Monday, November 3, 2008

Outside pitch: what publicists can learn from off-season baseball

"I'm your vehicle, baby, I'll take you anywhere you want to go...."
-- The Ides of March, 1970

Now that the 2008 baseball season is in the rear view mirror and the general managers' meetings are on in Dana Point, Calif., let the scurrilous and questionable rumors begin!

For the next five months, fans will be subjected to more professional agent sell jobs masquerading as newspaper and web "column items" than a year of viewing.

Parrying the other way will be general managers, who have their own worn-out stock phrases to carry a message of their own.

You think Fortune 500 executive can be mercenary when it comes to playing mind games in the press?

Sports fan or not, this is public relations at some of its most manipulative and worth examination by everybody.

Between now and through 2009's spring training, sports agents not only have to get truckloads of bucks for their marquee clients, but the ones who are moseying along or past their peak and looking to get a gig or invited to camp. So they float carefully-worded missives to reporters, using them as vehicles to somehow get the attention of general managers, scouts and executives about their client.

You'll easily recognize these slickly planted stories in the back pages of your newspaper.
  • You can expect to hear the names of the highest paying markets, like New York City, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles.
  • Those cities will often be inserted into the phrase, "He'd like to play in...."
  • Agents saying that two or three teams are interested in his client, but refusing to name even one of them.
While it seems tabloid sportswriters will take any item they can get, most carry as much credibility as Britney Spears pleading her case for good motherhood. Every day it seems there's another volley of rumors and innocuous statements, meant to heighten client value and appear in demand (for the highest dollar, of course). Celebrity publicists are good at this little game, and really, how far apart are they from athletes these days?

Well, two can play that game, so you can bet GM's know their way around a backdoor through another hungry baseball writer or they'll just come up with their own poker face statement right out in the open. If you think GOP political candidates repeatedly calling themselves "mavericks" was a study in obsessively staying on message, here's where the big boys come to play.

Mets general manager Omar Minaya is a master at this game. He's got one phrase he loves to use to reporters, with slight variations, in just about any scenario, whether he's negotiating with at least one agent over an open position or being asked by a reporter if he's interested in acquiring a particular player. As a matter of fact, Minaya used it today for the first time since the baseball post-season began last Wednesday.

New York Times sports reporter Jack Curry wrote that "if the Mets ate most of the $18 million left on [present second baseman] Luis Castillo’s contract and traded him, they could sign [free agent Orlando] Hudson."

To which Minaya uttered his famous reply: "Right now, I think Luis Castillo is going to be our second baseman."

This is a variation of his more commonly used "I'm satisfied with our team as it is."

Every publicist should take note of these words because they can serve great purpose in the corporate world with their connotations:
  1. I'm satisfied, but it does not mean I'm done wheeling and dealing.
  2. All that matters is how I feel about this team, not you.
  3. Unless somebody has an offer to blow me out of my socks, then don't both calling my mobile number.
This is a brilliant compact package of holding your cards close to the deck and not budging one inch to pressure, while implying some kind of optimism.

Rich divorce cases, celebrity tantrums and off-season baseball: it's a wonderful world of insinuation, accusations, denials, and a crock of BS.

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