A PR Lesson Courtesy of Wally Backman

Rich Lee and Jay Horwitz

Rich Lee and Jay Horwitz

I am a big baseball fan – a New York Mets fan to be exact, and that has not been easy the past few years. On the other hand, thanks to their colorful and controversial off-the-field activities, the Mets often provide valuable lessons in public relations, which I’m teaching at St. Bonaventure University over the next five weeks.

Over the years, the team has presented plenty of challenges for Jay Horwitz, the Mets’ vice president for public relations. He’s had to deal with players who were involved with illegal drugs, barroom brawls, sex scandals and countless additional unsavory activities. I met Jay a few years ago during one of my annual treks to Mets spring training and told him I admired the work he did because I too worked in PR and understood just how tough his job was. When he asked about my background, I told him I had been the deputy communication director for New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey (who had his own share of controversies while in office). It was clear he knew who McGreevey was and that he understood my job had been difficult too. We had a brief bonding moment, took a photo together and went about our separate ways.

Today’s public relations lesson comes courtesy of Wally Backman, who manages the Mets’ Triple-A franchise in Las Vegas. Take a look a posting titled Wally Backman out of line with Wheeler comments, and you’ll see that Backman’s comments about the future of pitcher Zack Wheeler are not in sync with upper management. This is a problem not only in sports, but in any organization. In order to maintain a positive public relations profile, it is critical that all members of the organization convey the same message. If you’re not all singing from the same song sheet, it can send all kinds of negative messages – disorganization, dissension in the ranks, confusion, lack of leadership and focus, etc.

When Jim McGreevey was mayor of Woodbridge, N.J., I was the township’s public information officer. Jim insisted on answering every press call himself, whether it was about the municipal budget or a cat that was stuck in a tree. It made my job difficult. Reporters hated the process, and the men and women who ran our various municipal departments were frustrated by not being able to speak to the press. I don’t recommend such a drastic press policy, but I have to admit it was effective. McGreevey made sure that every word spoken to the press was on message. He was re-elected mayor twice – both times by record margins, and he went on to become Governor of New Jersey (and in the interest of full disclosure, it’s well known that his term ended abruptly when he resigned in 2004).

But this lesson is not about Jim McGreevey, Wally Backman or Jay Horwitz; the lesson is that speaking with one voice is an essential component of any successful public relations strategy.

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