Posted by: emilywil | April 8, 2009

Interview With a PR Pro

  

MJ Trahan is the Media Relations Coordinator for the Houston Astros

MJ Trahan is the Media Relations Coordinator for the Houston Astros

  Ever since I was little I knew I wanted to work within the field of sports, however when I became sick to my stomach at the sight of a broken finger, I knew the medical side of athletics was out of the question!  My love for sports has lead me to the field of public relations and the possibility of working behind the scenes of some sort of athletic organization. 

   I was lucky to be able to interview MJ (Mary Jessica) Trahan, whom graduated from Georgia Southern with a degree in PR and is now the Media Relations Coordinator for the Houston Astros Baseball Club (MLB).  I started this interview thinking that this was the job for me, and with the help of MJ, I have realized this IS the job for me.  I have included the entire interview, only because I believe this will help many others with the intentions of entering the sports world:

1.       What is your typical day/week like? I do not have a “typical day/week”. That is one of the things I love the most about my job. During the regular season (April-October), we play 152 games. Each day consists of compiling daily press clippings about our team, writing Minor League reports and game recaps, writing press releases/media alerts, keeping up with team/individual player statistics, filling out media credentials for the home games and interacting with members of the written press or television/radio broadcasting stations. Other daily duties during the season include writing features for and editing our monthly Astros Magazine.

 

During the off-season (November-February), the pace slows down quite a bit. This is the time when we work on our Astros Media Guide, a huge annual publication full of stats, records, player biographies, team history, media information and information about the organization/ballpark. The entire book is created in InDesign and everyone in our department is assigned a particular section of the guide. It’s an enormous project, and a very important one. Everything the reporters write or TV and radio broadcasters announce on air comes from us and our book. It absolutely has to be accurate!

 

 

2.       How important is writing in your career?Writing is KEY in my career. I would not have gotten this job without a strong background in PR and writing. Knowledge of PR writing is very important, but I would say having a strong writing background in general is equally as important. Often times, the correct PR format come into play here. In my job, it’s a lot more – get the information to the public as quick, clear and accurate as possible. There’s not a lot of room for “fluff”. For example, when writing a Minor League Report and Astros Game Notes, the broadcasters need to know two things: Who won the game and why. There is no need to break down every player and every inning. Get the highlights or turning points of the game to them and write them in a way so it can literally be read on the air. They’re just going to pick it up and read it, LIVE! It’s definitely something I had to get used to… However, the more creative, PR style writing comes in when I write for Astros Magazine. I write at least one feature in every magazine, along with a player Q&A. Everything is then edited and we us AP style with a strong hand! So- in a nutshell, writing is extremely important in my job.

 

3.       What three tips would you have for someone who is trying to enter the PR field? First of all, do an internship. The experience will be invaluable and it will boost your resume to the top. Internships also give you a chance to develop a working relationship with professionals who will later become references for you. From experiences, people will hire based off of references, not what you have on a piece of paper. Second, collect business cards. It sounds really cliché, but it is SUCH a small world, especially in my career area. The sports industry sees a lot of turnover, as well as cross-over. This means that you see a lot of people who work for MLB cross over and work for NFL, collegiate athletics, etc. It is amazing the web of connections you will build. Third,  remember your etiquette. As “PR professionals”, you’re expected to do the right things, say the right things, write the right things… For example, I think thank you notes have taken me a long way. Every thank you note I have ever written has gotten a response, which is good. Thank you notes, returning phone calls/e-mails and being sharp/organized will show your professionalism.

 

4.       What do you do to keep current in the PR industry? (How do you keep up with others around you/what is going on within the job field?)  I’m fortunate that my industry is a little more tight-knit than others. Realistically, there are only 30 other people (one for each team) in the U.S.who have my job, so we are always in touch. One PR rep travels on the road with the team at all times, which allows us to meet and greet other PR professionals from different organizations. Personally, I try to make as many trips with the team as possible. That way, I’m out and about and people learn my name and face. They associate me with the Astros and Media Relations. I’m also lucky that MLB has a giant mailing list and a server for any press releases, news and alerts. So we get it before the rest of the media. Definitely helpful. Other than that, I try to check in with the other PR/Media Relations personnel I know really well. Just an email every few weeks or so.

 

5.       Tell me about one of the projects you are most proud of within your career.  I was pretty proud when my first interview with a Major League pitcher, Brian Moehler, was published in Astros Magazine. It was August of 2007 while I was doing my first internship with the club and I was absolutely terrified. It turned out great and it was my first-ever published work from start to finish. I researched his career, came up with the questions and did the whole thing myself. Seeing that by-line on the finished product was such a kick!

 

6.       What kind of people do you associate with on a daily basis? (i.e. customers/clients/employers) I associate mainly with employers (mine, in particular) and members of the media/press. Technically, we treat the press like customers but they are not really customers. We are more like co-workers that have inside access and assist them with what they need.

 

7.       Do you plan events? If so, what kind of events and typically what planning goes into those events? I do not plan events in my job… I coordinate interviews and press conferences, which involves a lot of the same skills as event planning. We have to call and see who will be in attendance, set up the stage with a mic, make sure cameras are where they are supposed to be and we are receiving live feed from the room, etc. That is about as far as it goes. Once the press conference starts, the media is free to ask questions once the initial statements have been made. We are there to assist the player/person who is involved, but the actual “event” of a press conference usually runs itself in our organization.

 

8.       What professional PR organizations are you involved in? ( for example PRSA) I am a member of PRSA and was a member of PRSSA in college. I am also a member of PBEO (Professional Baseball Employment Opportunities), COSIDA (College Sports Information Directors Association) and I receive e-mail notifications from TeamWorkOnline.com. I also have access to MLB’s PR Desktop, which is a portal for all MLB Media Relations/PR/Baseball Information employees.

 

9.       Did your education prepare you for your career?  Absolutely. Especially the writing, publications and PR specific courses. I also feel that I use information I learn from some of my elective classes, as well (i.e. Persuasion, PR Pubs, Law & Ethics of Mass Comm.).

 

10.   How is sports PR different from normal PR?  Is there “normal PR”? Where is it and how can I get it?! (kidding!) Sports PR is very specific. We have only one “subject” and that is our team/organization. It’s a lot different from a firm or agency where you have a multitude of clients from different industries, companies and fields. Everything we do is related to sports (baseball for me). Whether a player gets injured, someone retires, someone used steroids and got busted or a player donated thousands of dollars for Habitat for Humanity, it’s still all involving sports.

 

I would also say that the writing styles can be different, as I discussed earlier. A lot of times, your writing styles needs to change based on what you’re working on. Games Notes/Recaps need to be short, choppy and strictly information. Releases need more AP Style, flow and quotes. But, with an type of PR, everyone needs to know the basics. The fundamentals and building blocks are what allows you to do any kind of PR. I think that’s why people can switch over from MLB to college PR or NFL so easily. There are a lot of similarities between every PR industry, it’s just that certain elements are more prominent in certain jobs than others.

 

   After interviewing MJ, my passion to achieve my goal of working for a sports team has only grown stronger.  I learned the importance of internships, collecting business cards, and remembering etiquette.  Etiquette is especially important within the PR business is important because you are expected to say and do the right things all the time, especially as the face of the company.  I also learned the importance of writing within sports PR, daily press clippings about the team, writing Minor league reports and game recaps, filling out media credentials for home games, and organizing the Media Guide are a couple of the styles of writing MJ does at her job throughout the year.  Some of the writings must be ready to go live on television when she hands it in, therefore it must be flawless.  It was also great to hear that her PR classes at Georgia Southern prepared her well for the jobfield (she even hinted at a couple of good elective classes!).  

   When I was in middle school my teachers always said, “there’s no such thing as a dumb question,” however my question on “normal” PR seemed a little ridiculous when I look back!  MJ took the question the way I had intended it, basically what is the difference in sports PR and PR within other fields such as fashion or major non-athletic corporations (like Coca-Cola)?  She answered the question with a great response, that the team/organization is their one subject, its what they focus on year-round.   Her most proud moment was during her first internship when her interview of a Major League pitcher was published.  For me this was very impressing and shows me that internships aren’t about shuffling papers and making coffee runs!

   MJ was the perfect person to interview and is a great example of what I strive to be in only a couple of years.  Her advice and views have left me with a pretty good idea of what to expect, and what to focus on studying more with my last two years at school.  I want to thank her for doing this for me and appreciate it very much!

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Responses

  1. Lots of details — and I’m so glad that interviewing MJ confirmed that sports PR is where you want to be.

    Barbara


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