Published on April 18, 2019, at 9:15 p.m.
by Cassidy Anderson.
Communicating on behalf of any organization as a public relations professional relies on knowing its audience; it doesn’t matter the industry. However, communicating on behalf of a professional team or an athletic department veers off of the normal PR path. Creating a strong brand for any team in today’s market relies on the successful melding of both graphic design and social media output.
Nate Kurant, director of promotions for the Charleston RiverDogs, said that in the case of professional sports organizations, taking the traditional PR approach to communication is virtually obsolete; graphics and social media are picking up steam.
“These days it has shifted especially for our style of business to not need a traditional PR director,” said Kurant. “I think teams just need to have a good social media presence to be successful.”
Organizations ranging from Minor League Baseball teams to collegiate athletic departments are taking advantage of technological advances that generate more exposure; they’re enhancing their graphic design. In his book, “The Why of Sports Graphic Design,” Steve Wilson surveyed 100 sports marketing professionals. Close to 100% of those polled said that graphic design played an important role in the success of their programs. Though not all respondents’ organizations employed professional designers, the emphasis on the vitality of graphic designers remains.
“If you can get good strong images, and combine them with even just a little design, you can create power. If you can draw the eye, you have the attention. Why would you write a ton of copy about your night?” said Kurant. “Use strong images and graphics and let the people come to you. It’s why McDonald’s puts enormous pictures of their burgers on the menu. It’s why movie posters exist. It baffles me when people don’t give the appropriate due to graphic design. A good graphic is a shortcut.”
Kurant stated that “a picture is worth 1,000 words,” in support of sports graphic design; however, sometimes those graphics can backfire.
“A big phase currently is that every holiday needs a graphic. And it doesn’t matter that your program/brand has nothing to do with that holiday. This really backfired for Florida State football recently when they put up a graphic of Martin Luther King Jr. with a Florida State Football glove on doing the Tomahawk Chop,” said Assistant Director of Graphic Design for Crimson Tide Productions Janelle MacLaughin.
The graphic blew up on social media causing the department to issue an apology for its bad judgment.
MacLaughlin considers Twitter and other social media outlets to be sources of inspiration in her day-to-day design work for The University of Alabama’s athletic department, and the worst thing a team could do would be to put out something off brand.
No matter the caliber, all teams thrive when they are triumphant, but consistent wins are not always feasible.
“As much as designers or departments hate to admit it, the strategy for your sport really depends on the amount of tickets you sell and fans you have,” said MacLaughlin.
So, she said, in situations like UMBC during its March Madness run last year or the Citadel when it was only down one or two touchdowns against Alabama this year in football. Doing something different, on Twitter specifically, allowed these teams to reach a new audience they may have never been able to if they had put out run of the mill score updates.
On the flip side, teams should be strategic about the content they post. It’s one thing to be original, but it’s another to put something out for no purpose other than solely fishing for engagement, according to Kurant.
“Minor League Twitter accounts do anything they can to strike up any engagement, but a random team saying they’re celebrating #NationalGreenGrassDay or whatever isn’t anything. They’re throwing out anything they can hoping to get a like or retweet, but the content stinks,” said Kurant.
In MacLaughlin and the Alabama Men’s Basketball team’s case at the end of the 2018-2019 season, the quality of the content on social media was ignored due to the lack of success of the team. It became more of an outlet for fans to express their frustration than a showcase of the brand.
The importance of both graphic design and social media when communicating with sports organizations’ publics cannot be stressed enough. It may seem foreign to PR professionals to rely on the intertwining of the two rather than traditional means of communication, such as a press release. But when a campaign is successful, it can yield substantial results.