A calming presence can make all the difference

By Scott Hanson


Baseball RefereeAfter three decades of officiating high school sports and working in the public relations industry, Evelyn John Holtzhausen, president of our global PR network, PRGN, and head of a successful agency in Cape Town, South Africa, asked me if there were any parallels between the two.

Great question and yes, there are:

Media Relations – Just as we want to make sure the broadcast media pronounce our clients names and businesses correctly and that the flow of information to our target audiences is as smooth as possible, so, too, it is important that the in-stadium announcer and broadcast team can pronounce the names of the officials, that the on-field producer communicates with the referee when the broadcast has returned from commercial breaks, both in-stadium and external broadcast crews make sure that the referee’s microphone is in proper working order.  Also, discussions with in-stadium scoreboard and clock operators to confirm their competence and understanding of the officials’ signals is right in line with making sure our spokespeople know their key messages and talking points.

Crisis Communication – Live sporting events, particularly football games, create an energy-charged, highly emotional environment for those involved, often putting coaches and players in what they perceive to be crisis situations.  Remaining calm and providing them with answers to appropriate questions can help derail an escalating situation or avert any unnecessary volatility. And any PR person who’s dealt with a crisis knows that their calming presence can make all the difference.

Special Event Management – A sporting event, like all special events, has a timeline that must be adhered to. Pre-game and half-time schedules must be timed appropriately.  For example, the band must complete the national anthem on time, allowing both teams to take the field with enough time so the coin-toss can be conducted so the game can start on time.  The same with half-time activities. This is especially true if the game is going to be broadcast on radio or TV as the stations have designated time in their schedule to air the program.  There are also other considerations that must be addressed, including communication channels with game site management, security and any governing body that needs to be kept updated.

Internal Communication – Your internal audience can’t be ignored in the communication channel. Pre-game conversations with the officiating crew to ensure that each member knows his roles and responsibilities on each play is no different than making sure your account services team members knows their roles and responsibilities at the office.  Conversations, along with both verbal and visual signals between plays (or your team) maintain seamless and ongoing communication throughout the contest.

Public Affairs – Taking input from the various interested parties, such as band directors, athletic directors, coaches and captains, creates a common theme of integrity, sportsmanship and competition that is beneficial and rewarding to everyone participating, including those in attendance and those in the surrounding community. Oftentimes, as PR practitioners, we have to gauge public opinion and seek out the views of those most impacted by our clients’ projects.

Community Relations – Officiating any sport can be seen as a way to give back to that particular sport.  Demonstrating professionalism through both appearance and performance are key to being a steward of the game.  An important part of a successful PR strategy should include an element of “doing good while doing well.”

It does appear that officials earn their PR stripes in each and every game.


Scott Hanson

Who is Gym
“What is rapidly becoming lost Arizona history is captured in these fascinating stories about the names behind high schools and their sports venues.”

… is President of HMA Public Relations, in Phoenix Arizona – a full-service marketing communications and public relations firm that has the vision and experience to secure recognition for its clients by providing them with many distinct services that deliver results.

* Scott is also the author of Who is Gym, stories behind Arizona’s High School sports players and venues.

To Order Books Visit: www.whoisgym.com

To Contact Author: shanson@hmapr.com

More information

Official Website of HMA Public Relations: hmapr.com

Purchase the Book: The Stories Behind Arizona’s High School Sports Venues

About Public Relations Global Network

Clients across six continents depend on the combined resources of the Public Relations Global Network (PRGN) to deliver targeted public relations campaigns in markets around the world. With revenues of more than $110 million (U.S.D.), PRGN is one of the world’s largest international public relations networks. PRGN harnesses the resources of approx. 50 independent public relations firms and more than 900 communications professionals to connect international companies and organizations with individual and culturally diverse markets globally. Visit PRGN online at www.prgn.com or on twitter at @PRGN.

9 thoughts on “Officiating Sports: A Lot Like PR

  1. Scott – I’ve always thought that the best strategic counsel we can give from a PR perspective is a calm and thoughtful response. Nice to see that you use that approach in sports, too. Great blog. Cheers, David Landis, LCI, San Francisco

  2. Great blog Scott, certainly many similarities between sports and PR – I think that keeping a cool head is always a must.

  3. Hi Scott – I agree…just as you’ve highlighted here, there are many jobs/professions that share similar attributes with our work in PR — especially with regards to crisis communications. From an argument with your significant other to dealing with a rogue referee to helping a client save face after an unfortunate business decision, the skills we use in the office every day are oftentimes just as helpful after normal business hours, too. Thanks for sharing your insight. – David Cumpston

  4. The late Wayne Gretzky said, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” I believe that can be said about people who do media relations as a living. We need to anticipate where the story may go, which is why public affairs is SO important. Great post, Scott. I enjoyed the comparison between sports and PR.

  5. Scott, the Warriors needed your reffing during the Cavs series!

    You are absolutely spot on with crisis communications — a calming presence can make a huge difference.

  6. Enjoyed your post, Scott – and nodded enthusiastically when you brought up internal audiences. If the team isn’t behind you, how can you win? Thanks for the considered blog.

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