Inside of Miami Athletics Communications Department with Chris Yandle – It’s #FullSpeedAhead for the Hurricanes this Year
By: Natalie Mikolich
With the recent allegations and pending NCAA investigation into the University of Miami, many might think these are dark days for the University and its Athletics Department with hurricane clouds looming close in sight of the campus, but with the start of the new school year, Miami’s Athletics program is #FullSpeedAhead.
Inspired by Admiral David Farragut’s message to his crew during the Battle of Mobile Bay, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” this act of courage demonstrated that even when the odds are stacked against your team, victory can be achieved when you stay focused on the mission and fight to the finish.
After coming off a tremendous season earlier this spring with their men’s basketball program finishing the 2012-2013 year ranked No. 10 overall, and following the two self-imposed NCAA sanctions including two postseason bans (which kept the Hurricanes from a bowl game in 2011 and the Atlantic Coast Conference title game last season), #FullSpeedAhead was selected by Miami Athletics for all sports this season.
For the 2013-2014 school year, Miami Athletics has set up a new website for its campaign #FullSpeedAhead (www.umfullspeedahead.com) that is centered around the statement: “There comes a time when you have to summon the strength to allow courage to overcome fear, to attack rather than retreat, to damn the torpedos…”
With the new school year and college sports season underway, we recently had the opportunity to connect with Chris Yandle, Assistant AD/Communications, at the University of Miami to find out more about how important the Public Relations and Communications roles are for the Athletics Department and University while in the media spotlight and for the exhilarating success of their men’s basketball program this Spring.
1. How important is the Public Relations/Communications division for the University of Miami’s Athletics programs/Athletics Department and why is this division so important?
Any public relations division within a university or college athletics department is crucial. Not only are you spreading your organization’s messages across a variety of platforms, but you are the mouthpiece for that entity. When there is a crisis amidst, you are the ones that act, react and respond. Public Relations and Communications are necessary divisions for any educational institution or organization – no matter how big or how small.
2. What role does the PR/Communications division play in the larger picture for the entire Athletic Department and even the University overall?
Our Communications, Marketing and Digital Strategy divisions are instrumental in all promotional activities for Miami Athletics. We handle HurricaneSports.com content, social media content and videos. In addition, Communications handles the traditional sports information roles – statistics, releases, media almanacs, historical archives, rosters, player and coach bios, etc. Our marketing staff handles the gameday experience for fans and students. They run the music and in-game promotions at all home events. Our digital strategy team handles all the great digital assets on HurricaneSports.com and social media.
We have a direct line of communication with our campus counterparts in University Communications. I sit in on weekly meetings with the University Communications staff as well as monthly meetings with all communications directors on campus.
3. When dealing with crisis situations such as the NCAA allegations and investigations, what is your approach in general when working with the media? What strategies and tactics do you implement in order to keep people accurately informed and also so that Miami’s Athletics programs/Athletic Department are portrayed in a positive light?
We have a job to do and the media has a job to do. We cannot comment on anything NCAA-related until our situation is resolved. We do have strategies in place for when the day comes.
4. With the recent success of the Men’s Basketball program this Spring, and the football team off to a great start this season, what advantages does this provide the University/Athletic Department from a PR/Communications perspective and what kinds of strategies do you implement?
When your teams are winning and excelling on the competition field, you want to capitalize on that momentum. Take our men’s basketball last season. We started 13-0 in ACC play, skyrocketed to No. 2 in the nation, defeated No. 1 Duke by 27 points and won the ACC regular-season and tournament titles. We had national attention and momentum on our side. When the winning began, we started piecing our communications strategy together.
I think the best piece we did was our post-game infographics designed by Brian Bowsher, our Assistant AD for Digital Strategy. It’s a different way to present a game box score. We’ve learned that our fan base on social media is driven by graphics. Why tweet out stats when you can put them in a pretty format such as an infographic? It started with one win, then another, then another. I think our infographics started gaining steam after our road win at North Carolina and reached new heights following our 27-point win vs. Duke. Fans were waiting for these infographics. They wanted more. It proved that sometimes simplicity trumps everything.
Brian Bowsher (and now graphic designer Leo Ramos) also developed “victory posters” for Twitter and Facebook. Once we won, we would post these victory posters that would be shared across all platforms. Fans loved them. It’s the simple things like these that keep us front-of-mind with a lot of people.
We rode the momentum (of the men’s basketball program) and capitalized on it all the way until the Sweet 16. We took what we learned during basketball’s run and have applied that to this season for football.
5. Are there any new initiatives you have underway this school year?
I think our two biggest initiatives for the 2013-14 season are #FullSpeedAhead and the @USocialSuite. Our marketing campaign – #FullSpeedAhead – is for all sports this season. It was inspired by Admiral David Farragut’s message to his crew during the Battle of Mobile Bay: “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” This act of courage demonstrated that even when the odds are stacked against your team, victory can be achieved when you stay focused on the mission and fight to the finish.
@USocialSuite has been my personal project since I arrived at UM in July 2012. It was inspired by the Cleveland Indians Social Media Suite, but I didn’t want to rush the project. I wanted it to be done right. It wasn’t until I discovered that the Cal Bears did a similar project (under the radar) in 2011 and 2012. I reached out to the digital marketing team that did it and they helped me fill in some holes in our plan.
Now, with @USocialSute, we are – I believe – the first college athletics program to do a project like this one of this magnitude. My reason for creating this experience is a simple one – Miami Hurricanes fans are passionate both in the stadium and online. They represent our brand ambassadors and we want to harness that energy and create more brand ambassadors that can extend their reach much further than we can. (More details on the @USocialSuite to come soon from us!)
Traditional sports information roles/skills are diminishing across the board so we are putting our focus, efforts and talents on digital content rather than focusing on the traditional SID expectations. Now instead of the media being our number one focus, our number focus are the fans.
6. For the new school year and college sports season starting, can you tell us more about what your PR/Communications strategies look like and what your goals are for these campaigns?
We have one of the most engaged social media fan bases in the nation. Our fans are highly active online. These are our “brand ambassadors” – these are the ones that are on the frontlines and fight for us. In the theme of #FullSpeedAhead, we want to take that engagement to a completely different level. This year, we’ve implemented animated GIFs during football games. We’ve added a deeper digital media presence with in-game graphics and post-game graphics.
Our fans have an insatiable appetite for 1) content, 2) information and 3) all things digital. We want to give our fans, students and alumni as much “digital swag” as possible. “It’s great to be a Miami Hurricane” and we all share that enthusiasm in this office.
One of our other major goals – if not, the most important of them all – is our customer service. We want to provide the best customer service and quickest response time. On a normal day, our Twitter response time is somewhere around 5-6 seconds. No matter the question – good or bad – we want to provide an answer. If we can’t answer something, then we’ll say that, but we want to make sure we are providing transparency and great customer service.
7. Anything else you want to mention or add?
Those of us in college athletics have an awesome job. Yes, the job doesn’t have typical 9-5 hours, but you get to work in sports every day. How many people would love to do that? Do what you love; love what you do.
Photos Provided By: University of Miami/Hurricane Sports