Monday, March 31, 2014

Tossing a ref rag on NFL's email strategy

One of PR's first rules: know your audience. Or, don't pitch a story about Manolo Blahnik shoes to Sports Illustrated.

The NFL recently sent emails from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and ex-coach and current TV pitchman Bill Cowher, telling me all they're doing to address the issue of head injury and trauma among young and pro football players. Here's a link.

People who play football experience head injury. No dispute there. There's a reason high schools with football teams hire a physician to attend the games. And TV news magazines have devoted airtime to stories of suicide among former NFL players whose behavior may have ties to head-to-head collisions on the field.

Another of my basic PR rules: ask a reader to take one action. And here's where the NFL's e-newsletter strategy misses the uprights.

First, I don't have kids, nephews or neighbors whose kids play league football. I've never coached a team. I'm not the right demographic for this message. Whatever e-mail list the NFL's using, it needs to be scrubbed.

Second: I only attended one NFL game in 2013. (Prior to that, it had been three years between trips to Ralph Wilson Stadium.)

Third: former coach Bill Cowher's current high-visibility gig is promoting cable TV service for Time Warner Cable. Message to me: the NFL hired a "favorite son" pitchman to front its issue. His credibility is a bit thin.

I clicked the "Sign Up Today" button in Bill's email. It whisks me to a website operated by USA Football, not the NFL. It leads me down a path to register and become a "Commissioner." I don't know what this means, and it asks for too much personal information.

From an image-management and PR perspective, the NFL's game plan to address the head injury issue -- without talking about what it's doing for afflicted former players -- draws a ref rag. It talks to the wrong audience. Yes, they got a morning talk-show segment on moms taking part in football training to better understand the issue. That's great PR.

But the NFL/USA Football email is vague and intrusive. At best, I'm a casual football fan. So I'm more likely to wear a cycling helmet when I ride than sign up for a mailing list about an issue where I have no stake in the game.