Yesterday, I introduced you to media operations, specifically as it relates to the sporting world (I just wrapped up the London Summer Games).
When I first started working in media operations, I quickly found major differences from PR.
It is a selling environment where you are constantly trying to identify opportunities and devise story angles in order to generate publicity.
Media operations is in many ways the opposite: Reactive and much more service-based, though both rely on excellent media relations skills.
At first I found it strange not to be concerned with the messaging aspects, but that is the PR department’s job and not my primary concern in these positions.
I almost felt guilty, like I wasn’t doing my job properly but it also felt rather liberating to be able to concentrate simply on providing a service.
Whilst I am not working in PR specifically on these events, I still get a valuable insight into the communications issues that arise and how they are dealt with. I work closely with the PR departments and take lessons from how they work in these situations that I can apply when I return to my PR world.
One thing I really enjoy is getting to work all day, face-to-face with journalists. Even though I certainly made good relationships in my agency world, I have been able to make far deeper, longer lasting media relationships through these more personal situations. It is far easier to build relationships when you meet people in person and especially when you are the one helping them get interviews and facilitating them, rather than asking something of them.
Top Media Ops Tips
(I have many more and can happily debate specific practices so please do contact me if have any specific questions)
- Teamwork is the key to success. Media operations is not generally a 9-5 job. You will work long hours, often far from home or in strange countries with little rest opportunities and it can be very stressful and emotional at times. At the Olympics, volunteers make up the majority of your team. They are vital to the success of your operations yet most have no previous relevant experience. You need team players who are flexible, proactive, and know how to stay calm and think quickly in crisis situations. As a manager, a huge aspect of my role was training my volunteers efficiently and equipping them with the skills and the confidence to perform their roles. They are giving up their time and we couldn’t operate without them. Never underestimate their importance. You often create strong bonds with your team members. I know I’ve certainly made friendships that will last for life.
- Don’t forget the basics. You can’t control what happens on the pitch/course but you can control the media’s experience. Give them the basics – provide a comfortable workspace including coffee, water and food; make best efforts to get them access to their athletes and keep them informed as best as you can in any delays and they will be highly grateful. Media are under increasing pressures and deadlines and are working hours just as long as yours, often far from their families. Think like a journalist and understand their needs. They will be grateful if they can see you are doing your best to assist them.
- Thinking like a journalist is essential when planning for efficiency and effectiveness. This can be a challenge at first if you don’t have a background in journalism but the teams I work with generally include experienced journalists, broadcasters, and photo managers. Working closely with them and listening to their insights has provided me with a much more informed understanding of media processes and their needs.
- Always do your research. I didn’t have a prior background in tennis or road cycling and hadn’t even heard of biathlon when I was assigned to it in Vancouver. You can run news conferences and workrooms without knowing the sports intimately, as there will always be experts on hand to consult, but you will have far more credibility with media if you are familiar with the history and rules of the sport and know the leading athletes to look out for, especially when working in the Mixed Zone.
- Don’t fear mistakes but do make sure you learn from them. So you lost an athlete? The technology in the workroom broke down and no results were available? Your workroom space was planned long before a British rider became the first ever Tour de France winner and media interest exploded just a week before your Olympic Road Cycling event? You will never stop learning. I know people who have worked 12 Olympics and countless other events and still face unique situations. The key is how you react, how you put it right and how you learn for next time.
- Find yourself a mentor. It always helps to have trusted sources who can provide expert advice and share their personal experiences with you. I feel very lucky to have worked with some incredibly talented professionals with decades of practice at the highest level. Watching the way they work, how they handle challenging situations and being lucky enough to call them friends is how I learn best. If I can ever be half as good as those I look up to, I know I’ll do well.
- Plan ahead. On the annual sports calendar there is a full schedule of events both domestically and internationally. Obviously events in your own country will be easier to get into because of language barriers and work permit restrictions but international events will often give temporary work visas to foreign workers. Plan ahead and contact organizations well in advance. Many big events will start their hiring processes at least a year in advance.
I still love PR and I’m not abandoning it completely, but I certainly find being part of the high-adrenaline, event environment addictive and I love to work and travel wherever possible. Media operations is a riskier career path as the contracts are often very short and it can be a challenge to build a full calendar, but I’m going to do my best to continue to combine them both. I just feel fortunate that I’ve found two careers that I’m passionate about and that complement each other.
Julia Wall-Clarke is continuing on her quest to work/eat/travel her way around the world. Between events and freelance work with @narrativepr in Toronto, Julia lives at home in England, enjoys Spin Sucks, runs sometimes, eats too much sushi, and has an unhealthy obsession with Instagram. You can also find her on LinkedIn and as jwallclarke on Instagram.
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