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April 12, 2015

Anna Ruth Williams

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This article originally appeared in PR Daily.

Since Cincinnati first fielded a team in 1869, die-hard fans and novice supporters have eagerly anticipated their teams returning to the diamond each spring. It’s great to hear the crack of the bat and see your favorite player reach base safely, but the best of the best do so only about 30 percent of the time. In few other professions, including PR, is a success rate of three hits for every 10 tries considered a success. Perhaps it should be.

Why hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports

Baseball is a game of intrigue. Players are often defined less by their athletic skill and more by their patience, coordination and mental toughness. Of particular interest are the metrics used to quantify whether or not players are successful. In most major American team sports, a player must complete his or her core skill with great efficiency, usually more than half the time, to be recognized as one of the greats. For example, hall-of-fame-caliber NFL quarterbacks complete roughly 55 percent or more of their pass attempts. The best basketball players of all-time shot an average of 50 to 60 percent from the field.

The success metrics for which a baseball player’s career are measured by are significantly lower. A Major League Baseball player who gets a hit in just 30 percent of his at-bats will likely end up baseball’s hall of fame. To put it another way, if a professional baseball player fails to get a hit in severn out of every ten attempts (excluding walks & sacrifices), that player will likely be voted as one of the best of all time. In no other sport, and in much of life, is so much failure rewarded with so much prestige.

Believe it or not, many sports enthusiasts argue that hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in all of sports. The deceptiveness of pitches, weather conditions and the mechanics of a swing are just a few reasons why even the best baseball players barely muster a hit 30 percent of the time. As most baseball fans know, in the entire history of the game, only 28 players have ever boasted a batting average of .400 or more in a single season, and only a very select few have even come close since Ted Williams last achieved the feat in 1941.

Hitting .300 with the press

I often consider media relations to be the most challenging tactic of the PR vocation. It’s our version of hitting a baseball. Yet most clients don’t fully understand the nuances and intricacies that are critical to consistently earning press. Simply put, media relations is not easy, and for many of the same reasons in which hitting a baseball is so hard. PR pros often achieve success despite constraints that are outside their control. PR professionals are faced with a myriad of obstacles: rapidly changing news cycles, reporter deadlines, constraints to messaging, lofty client expectations, and the list goes on. Like baseball players, PR professionals are expected to always perform, no matter how worthy the opponent is.

The challenges faced by PR professionals are often undervalued. If a PR professional conducting a major media relations campaign secures coverage in three out of the client’s top 10 primary target outlets, reaching a total of 5 million people, will the campaign be considered a success? The answer depends somewhat on who the client is and what industry that client serves, but there’s a good chance it won’t be considered a win. Are those expectations and success metrics for press coverage fair? With baseball, fans have come to equate a lifetime batting average of .300 with greatness. In PR, those same metrics often disappoint.

Every PR professional worth a damn tries very hard to bat .1000 with media relations, just like every baseball player tries to get on base every time he comes up to the plate. However, sometimes the pitcher is just too good, and sometimes the news cycle just isn’t cooperating. Now and again, the weather impacts a player’s ability to track the ball, and sometimes a reporter just says, “No, I’m not interested.”

Managing expectations

Where many PR professionals can improve is in how they manage the expectations of their clients while also showing them the support and enthusiasm that they deserve. A good PR person knows when and how to incorporate objective, realistic thinking without minimizing value, accountability or perception. Sometimes, no matter how good the pitch is, or how well the story is positioned, you’re just not going to secure ink, and the client needs to know it. It’s sort of like hitting a line drive, but the third baseman prevents the double by making a great diving catch. The hitter did everything correctly. It just wasn’t meant to be.

Much as baseball fans have come to equate a lifetime batting average of .300 with greatness, so too must PR clients come to associate this same metric as one that is indicative of media relations success. As it stands now, baseball players are immortalized for hitting .300, while PR firms are often fired for it.