Kevin Byrne is the man behind the Baltimore Ravens’ media plan. He spoke recently at The Carmine in the Chinatown neighborhood of Washington, DC. He was a personable, thoughtful individual whose passion for his job was palpable. It’s possible he was still riding the Super Bowl XLVII win high, but something tells me that, like any true public relations professional, he has moved on to the next set of challenges.
Working as the Senior Vice President & Community Relations Manager for a professional football team seems as if it’s 50% public relations and 50% crisis management. Byrne has been with the Ravens for more than 30 years and has been providing the franchise with day-to-day advice (how to maintain a strong Ravens fanbase) and counsel on the unusual (how to speak with the media about a possible murder indictment charge); this man has seen, and done, it all.
As a communications and crisis management professional, Byrne provided tips on how to effectively maintain and move forward the image and appearance of a national brand. While social marketing professionals have slightly different goals than the NFL, the advice provided speaks true to what we do.
- Internal communication is the most important. It goes without saying that colleagues must talk to each in order to get anything done but what Byrne was referring to specifically was internal dialogue between us and the client. While Byrne is the head of Ravens media communications, he often meets with the owners, coaches, and even players to ensure that messaging is agreed upon and consistent.
- Managing vs. controlling. Communications is only a faction of an NFL team. That means a number of differing personalities with different opinions and often different agendas. Instead of acting as the summit of all decisions and ignoring the thoughts and needs of these different parties, Byrne believes he is more effective in promoting the Ravens brand when he is managing these different parties rather than trying to control every detail. Working with the head coaches, owners, and even the players themselves to ensure that everyone is on the same page in a collaborative, thoughtful fashion rather than providing a list of talking points to each strengthens relationships and presents a united front to the media.
- Always remember W.I.N. Yeah, sure, we all want to win, but what Byrne is referring to here is to keep in mind What’s Important Now. Often during brainstorms and meetings, it can be easy to forget the big picture. Brendon Ayanbadejo, former Ravens linebacker and marriage equality advocate was looking for opportunities to advocate on behalf of same-sex marriage around the Super Bowl game. While Byrne encourages players to have their individual voices heard, he asks that during the season, all players prioritize the team’s larger goals.
- Humanize the brand to strengthen connections. Social marketing professionals are well aware that first-hand accounts and stories are more compelling than lifeless facts. NFL communications also adheres to this rule; Byrne takes time to consistently blog about Ravens news, players, and activities on the Ravens website throughout the year to keep the team connected to its fans. He is sure to present both sides of any news, even if an argument isn’t the most flattering about the Ravens. This establishes the Ravens website as the go-to source for all information.
- During a crisis, consider redirecting the focus. Sometimes the media and the public can grab control of information that is unflattering or false. Byrne suggests analyzing the situation and determining whether this needs to be addressed or if there is a bigger, more important issue of which to remind the media. In Byrne’s case, when former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was accused of using deer antler spray to help him recover from an injury, Lewis redirected inquiries toward the more pressing issue at hand: winning Super Bowl XLVII.
Byrne may live in a different world than some of us, with Super Bowl rings and thousands of media inquiries a day, but his presentation showed that no matter the scale of work, communications professionals across the board share similar experiences. Isn’t that refreshing?