Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Brand, The New Media and The Future

In celebration of post #400, a multi-part discussion on the future of the career once known as sports information.

Once upon a time, the sports information director was the keeper of the flame in almost every athletic department. A trusted confidant, the holder of the institutional memory, the link between generations of student-athletes and coaches to a college or university.

In the late 1990s, the SID died. The role was divvied up among a host of new job titles that feasted on the position like Ebola virus on a wildebeest. Assistant athletic directors for media relations, for marketing, for internal operations. Then came the internet, and more people into the pot. Publications coordinators, website coordinators, new media directors. Soon, the public relations professionals rode in to managed individual coaches and athletic directors.

I once went on an interview at another D. I school for a upper level administrative job, and the athletic director looked me straight in the eye when I asked if the SID office was under my position or independent. "They're nothing but a bunch of stat keepers," he said, the words dripping with disdain. In other words, if I wanted those useless twits answering to me, OK by him. (An aside, he didn't last long there, and it was a good thing I didn't take that job.)

And, like a shortstop, a centerfielder and a rightfielder all charging after the same Texas Leaguer, these different jobs began trying to call the ball when it came to managing the image and reputation of the department. At many schools, political infighting that only a department faculty meeting could appreciate ensued.

The result? You guessed it. More times than is acceptable, the ball falls to the ground uncaught among the fielders.

In the never ending drive to be relevant and hip, PR-types have pounced upon the buzz word of the early 21st century: brand. Brand management is de rigueur, but who is the brand manager in athletics? Same pack of hyenas will compete to be that person. At a lot of places, it will get lost in a hybrid definition of making sure the right logos are used or the correct verbiage is in place.

What does it really mean? In my humble estimation, brand equals reputation, pure and simple. You either have a good reputation, based upon postitive perception of your [fill in the blank -- team, product, school, etc.].

All the talk about brand takes me back in time. My dad had a brand -- well, if a reputation for being a hard-livin', gamblin', rock-n-roll night club owner that always had the hottest spot in town is a brand. For all the oddity associated with that lifestyle, there was one thing all the folks would say about Smitty -- his word was his bond. His brand wan't all that other stuff, it was the trust other businessmen had in him.

In college, there were a couple of journalism teachers and later one history professor who constantly reminded the students to be careful, their reputations -- at the end of the day -- were all they really had.

What, for heaven's sake, does any of this have to do with new media and the future? Everything.

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