Thursday, July 4, 2013

Some Candid and Free PR Advice for J.P. Arencibia

Photo courtesy the outstanding Flickr stream of @james_in_to.
First off, let me cop to this: I never played the game.

So yeah, I have a hard time telling a player what he should do when he steps into the batter's box, and when a screaming line drive ticks off of a player's glove, I have to admit that the whistling sound that a baseball makes as it approaches you scares me silly.

But while I don't know that game, I can say that I've been a communications professional for more than 15 years. I've dealt with media and public relations and all manner of dark arts associated with influencing opinion. And over that time, I've learned a thing or two about how the whole machinery of influence works, and how a single negative press cycle can resonate for years, whether if it is deserved or not.

I'm sure that J.P. Arencibia has had lots of rudimentary media training over the years. But seeing his rapid decline from telegenic media darling to multimedia whipping boy, I thought I'd offer up my expertise and give the Jays' catcher some media relations advice.

I offer this up in a spirit of helpfulness. (And also, to fill some empty space on my blog...symbiosis!) I doubt that JPA will ever see it, but if he does, I hope that he takes this as genuine.

-Nobody wins in a knife fight: It was clear from your tweet last night that this was not spontaneous reaction. This is something that you'd been thinking about and plotting out, and you were given your opportunity to get back at the media hecklers for the many injuries that you'd borne over this season.

So you got your licks in. It probably felt good, too. For a moment, at least.

But when you take an angry or confrontational tone in the media - regardless of who your intended target is - it usually only serves to make you look as bad as they do.

In fact, I read a lot of tweets this morning from people who were not inclined to side with Gregg Zaun or Dirk Hayhurst and somehow found themselves incredulous at the fact that they were taking the side of your tormentors over yours. The fact that you took some unwarranted and mean-spirited shots at their baseball careers probably didn't help your case. Remember, this isn't the Jerry Springer show: The loudest insult or most bruising chair shot doesn't win the argument.

Frankly, everybody comes away from this incident looking bad. You smear Zaun with tenuous allegations about his use of PEDs, and undermine Hayhurst's credibility, but you also make yourself look like a petty bully with thin skin who would use the opportunity of a promotional interview for a charity event(!) to show settle scores.

It really wasn't pretty. And it definitely will change how people look at you. And not for the better.

-Respect the media, even when you don't respect the media: There are moments when you'll have to deal with members of the media that you don't care for. Maybe they don't ask pertinent questions, or maybe they torque stories up to make minor things seem worse than they are.

But ultimately, that's what the media does. Their job is to make noise. Maybe there are times where they are not particularly sympathetic or appreciative of the nuance of the story. But that's because part of the function they serve is to deliver messages to an audience in a fast and efficient manner, which means that they don't always have time to fluff up your side of the story to the masses.

When it comes to analysts like Hayhurst and Zaun, you have to understand that they are carnival barkers. They are there to promote the product, and bring people from their living rooms and into the baseball game. Sometimes that means speaking loudly without subtlety or shades of grey.

But whatever the shortcomings are of the media, you have to understand how awesomely powerful they still are in creating your story. Even in this age of disintermediation, where you can work around the media to talk directly to the people, you'll find that the average person is still heavily influenced by what they read or hear or see in the mainstream media.

If you're a public figure, and you're concerned about how you come off, you have to at least respect the media's ability to significantly affect that image.

Even if you think you're being treated unfairly, lobbing insults at the media will probably only serve to confirm to most people that they probably had you pegged right all along.  

-Only talk when it improves on the silence: One of the first things that people learn when they start to deal with the media is that they rarely come off as well as they think they should.

An aspect of this comes from the fact that we as people don't know when to cut ourselves off. We offer too much information that is extraneous to the core of what we really care about, and media can end up focussing on the trivial rather than the pertinent. 

This is why awful PR people like me will tell you not to deviate from your message, or to offer no comment at all. You really don't have a lot of control over the finished product of a media story about you, so your goal is to control the outcome of the story as much as you possibly can.

This can frustrate reporters, and can even even give them a bad impression of you. But ultimately, they can't print what you don't say on the record.

(And if you want a master class in how to do this without looking like a jerk, you should watch John Gibbons' interactions with the media. That dude is like Yoda when it comes to giving them nothing sharp with which they could later impale him.)

On the other hand, when you use the media as a way of venting your frustrations, you open yourself up to all sorts of subsequent questions and follow up and probing.

Trust me on this, J.P.: By the time the cock crows tomorrow morning, you'll have said that you just want to put this incident behind you and move on. But this story is going to keep following you. You'll be asked about it for as long as you're a Jay. And beyond.

-You are not your brand. Your brand is what you do: I would bet that there are 50 social media experts within a five minute walk of the Rogers Centre who would have highlighted you as a person who has developed a tremendous personal brand through social media.

People know that J.P. Arencibia brand. You're young and fun-loving. A bit of a joker. A dude from the south who loves hockey. Scruffily handsome. You've got a dog named Yogi. You're a sensitive guy, and you give your time an energy to noble charitable efforts. (Ahem.)

You've opened yourself up, and let people share parts of what makes you who you are. But all the personal stuff that you share is just scenery. It's background, and maybe it gives us some sense of depth so that we don't look at you like you're a circus animal.

From a consumer point of view, though, you can't forget that the vast majority of your value to us as baseball fans is your output as a baseball player. It's cruel, and unfair. It's dehumanizing, even.

But it's also why you have to separate yourself from the baseball player. You can have pride in your work, but as someone who is a sort of mass market product, you can't chase down every negative review that someone clumsily hurls in your direction.

So what I'm saying is the best way to enhance your image is to just be excellent. And if you can't be excellent, at least be positive.

-A final thought: Most everything that I write is supposed to be from the viewpoint of a fan, so let me close this off with some of that perspective.

As a fan, I always dislike having players emphasize their "otherness" from me. The "you never played the game" line probably works well with your teammates in the clubhouse, because you're all wrapped up within this extraordinary experience of being professional athletes together.

I will probably never understand how hard it is to play the game of baseball at the level you do. But you telling me that I don't understand such things just creates more distance between me as a fan and the players on the field.

In spite of the fact that I am completely and irrationally immersed in this sport, it's moments like this that remind me that I'm a grown man, and should probably be spending my time and money in more productive ways.

And if that's the feeling that a true believer and devoted follower of the Jays is taking away from this whole public relations fiasco, I can't imagine that was your intention when you cleared your throat and rubbed the sleep out of your eyes at 8:40 am this morning.


Chad said...

I do know what it's like to misplay a grounder to second base, so in that sense, Bonifacio makes feel like part of the game.

Oh, amd nice open letter. May it one day be read.

Christopher Blow said...

Great advice for JP. Now how about some advice for Dirk and Zaun and Sportsnet. If this all about performance - then they need to answer for their poor play too. Throw Campbell into the mix and we're talking about absolutely abysmal baseball television. Analysts like Hayhurst and Zaun clearly take pleasure trashing players - whether it's Escobar, Romero, JP, Bautista - whatever the flavour of the week is. It's not cool. On the web last month - someone at the network posted a picture of Dickey that said 'like' if you want him traded or something like that. It's pitiful and embarrassing. Mute buttons were designed for this kind of bullshit. I'm just grateful for MLB.TV so I don't have to get my baseball fix from these people anymore.

Chocolate & Running said...
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Chocolate & Running said...

I'm not a professional ball player nor will I ever be ... sorry J.P. if that offends you that I dare to have an opinion about you or the game you play ... but guess what? I do. I watch your games. I go to your games. I buy the merchandise. I cheer when you win. I groan when you don't win. And my opinion does matter because without people like me you wouldn't have a job.

And you aren't a child are old enough to know that the world isn't fair. We all get judged and criticized. You choose to play baseball and be a public figure so you are going to be judged more harshly and not in ways you enjoy BUT that is all part of the game. Please just be the loveable lucky go lucky home run hitting guy that we all know you to be ... play ball.