again to AT&T Park. Slaughter says this will be a "very phased-in name change," taking about five months. The nature of the game itself is what will make the process a challenge, she says.
"Baseball is a very traditional sport," she says. "Change can be met with some resistance. However, I think the biggest message we're conveying to fans is that while the park's name is changing, the great experience they've come to enjoy isn't. They can expect to see the same type of competitive baseball in the same fan-friendly environment in 2006."
San Francisco Giants. Various posts leading to her current role as comms VP, which she assumed in 2003
Various political roles, including comms advisor to LA Mayor Richard Riordan (1993) and press secretary for SF Mayor Frank Jordan (1994-1996)