Published on December 20th, 2013 | by Guest Contributor0
When Real World PR Happens to Your League
By Dinah Party, Head of PR, Windy City Rollers
I hate Monday mornings, I think most of the derby world hates Monday mornings. Especially those Monday mornings after a game, or a league banquet, or hell, just after a hard Sunday night practice. But this past Monday was a different morning for me. As the Public Relations Manager for the Windy City Rollers, we had a whirlwind of a morning this past Monday that has literally not stopped.
The night before, when many of us were enjoying league awards, talent shows, and libations at our annual Black and Blue Ball, four of our teammates were not. No one really knew why the ladies were not in attendance. Some wondered if they had simply chosen not to brave the cold and snowy weather that hit Chicago over the earlier hours. Maybe these girls simply had other things on a Sunday night keeping them from the awards ceremony. But no one could have guessed that all four were involved in a head-on collision less than a mile from the venue and that two of the four were being rushed to hospitals with serious injuries.
I left the awards ceremony early, since I am not currently drinking (see “9-month injury”); and because I work as a college registrar in my day job, I knew the following morning would be filled with filing grade reports and processing graduation forms. As I woke up that Monday morning, I saw that I had missed a text from my teammate JJ, a.k.a. Janicide Joplin, asking if I was awake. I vaguely remembered hearing my phone buzz as I went off to dreamland the night before. When I responded to her that morning at 7:45 am, I was not prepared for the news she gave me.
JJ explained that she, Moby Nipps, Senorita Slam, and Baberaham Lincoln had all been involved in a car accident and that’s why they were not at the Black and Blue Ball. She went into the details, and I immediately felt a growing hole inside me. My teammates were hurt, one was in the hospital with unknown injuries, another had a broken collarbone and had been released, and that other girls from the league had been with them the whole night helping. I knew something had to be done, but what do you do?
I got to work, and the league was a-flurry with an email outpouring of offers to help. As Nipps’ condition was not well-known, our home teams created spreadsheets to help walk dogs, grab groceries, cook, clean, launder… you name it, it was on the spreadsheet. The derby community really was rallying behind these women. Two teammates began an online fundraiser — the league could not, due to our not-for-profit status. However, on a larger scale, how could the league, or I, really help these girls?
As Monday evening wound down, we received news on Nipps’ condition and that her wife, Babe was able to go home, but Nipps had to stay in the hospital. By Tuesday morning, Mama Nipps had flown out and was at the hospital, someone had grabbed the couple’s pooches and was looking after them so that Babe could go back to the hospital and help care for Nipps.
Enter Tuesday. Still with the desire to do more, the league was seeking ways to help the four involved in the accident. Senorita Slam’s car was totaled, and Babe’s and Nipps’ medical expenses were going to be ginormous. As the PR Manager, there was actually something I could do, and with the help of our Marketing committee, we began drafting a press pitch to our regular media that had covered us throughout the year. We sent this to people we knew we had existing relationships with that might be able to spread the word and help highlight the accident, recovery, and fund to assist the ladies. After securing verification from the four ladies on Tuesday, we knew that on Wednesday we would launch the PR machine for the league to help drive traffic to the fundraiser, because that was the only thing we could do to spread the word about the accident.
Wednesday began with the pitch going to our closest media contacts. Immediately, three of them picked up the story, and within an hour, both Janicide Joplin and Senorita Slam were giving phone interviews. The Marketing and PR committees were over the moon with the quick exposure we were able to receive at such short notice. However as the PR manager, it was difficult to single-handedly orchestrate the interviews and such for the ladies who were still mending and healing. I was a go-between, screening story offers and making sure each girl was okay with her name, the accident, and the situation being published and used. Because Nipps was still in the hospital, we could only give out so much information about her condition, and Babe was unable to meet press demands for interviews because she was busy taking care of her wife.
As the media hounds began to exceed three, five, seven outlets in the past 48 hours, we knew the situation was great and driving the fundraising page to exceed the initial goal of $5,000 in a matter of hours. However, the negatives also began to peek through too; media wanted crash photos, accident reports, pictures of Nipps and her stitches in the hospital. I even had a media outlet ask if they could go to her hospital and interview her and was asked “Why not?” when I politely said no. As PR manager of any league, you are placed in a very precarious role of protecting your league but also promoting information to the public about your league and the issues that may arise. Needless to say, I got very little actual work done over the past 48 hours — shh, don’t tell my boss or students!
The media response became so great that one major media outlet flirted with offering us an on-camera interview to be done with a two-hour turnaround time to gather skaters and persons involved, but then had to cancel due to breaking news in the city about 30 minutes prior to the actual interview. As any league PR maven can attest, trying to get anyone for a last-minute media story can be very hard because we all have day jobs — something that the media is still having trouble understanding with the sport. Additionally, it has taken me all day to even write this editorial because of the outpouring of media calls, emails, and coverage, which we could not be more thankful for, but explaining to a major media outlet that you are a volunteer organization can still be quite hard.
Overall, the league’s PR pitches landed us stories, which were then seen by other media outlets who wanted a story. In this crazy domino effect of turning something awful into something that can be helpful, we must all be thankful that not only are these four ladies alive, but that the persons that hit them head-on have been caught and will be processed accordingly.
We always try to get as much media attention for our leagues as possible, but in situations like this just any media will not do the accident or injury justice. So, my suggestion to all of you PR folks out there:
1. Start with a statement regarding the incident, move slowly, and ensure individual sign-offs and check the facts of the situation before speaking to the press.
2. Reach out to those good press folks you know well and have developed relationships with on the regular, be picky, and keep your leaguemates in the back of your mind.
3. Most importantly, monitor those involved who are being interviewed repeatedly. Remember that these people have just had an accident and repeating the events may not be helping them cope with their own healing process. Regularly check in on them after each interview if possible, and when the story is published, check the article for facts and misquotes.
4. Alert the media outlet of corrections when necessary.
5. If the involved persons feel they are burnt out that day from speaking, get a captain, first responder from the league, or a family member if a good league relationship has been pre-established.
6. When all else fails, it is in fact okay to turn down media.
Currently, Nipps is still in the hospital. Everyone at the Windy City Rollers is grateful for the outreach of derby love and support those affected has received. A private, non-league, donation page has been set up by two teammates to assist the four women with medical, living, and other expenses they will incur from this accident and recovery period; if anyone feels like donating they may do so here.
Update: Moby Nipps was released from the hospital and is now in recovery with her wife at home. The Windy City Rollers and accident victims are amazed at all the love and support the derby community has shown throughout the week. Any questions about the incident, or, if your league would like to make a contribution to the fund may be directed at firstname.lastname@example.org