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Baseball and Public Relations – More Similar Than You Think


Autumn continues to creep up on us, and here in New England that means we’re lucky enough to witness our local baseball team continue its season-long redemption tour in the form of making a run at a possible third World Championship since 2004.

Those of us who ply our wares in the world of public relations have more in common with some of the Boston Red Sox than you might think. Exactly 15 members of the Sox 40-man active roster play the position of pitcher, a job all of us with any experience in media relations acutely understand.

Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Koji Uehara wear jerseys and caps while we tend to lean more on the side of typical business attire (except on casual Fridays – thanks, George!). But while the clothes and the act itself are different, the idea and the goal are very similar. As longtime Boston Globe sports scribe Kevin Paul Dupont noted in his Sunday column, “a good pitcher knows that the delivery is essential.”

The key for pitching, both on the mound and in PR agency offices, is to be aggressive, but not overly so. In baseball, there is a negative term associated with pitching known as “nibbling.” When a pitcher nibbles, he constantly throws the ball off the plate, trying to get the hitter to chase (if you’re a Sox fan, any memories you may have of Daisuke Matsuzaka should provide you with a clearer picture of what it’s like to nibble). Most major league hitters are smart and talented enough to recognize when a pitcher is doing this, and they lay off – thus driving up pitch counts, drawing walks and contributing to the pitcher putting the position players behind him to sleep while they wait for the guy on the mound to challenge the guy at bat.

But by the same token, a pitcher doesn’t want to be too aggressive. Just as major league hitters are good enough to lay off when the pitcher is nibbling, they’re also good enough to recognize when a pitch gets too much of the plate. Just because a pitcher throws 97 doesn’t mean he can fire it right down the middle whenever he wants and get away with it.

In the public relations business, the media pitcher has to follow similar protocol. If you want someone in the media to respond to your pitch, yes, challenge them. Yes, go after them. There’s no time to nibble. If a major league hitter can recognize when the pitcher is trying to pitch around him, you can bet that the media outlet to whom you’re pitching your client can too.

Similarly, you want to challenge those to whom you are pitching, just not too much. It’s one thing to try to get the hitter to go after your best pitch, whether it’s a blazing fastball, a breaking ball that buckles the knees or a splitter that starts belt high before diving out of the strike zone. It’s quite another to leave it up and right out over the plate. Make your pitch intriguing, even dazzling. Just don’t go too far. In baseball, pitching too aggressively can result in a fastball down the middle or a breaking ball left out over the plate that gets crushed for a home run. In PR, pitching too aggressively can result in the media outlet deciding to stop returning your calls and emails. Know your batter … er, I mean, reporter!

Fall is coming and so are the playoffs. The Sox have played 151 of their 162-game regular season schedule and the road to the World Series begins in roughly two weeks. Lester, Buchholz, Uehara and the rest of the team’s pitching staff will need to step up their games, even if their games are already great.

The same goes for us. We may do it with our words and our ideas. But we’re pitchers too.

Jeremy Gottlieb, Team Lisa

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