The Puck Stops Here: What I Learned From Sports PR

By Daniela Espinosa

Last Tuesday, March 27, I was fortunate to attend PRSA Tampa Bay’s event “The Puck Stops Here,” featuring marketing and communications leaders from the Tampa Bay Lightning and Amalie Arena. The luncheon included a panel with Bill Wickett, executive vice president of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Brian Breseman, director of public relations, and Angela Lanza, sr. manager of event marketing. They opened the room for a discussion about their day-to-day duties, including sharing stories about overseeing public relations and marketing for one of the top sports franchises in the nation, as well one of Tampa Bay’s busiest event venues.

Daily jobs for the Tampa Bay Lightning PR and marketing teams include handling media interviews and press conferences, along with creating content for their own broadcasting, social media and websites. The teams are also heavily involved in community outreach programs focusing a lot on volunteer work with the community prior to playoff season. The Community Hero program, for example, is well known for acknowledging and rewarding people who have served the Tampa Bay area.

If the Lightning makes it to the playoffs and into the Stanley Cup final, the National Hockey League takes over most of the public relations efforts. The team here at Amalie Arena then retreats to the locker room—meaning they are in charge of interviews and making sure there is enough content for broadcasting and other forms of media.

For non-hockey activities in Amalie Arena, public relations specialists must help with planning events several months ahead of time, coordinating media engagement and making sure customer satisfaction continues to be great.

Now, while I am a fan of sports, I felt a little out of place walking into the event. I was not 100-percent sure that sports PR would be the right fit for me. I wondered if the panel would be useful for my own future in public relations.

In the end, I was thrilled to have heard Lanza, Breseman and Wickett speak about their experiences. Perhaps the most important piece of advice I got was when I spoke with Bill Wickett privately. It was simple, but nonetheless incredibly true. He said that you must be fearless and aggressive in your chosen career. Wickett shared that, in order to get experience in the field, you must reach out to people, put yourself out there, accept criticism, deal with difficult situations and learn from them. PR is an incredibly competitive field, so you cannot hang back and expect things will just work out.

The rest of the panel provided a lot of useful information, even for those who may not be entirely interested in sports PR.

Wickett and Breseman spoke proudly about how running a top sports franchise across all U.S. leagues means that everything starts from the top down. In order to have great customer service and a beneficial relationship with the public, you need to start by building strong internal relationships. A team that cannot work well together cannot connect well with its audience.

This means there needs to be consistent change and continuous improvement. You have to ask yourself, “What skills are you personally lacking? What do you believe your team can do better? What is one way you and your team can be better prepared for a possible issue?”

That last question brings up a huge point that the Lightning PR team touched on: Crisis communication plans are a necessity. Uncertainty is always an issue, especially in sports PR. Challenges like not knowing whether to alert the media about a possible injury on the team before a game, or having a concert act cancel at the last minute must be dealt with immediately and responsibly. The crisis communications plan needs to be adaptable, and it needs to include provisions for owning up to whatever mistakes the organization might have made.

Besides communications plans for emergencies, an individual in public relations has to work side by side with the media. Wickett said that working with the media involves a mix of giving them what they want while also trying to achieve your own objectives. In other words, you must be able to compromise with the specific goal in mind. As Wickett stated, “The main thing is listening.”

I feel fortunate to have gained insight on how the Tampa Bay Lightning public relations and marketing teams work together. The chance to speak and learn from the panel has encouraged me to be more proactive and get my foot in the door. After all, experience leads to wisdom.






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