Five Lessons Sportswriting Taught Me About Public Relations

As a college student at the University of Arizona, I was in the same boat as many of my fellow students trying to decide what to do after graduation. But, I was sure of two things: I liked to write and I liked sports.

I applied on a whim for a job with the student newspaper working on the sports desk, and before I knew it, I was named sports editor for the paper, managing coverage of a large-scale athletics department and one of the best men’s college basketball programs in the country.

I loved my time at the student paper, but upon graduating, I took a job with a sports marketing firm and transitioned from journalist to public relations professional. Luckily, journalism experience transfers quite well into the public relations field, and I even found that my background in sports writing helped me become a better public relations professional. Here are a few of the lessons from my days as a sports writer that created a foundation for what I know about public relations today:

#1. How to pitch

Sports journalists do not receive a flood of pitches and press releases like journalists on other beats or those staffing assignment desks. Sports writers are typically assigned to a sport or even a specific team and focus on covering news and feature stories just on that particular topic. This often requires them to find the story on their own and pitch those new or unique ideas to their editors.

Instead of learning by encountering good or bad pitches, I learned the valuable skill of searching for the story in each game and athlete. In public relations, your clients will appreciate any time you can find and craft a newsworthy story on their behalf. 

#2. Writing on deadline

Sports writers often have to write and finalize game recaps within only a couple of hours after a game ends so that editors, designers, and other staff can wrap up newspaper or website content for readers.

In public relations, being able to write quickly and write well all while following AP Style guidelines is a critical skillset and one I was able to hone during my days as a sports writer.

#3. Learn from the best

Those who write about collegiate athletic programs work closely with a sports information director who provides statistics, organizes interviews, moderates press conferences and media days and much more. Observing this communications role closely reveals the importance of making the media’s job as easy as possible.

As a public relations professional, providing all of the resources a journalist needs to put together a story about your clients such as quotes, statistics, photos and video, is one of the best ways to ensure coverage.

#4. Keep your relationships

Your former journalist colleagues are your best friends. As a public relations professional, you never know when you’re going to be reaching out to an old coworker who happens to write for the publication you want to pitch. Those who worked with you in the past will trust you not to pitch something that is not newsworthy.

#5. Sports are everywhere

I have handled plenty of non-sports related clients and somehow, sports always sneaks its way back in. Professional and college teams play a role in local events and the economy, make a difference in the community and provide opportunities for your clients in ways you might not expect.

Through working with the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, I observed the boosted tourist draw that its museum gave its home, Springfield, Massachusetts and the positive partnerships created with the hotels and venues around the nation that hosted its tournaments.

Besides the logistical benefits, sports harness a winning attitude and bring people with a mutual craving for victory together. As often as journalists transition into communications roles, the boosted power of that mindset and grit will motivate a public relations team and carry well into any career.


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