By Margaret Nathan, Partner at Strategic Communication, Inc.
In a recent article in The New York Times, the great David Brooks wrote an article about the difference between baseball and soccer. He posed the question:
Is life more like baseball, or is it more like soccer?
He then went on to quote, “as Simon Critchley pointed out recently in The New York Review of Books, soccer is a game about occupying and controlling space. If you get the ball and your teammates have run the right formations, and structured the space around you, you’ll have three or four options on where to distribute it. If the defenders have structured their formations to control the space, then you will have no options. The man who is touching it does not primarily define even the act of touching the ball; it is defined by the context created by all the other players.”
It got me to thinking about my profession, and the best PR people are always the ones who know the playing field cold, the ones who know where all the bodies are buried and who can feel the space and timing of a great opportunity or a good story, who know the best people in the company from whom to get information and how not to hide, but to explain.
As Critchley writes, “Soccer is a collective game, a team game, and everyone has to play the part which has been assigned to them, which means they have to understand it spatially, positionally and intelligently and make it effective.” A good PR person or public relations firm operation is the same.
I frequently get asked from clients why isn’t my acquisition, my product, my company front-page news. Well now I can explain it. If you have the “product” and your company runs the “right formations to control the space” and your competitors are in awe, you probably have a great story.
Good PR people should be able to help your company run the “right formations” and structure the right timing and space around the company and then always be able to provide three to four options for the company to run with. While baseball is also a team sport, it is primarily driven by individual achievement. “The team who performs the most individual tasks well will probably win the game,” according to Brooks. But the question is can they win it for the long haul.
“Once we acknowledge that, in life, we are playing soccer, not baseball, a few things become clear. First, awareness of the landscape of reality is the highest form of wisdom. It’s not raw computational power that matters most; it’s having a sensitive attunement to the widest environment, feeling where the flow of events is going. Genius is in practice perceiving more than the conscious reasoning,” said Brooks.
So I would encourage everyone who is hiring a Public Relations firm to ask yourselves are these guys’ soccer players or a baseball team? If the PR firm or the PR person is not constantly revaluating your business, introducing you to new ideas and people to drive your business then go find someone who will. Go find a soccer player.