Friday, April 2, 2010

Holy Moly! That Ain't my Boy Masoli...

It was reported yesterday that Jeremiah Masoli will pitch for the Eugene Emeralds this upcoming summer to keep his arm in shape for the 2011 football season. This report came directly from the Emerald’s media relations department. It was written as a press release sent out to newspapers state wide, and even drew national media coverage. It turns out this was an April fool’s joke that missed its intended audience in Eugene.

Some will argue that this was a marketing ploy to gain exposure to the Emeralds who will be playing their games at the University of Oregon’s new PK Park. The Emeralds' Media Relations director Onalee Carson wanted to get the media’s attention, but when asked if it was legit story, she flat out lied to reporters. Had Carson been honest about it, I’m sure a few reporters would have taken the bate and ran with the story. Eugene isn’t a very big market, but the community still supports the University and the Emeralds.

A key principle in marketing is to promote your Image in a positive light, and using Jeremiah Masoli does not accomplish that. You DO NOT take an amateur athlete who has gone from riches to rags in a matter of months at the expense of two laptop computers to promote a professional product. His image has been severely damaged, and to use someone like that to promote a minor league baseball team was in poor taste to say the least; not to mention the University of Oregon Athletic Department who is trying to put the winter events to rest; all this did was help stir the pot.

As a media relations director you are responsible for building meaningful and truthful relationships with journalists and your job is to present the organization in a positive light. You must protect the brand image that you represent, and defend it when it has been tarnished. This little stunt will affect the credibility of the Emerald’s public relations team in the short term, but the truth of the matter is they don’t even start playing baseball until the middle of June. This will all blow over given time. I’m all about practical jokes, but you need to make sure they are tastefully constructed and executed. You do not want Masoli throwing out the first pitch at a game. That adds nothing to the brand image or organization, and would probably result in fewer ticket sales. Parents don’t want to take their little leaguers to get an autograph from thief.

What Carson and the Emeralds' should have done: She should have contacted one columnist at the Register Guard; Ron Bellamy who is loved by most in the Eugene area would have been a perfect candidate. They should have used another Oregon athlete. One who actually played minor league baseball, and raised expectations for the football department…That’s right, I’m talking about ACL boy, Dennis Dixon. They should have contacted Dixon to make sure he was okay with being a pat of the hoax. Bellamy would have then published the article in Yesterday’s sports section, and written it in such a way that would excite Duck fans about Dixon’s return to Eugene, promote the Emeralds upcoming season, and end the column by saying “April Fools!” This allows the Emeralds to pursue Dixon in making a public appearance to throw out the first pitch in a game during the season. This would result in increased revenue for the Emeralds who are renting PK Park from the University to play their home games.

The scenario I just proposed still would have created the buzz in and around the newsroom. Local television stations still would have ran the story (let’s face it, this story would have been more interesting than an Easter Bunny sighting at VRC). No one’s credibility would be in jeopardy, and it would allow Dixon to comment on the practical joke, discuss his NFL career, and the Oregon football program as they look to rebuild their image. This would have been a great way to promote both brands, when both organizations have had off seasons filled with turmoil. This had potential to be a great joke, but it failed miserably. I’m going to end with the last stanza of the poem written by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, “Casey at Bat” that relates Eugene to Mudville:

"Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out."