Posted: March 24, 2015, 11:33 p.m.
by Ethan Wiggins.
On March 12, 2015, baseball history was made, but more importantly, a valuable public relations lesson was taught. Will Ferrell became the first MLB player to play 10 positions for 10 different teams in one day. In an attention-grabbing effort to raise $1 million for Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) and Cancer for College, the 47-year-old comedic genius toured the MLB’s Cactus League for a day.
Ferrell’s day began at 9:30 a.m. EST. He was interviewed on ESPN’s Mike & Mike radio show where he outlined his tour and, of course, he told the hosts his personal ambitions for the day: “What if today I play out of my mind, and what if I make the regular roster? . . . That’s kind of what the goal of today is — I’m hoping to land with a club.”
Ferrell then headed to the Oakland Athletics’ spring training facility to prepare for his first start of the day. Upon arrival, Ferrell declined all press interviews— a public relations sin, but when it’s Will Ferrell, it only enhances the show.
“I can’t talk right now. I’m in beast mode,” Ferrell said.
It was clear that Ferrell was taking his baseball play seriously throughout the whole day. The actor stayed in “beast mode” all day — never cracking a smile. Ferrell even made a couple of unexpected plays in the outfield.
Perhaps Ferrell’s most beneficial role was as the Cubs’ third base coach. Instead of using the normal intensely coded hand signals, Ferrell opted for giant signs with important information, such as “Don’t steal,” “Swing hard” and “You are sooo handsome.”
The lesson that this event taught public relations practitioners may be learned from MLB commissioner Robert Manfred Jr. The MLB is a very historic and traditional sports league, waiting until only this past year to incorporate instant replays into the game — a feature that has been used for over a decade in the NFL and NBA. Critics of the MLB have always said that the league “takes itself too seriously.” This criticism is one of the main perceptions that the new MLB commissioner is trying to change.
By acknowledging the true seriousness of spring training — or lack thereof — Manfred showed sports fans that the MLB has changed and believes Ferrell’s event was about fun and charity, not an interference of competition.
“Spring Training affords an appropriate setting where our game can serve as the backdrop for an event that will benefit organizations that fight cancer. Will is a big fan of our game, and many of us in baseball — among our clubs, players and our millions of fans — are big fans of his. Major League Baseball is happy to take part in what will surely be a fun and memorable day for a great cause,” Manfred said in an MLB.com article.
Ferrell’s coaching signs were emblematic of Manfred’s beliefs of having a “fun and memorable day” and the spring training setting, as another of Ferrell’s cards said, “Remember these games don’t count.”
Life can be rough for any public relations practitioner, but the key lesson to be learned from the MLB and Will Ferrell is that when trying to reach certain audiences during appropriate situations, don’t take your organization too seriously, because it will only distance you from the target audience. Have fun and use humor to your advantage because in this modern world of hard work and struggle, people look to humor for relief.
“Stay classy,” public relations world.