A shorter version of this article was originally published in PR Daily.
Springtime in America is synonymous with many things: blossoming flowers, Easter egg hunts and Spring Breaks. But for millions of Americans, spring is most commonly identified with the time of year in which our national past time, baseball, returns to the field. Since Cincinnati first fielded a team in 1869, many people from die-hard fans to novice supporters eagerly anticipate their team’s return to the diamond and hearing the umpire infamously yell, “play ball.”
Why hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports
Baseball is a game of intrigue; one in which players are often defined less by their athletic skill and more by their patience, coordination and mental toughness. Of particular interest with baseball are the metrics used to quantify whether or not an individual player’s career is considered elite. In most major American team sports, an individual player must complete his or her core skill with great efficiency and reoccurrence, usually more than 50% of the time, to be recognized as one of the greats. For example, Hall of Fame caliber NFL quarterbacks complete roughly 55% or more of their pass attempts, while the best basketball players of all-time shot an average of 50% – 60% from the field (excluding 3-pointers which are less and free throws which are more).
But the success metrics for which a baseball players’ career are measured by are significantly lower. In fact, a major league baseball player who gets a hit just 30% of the time throughout his career (3-10) will likely end up in Cooperstown, baseball’s Hall of Fame. That’s right, if a professional baseball player fails to get a hit 7 out of 10 times (excluding walks & sacrifices) for his career, that player will likely be voted as one of the best of all time! In no other sport, and in much of life, is so much failure rewarded with so much prestige.
Believe it or not, many sports enthusiasts argue that hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in all of sports. The deceptiveness of pitches, highlighted by changing velocity; weather conditions, and the actual physics and mechanics of a swing, are just a few reasons why even the best baseball players of past and present barely muster a hit 30% of the time. As most baseball fans know, in the entire history of the game, only 28 players have ever boasted a batting average of over .400 at seasons end, and only a very select few have even come close since Ted Williams last achieved the feat in 1941.
Hitting a .300 with the press
As a PR professional, I often consider media relations to be the most challenging tactic of the vocation – seemingly our version of hitting a baseball. Yet, most clients don’t fully understand the nuances and intricacies that are critical to consistently earning press. Simply put, media relations is not easy, and for many of the same reasons in which hitting a baseball is so hard. (Note: The privileged PR pros who serve clients like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, or Apple, can secure ink seemingly every time an executive flushes the toilet. But at some point in their career, they were batting .300 – trust me.)
Media relations are similar in complexity to hitting a baseball in large part because success is often achieved despite constraints that are outside of the PR professionals’ control. In baseball, for example, the hitter must constantly adjust to pitches that fluctuate in speed and placement among mitigating other uncontrollable conditions like wind, rain and the varying size of an umpire’s strike zone. Similarly, PR professionals are faced with a myriad of obstacles: rapidly changing news cycles; reporter deadlines; constraints to messaging; lofty client expectations – the list goes on and on. And like baseball players, PR professionals are expected to always perform; no matter how worthy the opponent is.
But the challenges faced by PR professionals are often undervalued. Think about it this way: If a PR professional, conducting a major media relations campaign, secures coverage in 3 out of the client’s top 10 primary target outlets, reaching a total of 5 million people across mediums, will the campaign be considered a success? The answer definitely depends somewhat on who the client is and what industry they serve, but its likely that the client would be discontent to some extent. But are the expectations and success metrics for press coverage fair? With baseball, fans have come to equate a lifetime batting average of .300 with greatness, yet in PR, those same metrics are all but certain to disappoint.
Don’t get me wrong – every PR professional worth a damn tries very hard to bat .1000 (10-10) with media relations, just like every baseball player tries to get a hit, or at least attempts to get on base, every time they come up to the plate. But sometimes the pitcher is just too good and sometimes the news cycle just isn’t cooperating. Now and again the weather impacts a players ability to track the ball, while a reporter receives a last minute assignment and has to cancel a story. And no matter how hard it is to believe, sometimes a reporter just says, “no, I’m not interested.”
Managing the umpire’s (client) expectations
Where many PR professionals can improve is in how they manage the expectations of their clients while also showing them the support and enthusiasm that they deserve. A good PR person knows when and how to incorporate objective, realistic thinking without minimizing value, accountability or perception. Sometimes, no matter how good the pitch is, or how well the story is positioned, you’re just not going to secure ink – and the client needs to know it. It’s sort of like hitting a line drive, but the third baseman prevents the double by making a great diving catch. The hitter did everything correctly, the hit just wasn’t meant to be.
Much as baseball fans have come to equate a lifetime batting average of .300 with greatness, so too must PR clients come to associate this same metric as one that is indicative of media relations success, more often than not. For as it stands now, baseball players are immortalized for hitting .300, while PR firms are often fired for it.
At ARPR, we take pride in educating our clients on the media relations process and in always reinforcing how earned media fits into our larger approach to integrated communications. Click here to view our 360 degree approach and how we #makenews.