SUMMARY: Want to attract more sponsors to your club? Need more players to boost your competitiveness? Like to reach more supporters in your local community? Then why not take advantage of the free media opportunities at your disposal. In this article, we interviewed award winning media journalist Luke Waters to discover the “insider” secrets to leveraging the free media in your neighbourhood to boost your clubs community profile. You’ll be shocked at how simple and powerful these strategies really are!

Background

Picture this: You have been tasked to launch two new AFL franchise clubs in the rugby league strong holds of the Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney?

Faced with stiff opposition from the NRL and an audience with little or no interest in Australian rules football, how would you go about it?

You could of course spend millions in advertising. But the problem is your advertising messages are likely to fall on deaf ears deep in the heart of rugby league country.

On the other hand, you could think outside the box and recruit some of rugby leagues biggest stars to build a “buzz” around the new franchises and create the intriguing proposition of whether or not they can truly make it in the AFL.

As you know, this is the exact scenario unfolding right now. And regardless of whether you agree with the AFL’s decision to recruit league stars Israel Falou and Karmichael Hunt, few could argue with the media return they have generated for their new franchise clubs.

Analysts already estimate their signings have produced over $9 million worth of free publicity for the new franchises and an enormous amount of interest from the rugby league world – and the 2011 season is still almost a year away!

What’s more, their signings have virtually guaranteed rugby league followers everywhere will now tune in to the 6 o’clock news for years to come, just to see how the AFL’s newest converts are going in the new franchise clubs.

So with the enormous amount of free publicity and interest that the AFL have been able to create within the media, we thought we’d examine the question: “How can every day community clubs copy the AFL’s lead and leverage the media to build stronger community brands, attract more sponsors and supporters, and sign more players?”

We decided to ask award winning journalist Luke Waters. Here is what he said.

About Luke Waters

Luke Waters is an award winning senior journalist, presenter and media professional with a wealth of practical experience and formal qualifications in both journalism and workplace training and assessment. During his media career, Luke has presented national and state news bulletins for the Ten Network and co-presented national breakfast television news for the ABC.

In addition to filing for a range of news bulletins across Australia, Luke has worked on the 7:30 Report, Stateline, Lateline, Australia Network, SBS World News and more.

Luke is also an accredited and experienced media trainer having trained clients from a number of diverse backgrounds, including AFL football.

By Why Engage The Media At All?

Well according to Luke, “When you have a player considering which club he is going to go to, or a sponsor in a given country town or metropolitan area looking at directing some funding towards a club, they are all going to make an assessment of your club.”

“If your club is regularly in the local and mainstream media or has a Facebook page or website that has an enormous amount of hits, you will demonstrate to prospective players and sponsors that your club is proactive in the media. And in this case, would-be player or sponsor, will in my view, every single time go to the club that has the proactive media strategies in place.”

There are of course other benefits as well, including:

  • Stronger brand identity within your local community,
  • Greater advertising reach to promote your club, events and sponsors,
  • Greater involvement with your supporters and local community,
  • All without spending a single cent on marketing!

Luke certainly made a strong case for community clubs to engage the media, but how should clubs go about it?

# 1. Free Publicity

According to Luke, one of the smartest ways for football clubs to leverage the media is free publicity.

As Luke told us, “Media at a local level is a very hungry beast and is always looking for good content, and by virtue of the fact that it involves a football club, there is a real chance an event at your club may seize the attention of the local newsroom.”

Luke further explained: “An event at your club may not seem like much at first, but with the right media savvy, it can be made into a real “positive” news story, which in turn can generate some very positive outcomes for your club and any associated sponsors.”

With this in mind, we asked Luke how grassroots club could generate free publicity from their local media and this is what he told us.

a. Appoint a Media Liaison

According to Luke, clubs should first start by appointing someone to the role of media liaison on behalf of the club.

The appointed person should be a good communicator both in print and face-to-face. They should also be tasked with identifying and getting to know the local media in your area. This means getting to know the local journalists at your local radio station, local newspaper and local community news. If possible, your media liaison should also try to network and meet with the local media wherever possible to try and build a relationship.

As your appointed media liaison person gets to know the local media in your area, they will also get a better idea as to what news stories they may be interested in covering.

Your media liaison will of course also be responsible for coordinating any media activities your club attempts and undertakes.

As a side benefit, performing the role of “media liaison” for your club also looks good on a resume and is an excellent way of improving one’s chances of employment outside of football. This fact could certainly be used to attract volunteers and recruit the right person.

b. Identify Events and Issues That May Be of a Media Interest

Once a media liaison has been appointed, the most obvious next step is for them to sit down with the committee and playing group, and brainstorm ideas.

As Luke explained it to us, “If I were at a club, I would sit down with my coaching group and committee. I would also get a couple of players from each of the demographics on the list; maybe a couple of the younger players, a couple of middle aged players and a couple of the older players”.

“As a group, I would then collectively brainstorm and try to identify some of the positive issues and events at your club that may appeal to the local or mainstream media.”

Some possible newsworthy examples Luke offered (based on his experience in the media) include:

  • The coach having twins;
  • A large group of family members playing together in the same team;
  • Three guys in the firsts turning 21 in the same week;
  • An amazing achievement such as someone coaching, playing or even officiating in their 400th game;
  • A club function welcoming back past premiership players;
  • A club celebrating a 50 year anniversary since their last premiership, but how the team is doing well again this year;
  • You could also check the local papers and listen to the radio to find out what types of articles interest the editors, readers and listeners.

Luke once again reiterated that while an event or issue may not appear to have any media appeal at first, there is a real chance it can be made into a real “positive” news story with the right media savvy.

c. Pitch Your Story To The Media

Once your club identifies a newsworthy event, the next step would be to pitch it to your local media.

If your club already has a strong relationship with the local media in your area, then pitching your story may be as simple as your media liaison phoning or emailing their media contacts.

If they don’t however, your club will need to develop a media release (or press release) to send out.

A media release is written or recorded communication directed at members of the news media for the purpose of announcing something claimed as having news value.

You can Google “media release” and find some information on how to write one on the internet. However Luke also offered this important “insider” advice to increase the chances of your story being picked up.

i). Make sure your media release has a strong, attention grabbing headline.

The headline is often the most important part of a news story because it influences how many people will ultimately read or tune into it. Make sure your headline is catchy and seizes attention. You can possibly look at other headlines in the various newspapers to get some ideas. You should also develop a list of different headlines and ask other people which ones they think captures their attention best, before running with the most popular.

ii). Send your media release to the editorial decision maker.

If possible, Luke also recommends identifying the person in your local newsroom who has editorial decision making power and email them your press release. This may not always be possible, and if this is the case, then you can simply go to your media’s website and find where to send a press release at their “contact us” page.

iii). Follow up with a phone call

Luke also strongly recommends following up with the editorial staff. In fact, this may even be more important than sending the release itself.

As Luke explains, “News organisations receive hundreds and hundreds of media releases everyday and it is so easy for your media release to be filed in the bin.

That’s why I recommend always following up your media release with a phone call or email and saying something like ‘Hi it’s John Smith from [Your Football Club]. I am phoning to see if you got the information I sent about [subject]? Did you need any more information? Is it something you are considering? What do we need to do to make it a story?’ That way you’ll know if the editorial decision maker is considering your proposal or not.”

Luke recommends waiting 1 to 2 days after sending your release before following up. This is because editorial staff are always busy people and it may take them a while to get through all the media releases which they have received.

iv). Don’t rule out pitching your story to the mainstream media

One point Luke also stresses is that it is important you do not rule out pitching your story to the wider mainstream media, not just your local media.
In regional Western Australia for example, a footy club may identify their local media as the local newspaper, the local radio station and the local community newspaper. If that team however had a story that had wider media appeal, they could also consider pitching it to mainstream programs such as ‘Dateline’ or ‘Stateline’ as well.

As Luke explained, “One thing you need to be aware of is that while I work in the mainstream media, I’ve gone to the country to cover stories on guys who have played 600 games of football. I’ve gone to the country to do stories on guys who have traveled huge distances just to play football. One group made their own special team and came to Melbourne from the outback to play a group of guys who were disadvantaged through homelessness and mental illness. That made the ‘7:30 Report’ and got national coverage, yet no-one thought it was a story at the time.”

v). Take rejections gracefully and try again another time.

Luke also stresses that if you get a “no” to your release, it is extremely important to accept it gracefully. You do not want to risk alienating the editorial staff for any future pitches. You should also listen closely to any feedback they give you about your release for next time. Maybe they just didn’t run the story because of the timing?

# 2. Leverage the Power Of Social Media

In the old days, clubs relied on printed newsletters to communicate with their players and supporters.

But with the advent of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, clubs can now move beyond simple newsletters and engage supporters and members in a more wonderfully inclusive way. Best of all, you can do it quickly and easily and without any cost to your club.

For this reason, Luke strongly recommends clubs create their own Facebook page and Twitter profile and after researching these mediums ourselves, we strongly agree.

Facebook is now the second most visited website in Australia, and depending on which statistical source you trust, has somewhere between 8 to 9 million active users in Australia alone. In fact, the average person now spends more time reading their Facebook than they do reading their emails.

In case you are new to social media, here are some Facebook and Twitter pages from the AFL which you can set up and copy within minutes.

AFL Facebook Pages

West Coast Eagles
Essendon Bombers
Sydney Swans
Collingwood Magpies
Hawthorn Hawks

Twitter Profiles

Adelaide Crows
Fremantle Dockers
Collingwood Magpies
Sydney Swans
Geelong Cats

As you can see, creating a Facebook page and Twitter profile for your club is a wonderful way to involve and communicate with your supporters.

Facebook may even be better than having your own website. To start with, posting content is a heck of a lot easier to do on Facebook. Furthermore, you don’t have to rely on your supporters visiting your website each week to keep informed. You can inform them about events and results the second you post it to your Facebook page. How’s that for powerful!

Here are just a few ideas on how you can use social media to market your club:

  • Engage your club’s supporters by starting “discussions” about upcoming games and events and letting them “comment” on your posts. Not only will they stay better informed about news and events, you can also create a “buzz” around certain events and increase their level of involvement with the club.
  • Use the “Facebook Events” application to promote your club events and invite supporters and members. One of the benefits of promoting an event on Facebook is the ease in which your supporters and members can pass on your invites to others. It’s an extremely powerful word-of-mouth marketing tool.
  • Promote your Facebook page and Twitter profile to potential sponsors. Businesses are always interested in a) being aligned to strong local brands within their communities, and b) targeted mailing lists of warm prospects familiar with their hosts. You can offer both to your sponsors through your club’s Facebook page and Twitter profile.
  • You can also link your Twitter profile to your Facebook account. Every time you post a message on Facebook, it will automatically be posted to your Twitter account.

Of course, the value of your Facebook page to your club and sponsors is strongly linked to the number of fans your Facebook page has. So here are some other ideas to build up your list.

  • Encourage (even require) those players, committee members and staff who have Facebook accounts to become a fan of your page.
  • Encourage your players, committee members and staff to invite their Facebook friends to support your club by becoming fans as well. They can do so by simply posting a message on their Facebook walls, asking their friends to support your club by becoming a fan.
  • Consider publishing your Facebook page on any print newsletters, club letterheads, email signature files, marketing flyers, website and any other communications your club sends out.
  • You could also possibly consider handing out flyers or something similar to fans and supporters who visit your games, promoting your new Facebook page. You could also link it in to a competition to give them further incentive to become fans.
  • Reach out to former players on Facebook using the “find” feature and invite them to become fans as well. Former players always like hearing about how their old club is going and it is a great way to stay in contact with them.

As you can see, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are extremely powerful marketing tools, however Luke pointed out that it also creates the potential for people to post inappropriate comments onto your page.

This has the subsequent potential to fall into the hands of the mainstream media who may inexplicitly link those comments to your club.

As Luke explained, “In Melbourne for example, a cricketer posted some racially offensive comments on his local club’s Facebook page about another predominantly Jewish cricket club in their league. These comments were eventually leaked to the mainstream media and inexplicitly linked to the club. The club was embarrassed and the player subsequently given a 2 year ban. That how easy it can happen!”

Luke therefore recommends clubs have a robust strategy in place for their social media content, outlining a strong policy of what people can and can’t post to your page. This strategy should include what to do when inappropriate content is posted to your page, effectively so it can be removed before anyone else (namely sponsors and the mainstream media) can see it.

# 3. Crisis Management

Out of all the media strategies a club can take, Luke finally emphasized that crisis management is perhaps the most important of all as this is where clubs are most exposed.

Luke gave us the following fictitious example to demonstrate his point.

Imagine your next club function. Awards are handed out, players and supporters have a great time and the bar takes in a healthy profit. At closing time the taxis queue and happy patrons are bussed home.

Slowly, however, word passes through the club that two under 19 players decided to drive home. The pair was involved in an accident. Both players survived, but their 18-year old female passenger was killed. One player was hospitalised with non-life threatening injuries and the other, the driver remained in police custody. Both are nice lads from good families who just made a bad decision.

The next day, players, supporters and officials return to the club to discuss their tragedy and crisis. They weren’t alone. Media camera crews comb the car park for evidence of the overnight revelry. The club is asked to comment to the media, and oblige. It is decided the coach will front the media. It is a well intentioned gesture, and after a briefing from the President and Secretary, the coach walks out to front the media with four broadcast cameras trained on his every move.

Then come the questions:

How could the club let this happen? Will the boys be allowed back to the club? Does the club condone excessive alcohol consumption? Is the drinking culture of football responsible? Why didn’t the club arrange transport?  Will they play this weekend? What effect will it have on sponsors, supporters and possible recruits? Have you ever driven a car over the legal blood alcohol limit?

Each question is a ticking time-bomb laced with the potential to destroy the coach and the club’s reputation.

While this example is once again fictitious, Luke emphasized that such news stories involving community sporting clubs occur with frightening regularity.

As Luke explained to us, “If there is a sexual assault, a fatal car accident, a racially motivated incident, an alcohol fuelled assault or anything similar, and it can be linked to a football club, the media will jump on it straight away. And they will deploy whatever resources they can find to make sure they speak to anyone associated with the club to get a comment.”

Luke further explained, “Football clubs are made up of a demographic of risk taking young males. And when you run a football club, you encourage these young men on the ground to take risks. What these same young men are exposed too however off the field, is alcohol, possibly illicit drugs, females around the club, and cultural diversity issues, and while we can educate as best as we can educate, there are always going to be slip ups from time to time.”

For this reason, Luke strongly recommends for football clubs to have is a crisis management strategy in place so that if and when a slip up occurs, the fallout is minimized. This is can be as simple as having people in your club trained in how to conduct basic interviews, how to deliver crisis or holding statements, how to deflect tricky questions and more.

Conclusion

If attracting sponsors and players is crucial to your success as a club, then leveraging the media has to be one of the best ways to give your club an edge!

With a bit of elbow grease and imagination, you may be able to lift your clubs profile in your local community newspaper, radio and television channel. Who knows, you may even be able to hit the mainstream media as well.

And with the advent of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, you can now engage and communicate with your local community like never before.
This all adds up to a more inclusive and recognisable brand for your club, and can only increase your chances of signing more players and attracting more sponsors and supporters.

Best of all, apart from being one of the most powerful forms of marketing available, media publicity and social media are both free, free, free! You’d be crazy not to put them to work for your club!

Of course, there is also a dark side to the media that clubs may not realize – that is, the specter of a public relations crisis. Try as you may, the fact is football clubs are typically made up of young risk taking males and if the media can link a negative event to a football club, they will be all over your club faster than a speeding bullet.

These are all compelling reasons why your club should develop a robust media strategy to maximize positive media exposure and limit the damage of any potentially negative incidents.

SIDEBAR: Luke has developed 3-hour media training course, specifically designed for football clubs. Its aim is to show clubs how to take advantage of local and social media. Subjects covered include marketing fundamentals for print, radio, television and online media; key message development; interview technique for match reports and crisis management; practical role play scenarios to hone interview techniques; how to promote your club with social media and more.

You can find out more by visiting Luke’s website at http://www.saltwatermediasolutions.com.au/ or by phoning Luke personally on 0418 147 157.

Thanks Luke for giving us your insights!
Title photo by Kerrie via: freeforcommercialuse.org.

Posted by David Johnson

David “Johnno” Johnson is our chief football researcher and writer. With over 20 years of coaching experience in all grades of football David was also a prominent footballer himself, having played at Teal Cup level and was even recruited by the Essendon Football Club. The pinnacle of David's coaching experience saw him as the assistant coach of the East Fremantle Shark Football Club in the WAFL for a number of years.

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