Inside Communications: Communicating the Right Way

On the third Monday of every month, a member of the Georgia State Sports Communications office will give InsideGSUSports a look at what is going on in their department. Over the course of every month, each department will be featured at least once. Coming next Monday: Video.

In our business of communications, you are judged on being accurate more than being fast … or at least you should be. I wholeheartedly fall on the former when putting decisions I make on the big board. With the weather turning for the worst last week (although a day later than all the closings would have you believe), we had to go into planning mode unlike we’re used to and relying on that belief was crucial in the way we handled the situation.

Typically in our office we get a schedule from the coach or director of operations during the offseason and from that point, there are few changes. Sure, we hear rumors of high-profile games that could come up in the non-conference season on occasion, but rarely is there anything less than a concrete listing when it actually hits our office. If we get a schedule in basketball, it’s usually set. Final. Not changing.

Shutting down the university for three days, two of which included home basketball games, threw that idea of a solid schedule out the window last week.

When word came that we were shutting down last Tuesday, the first thing we thought of was “Will Texas State be able to get into town to play the games?” Okay, step back. Actually, that may have been everyone else’s thought in our communications office. My first thought was “Will Charlie get home?”

You see, during the last snow event a few weeks ago, we were told to go home on Tuesday, but with the 1.4 million people leaving downtown all at one time, it created an issue for travel. Charlie Taylor, our women’s basketball SID, lives way outside the perimeter – like up in Tennessee – and he was worried about making it home and then back for Wednesday’s game, which at the time was still on as scheduled. He tried, but then turned around and came back to the Sports Arena before dinnertime, starting a streak of about 72 hours holed up in the Sports Arena. His dedication led him to sleep in the locker room and stay in the building instead of going home in case the game was played as scheduled. He finally left after the game was played on a snow day on Thursday.

Fast forward to last week and I saw his lonely event playing out again. Luckily, he was able to get home this time, staying dry during the precipitation on Tuesday and Wednesday, and finding his way back south on Friday when the office reopened.

So with Charlie safe and sound in the comfort of his own house, all we had to worry about was getting the word out. Throughout Tuesday, Wednesday and into Thursday, I was in frequent contact with our administration, texting and emailing with Cheryl Levick and Jamie Boggs, as well as with the whole external staff. They, in turn, were in contact with the Sun Belt office, Texas State’s administration and other key parties.

Our job in an event like that is to get the correct information to the media and the masses as quickly as possible. Some may have thought that communication of the makeup date didn’t come very fast since it wasn’t announced on Wednesday. Many just assumed the games would be pushed to today (Feb. 17).  That’s fine. They can think that. But they would have missed one word in the first sentence of this paragraph that I take extremely seriously: correct.

We will not put out information until we know it to be correct. If that means we have to keep people on hold or correct them on social media when they spout off as if they “know,” then we will. Because it’s not official until it’s not official.

The first time we had the correct information was approximately seven minutes before it was tweeted on @GSUPanthers. That’s when I received the final go-ahead to announce that the games would be played today. In that seven minutes before I tweeted it, I emailed our whole external unit with directions to get everything rolling to notify the masses, and then got on the phone with Doug Roberson of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. While we have 23,000 fans following us on social media, and have a great reach on our website, we always want to start with the traditional media that is looked to first in a crisis situation, as the snowpacolypse was viewed.

Once that email and phone call was made, we pushed it out to the masses. It was about 28 hours after we postponed the games, but without question, that was the earliest that the determination to play the game on Feb. 17 was officially official.

Looking back on the way our whole staff handled each of the past two “winter” events in 2014, I don’t see anything we could have done better. It was efficient and thorough when the time came to move on the information we had, and only when it was appropriate. I appreciate that professionalism. I hope you do too.

— Jerry Trickie

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