Last week on July 19th, IABC Houston held a special luncheon at Brennan’s of Houston – two Schipul clients in the same place! The food and venue were spectacular, as is expected with Brennan’s, but the special treat was the speaker. Originally, Nelson Luis, the Director of Media Relations for the Houston Rockets, and Kevin Cooper, the Senior Director of Communications for the Houston Texans, were supposed to speak. The topic was PR management in the professional sports industry; who better to learn from than PR’s most scrutinized industry.
Mr. Luis was not able to make it due to the Rockets recent acquisition of Jeremy Lin, the newest sensation from the New York Knicks. Lin had a big press conference that day and Nelson’s presence was required. Although we would have loved to hear from him, we all learned a lot from Mr. Cooper and his Q&A session about the Houston Texans’ organization.
Kevin Cooper has been with the Texans since 2002, and was promoted to Senior Director of Communications in May of 2011. He has worked in the league for 11 seasons and earned the title as second youngest head of communications for an NFL franchise. After working for 4 different franchises, Kevin is happy to be back in his hometown of Houston and still doing what he enjoys. I think everyone that attended the luncheon can agree that Kevin Cooper has the perfect personality and skill set to represent the communications department of the Houston Texans.
Hanging with Mr. Cooper
Kevin very politely dismissed the list of questions that the IABC members had for him and proposed a discussion based Q&A session. Very excited, the group began to fire off questions about the Texans and how they handle their very sensitive public relations strategy throughout the organization and across all the public mediums that exist today. Following are some of the major points that we learned from Kevin:
1. Relationships are Key
One of Kevin’s more emphasized points was that he begins building relationships with the players from an early point. He called relationships one of the “core values” of PR. Kevin pointed out that if you only come to someone when you need something, or when there is a crisis involving them, that they always dread seeing you. Not only that, but in the process you have built no trust or support that makes them want to come to you in a time of crisis. Relationship building is key for Kevin as he guides his players through the media spotlight and through tough situations. For this reason he does not communicate through agents but always speaks to players directly. I believe that this same concept applies to managers and employees in any type business.
2. Communication Culture
This ties in very closely with relationship building. Kevin told us that Texans owner, Mr. McNair, clearly sets the tone for his team by saying “I don’t embarrass you; You don’t embarrass me”. With this clear communication of expectations, Mr. McNair has maintained a fairly healthy standing for his organization in the public eye. Kevin describes the Texans culture as a “family of men”. He explains that they do not avoid uncomfortable talks but instead come directly to each other and speak their minds whether it is talking about money or even changing teams. Communication is another of Kevin’s keys to PR.
3. Social Media Management
Kevin said that he used to only be worried about possible media responses during press conferences and radio shows which were only during the working hours. Now Kevin has to be on alert 24 hours a day due to the fly by nature of social media, especially Twitter. Kevin explains to the players that things written over a tweet are just as powerful as a locker room interview. He tells players that if they wouldn’t say something in that scenario in front of their teammates, then they should definitely refrain from Tweeting it. He encourages players to not write things in the heat of the moment and if there’s any doubt to refrain altogether. As Kevin put it, “One line can rewrite an entire story.”
4. The Media Beast and Crisis Management
Dealing with real time media situations, Kevin shared some great insights that he has learned throughout his 11 seasons. He describes media as a “beast that will never be full”. With this in mind, Kevin has no problem saying no to the media. In fact, he prefers for his players to send the heat his way and let him be the bad guy. Kevin chooses to be prepared for everything, he says that crazy media questions are not the problem, its only the response that can cause damage. Kevin prefers his players not to answer if they are uncomfortable with any question, and that they can politely refuse or send them his way. The best thing to do in a crisis, says Kevin, is to keep quiet. As you can tell, Kevin prefers formulated responses over brash ones. Safe to say, I think these are best practices for any business regarding the media.
5. The Texans Love Their Fans
Everyone could tell that Kevin was genuine about the Texan organization appreciating their fans and community. The Texans make a point to provide public service to the community that supports them. In one of the more humorous moments of his talk, Kevin even referred to the Texan fans as a “good woman”. My personal favorite quote from Kevin involved his love for football and Houston. He said that despite race, sexual orientation, or status that “on Sundays at 7:00 pm, we’re all just Texans fans”.
*We appreciate IABC Houston and Kevin Cooper for this great event.*