Far be it to ask how putting a relatively inexperienced recent grad who doesn't come off as serious-minded in charge of media relations will help Ontario University Athletics be taken more seriously.
With football training camps underway, it's fair to wonder if OUA was going to tell us who to contact for media inquiries. It turns out Laura Bridgman, who previously worked in media relations with the Toronto Rock of the National Lacrosse League, has been named communications and social media coordinator of Canada's largest university athletics conference. The very capable Josh Bell-Webster left for a similar position with the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association earlier in the summer.
It's justifiable to riff on this hiring. Part of this blog's beat is advocating, if not begging the highers-up in Canadian university athletics to do well by their underrated and outstanding product. At some point, they have to realize the PR machine needs to be shipshape. You just wonder if the OUA could have invested a little more to get someone more seasoned, who might think better of referring to her physician, who's facing a drug trafficking investigation, as "Dr. Hottiepants" on her blog. (We'll get to that in a second.)
Have you noticed that, since Jan. 1, the only CIS stories which got the most nationwide attention — former NHLer Mike Danton playing hockey at Saint Mary's, how McMaster handled the firing of men's basketball coach Joe Raso, Waterloo nuking its football season — largely were treated negatively and were subject to sensationalism? Perhaps negative stories travel farther, faster, but that can be exaberbated in a vacuum in which the drive-by media doesn't know about the upbeat stories. It's only put in front of them fleetingly since not enough schools make an effort with media relations, often criminally overworking communications people, especially in sports.
No offence to Ms. Bridgman, who also was a communications assistant with the OUA for four months in 2008, but the choice to hire her should give people who are passionate about the conference's potential pause to wonder. Please be clear this is directed at who hired the person, not the person who was hired. Entrusting a key communications position to someone rather callow who is also careless about what she puts out there about herself might be a step back.
The point goes to context. The entire CIS just spent the summer doing damage control after a doping scandal, yet its largest regional association just hired a PR person who during the interview period, blogged about being treated by Dr. Anthony Galea, a Toronto physician facing criminal investigations in Canada and the U.S., including being "charged with unlawfully treating NFL players with unapproved drugs including human growth hormone." (Pro Football Talk, Aug. 15.)
So it goes from putting out Waterloo fires to entrusting media relations to someone who, on her easy-to-find blog, didn't seem to acknowledge or understand the serious nature to Dr. Galea's notoriety, instead brushing it off as "drama, drama, drama." That's a little curious. You don't want "drama" from a PR person. Here's the quote in question.
"The man who injected my ankle, Dr. HottiePants, is actually Dr. Anthony Galea. He founded his clinic (ISM Health & Wellness) when I was 4 years old. My love of old men wins again!That's really showing perspective. It also comes off as bragging.
"The name sound familiar? He's the doctor that's treated Tiger Woods, A-Rod, and others in the states without a license to practice in the US. Read the telling story about him in The Washington Post from June. Oh even without trying, I'm all drama, drama, drama!"
Typically, with media relations, you hire someone with a vast body of related experience who is known and respected in those relevant networks, like a SID from one of the 19 OUA schools. Or you hire a journalist who knows the subject matter and is looking for a job change. Most public relations hires, especially for a senior position, fall under either heading. Take it from someone who saw numerous newspaper colleagues take communications jobs between 2007 and early 2010!
Instead, it looks like OUA, rather than shell out for a more seasoned media pro, hired someone young (turning 25 next month), inexperienced and Toronto-centric for a job that involves commuting to its Hamilton office to work long hours and weekends. Should they be let off the hook if it turns out they skimped on salary? No. The position is an investment, not an expense.
Doing that job does require a certain amount of levelheadedness and savvy. So help one who might have trouble finding those qualities reflected in what Ms. Bridgman has made available about herself on the Internet. Prospective employers usually do Google the names of job applicants, or should. Did the OUA take a look for itself.
It goes without saying that people, especially media pros, have to keep their fun side and professional side separate. Some blur the lines more than others. (It'll be the death of me someday.)
However, in less than 10 seconds, you can click from Ms. Bridgman's professional profile, to the Twitter account (which is now protected) where she self-applies a descriptor such as "Barbie blonde," to her personal blog. No one is judging 99% of it, but it's that other 1%, including the material quoted above, that irks.
Point being, it's hard to get wrapped around how OUA prez Gord Grace's choice fits with trying to raise his conference's profile. He and executive director Ward Dilse know the association has to come across more professionally.
The bar should set at having a resident communications specialist who comes off as self-aware, insofar as that's reflected in covering her/his tracks online. You have to believe Dilse and Grace had applications from people who were better-qualified and more mature than this — female, male, 20-something, 30-something, 40-something, whatever.
Put another way: A league that deals with a male-dominated sports media went and hired a young woman who last year blogged about having her panties exposed ("navy lace boyshorts for all those walking on a different street this morning and are curious to know") by a chance gust of wind while walking in downtown Toronto. Someone who uses phrases such as "PR chickies" is representing the OUA--full of competitors who are progressive female athletes.
No one is saying you cannot hire a young woman. You just have to hire an experienced communications professional for such an important communications position.
Please believe that this post was not written without some pretty intense ethical debate between some of this site's writers and media pros who are passionate about all things OUA and CIS. Writing about an OUA hiring when others who applied are friends of the blog is akin to walking through a minefield.
It needed to be said. An organism only grows if it exposes itself to light. Having people talking about anything CIS critically is a sign of progress. Watch NFL Network. It doesn't shy away from picking at pro football's warts, because it's part of the conversation.
Each CIS regional association needs more of those folks around, spreading the gospel, bringing new ideas. No offence to Laura Bridgman, but based on what she has put out there, you can question whether the OUA's decision fulfills those aims.