For as long as there has been college sports, the group that does all the communications, in many cases still mislabeled as Sports Information Directors, have been undervalued at a majority of intercollegiate institutions big and small. However as the role of storytelling has changed in a more digital and tech friendly era where Universities are looking for more and more ROI for brands who spend dollars activating in the college landscape, the role of the “SID” has finally started to evolve.
Helping lead the transition into a new and more progressive era for communications on campus is Doug Vance, the Executive Director of the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA). A college communications lifer, Vance has been in and around the business for a lifetime, and now helps create the strategic leadership for the 2,900-plus member international organization.
Vance worked 20 years as an administrator in the University of Kansas athletics department, including 18 years as KU’s assistant athletics director for media relations and the final two years as associate athletics director for communications.
His athletic media relations volunteer work includes serving as a United State Olympic Committee (USOC) Media Volunteer Coordinator during the 1992 Barcelona, Spain Olympics, serving on the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four Media Coordinating Committee, and serving as the former chair of the Kansas Sunflower State Games Board of Directors. Vance also is the author of one book and the co-author of three others, including “Beware of the Phog, 50 years of Allen Fieldhouse” featuring the history of the University of Kansas basketball facility.
We caught up with Doug to talk best practices in storytelling and where the business is going in the opinion of one of its more seasoned leaders.
What skills in being a good communicator remain essential for the changing business today?
First of all, understanding all of the many options available to connect and communicate. Depending on who you are targeting or if it’s internal or external, there are many more effective ways to communicate and deliver a message. I think it’s also vital to understand the most effective way to connect with your target audience. If you are trying to reach a younger audience, there are probably more effective ways to connect with them than, say, someone from a different generation. Finally, I think a lost art in today’s world is the ability to write. The ability to craft a sentence, to state a message or to make a point in writing is an essential fundamental in effective written communications. I love Twitter, but it does teach bad habits from a writing perspective. Thus, knowing how to reach your audience and knowing how to deliver a written message are two of the skills I feel are essential for success in communications.
What has been the biggest change you have seen in the business in the last five years?
Change in our industry is constant and always evolving because of technology and new delivery options. Information is now delivered in a 24/7 news cycle so essential that the communications office have the resources and knowledge to take full advantage of those demands. In so many ways, particularly at high-profile NCAA Division I schools, the athletic department is positioning itself as the source of news for its fan base. And, in some ways, positioning itself somewhat in competition with their own local media. That’s a trend that seems to be emerging now. Schools want to control the message and are putting more emphasis on their own communication resources to deliver it.
Who are some people that you follow to learn more about the goings on in the business today?
I’m a big fan of Twitter and there are a variety of national writers who I follow to get both opinions and news. Part of it depends on the season…there are national basketball writers who I pay close attention to during basketball season and football writers who I focus on during that season. Twitter also allows me to venture out of the sports world and gain insights on politics, entertainment and other industry news I care about. In giving it thought, I don’t really have favorites. I do know that I do rely heavily on social media forums for my news….but, I’m very much old school. I still like have a newspaper in my hands to reach each morning.
What’s the advice you usually give young people in the field today?
Work harder at developing relationships with the local media they serve. I think that’s another lost art in our world. It’s so easy to always communicate electronically, that people fail to make face-to-face connections that are important in a public relations sense. Technology gives us many advantages….but, it also is responsible for the lost art of talking to people we serve either on the phone or face-to-face. Building personal relationships is a key quite often in getting things accomplished. That’s true both externally and within your department. It’s just as important to keep that in mind in the workplace. The other advice I like to give is putting an emphasis on opportunities for professional development. Read, learn and grow through the opportunities that are available.
Who had the biggest professional influence on your career?
That list is long. Probably my older brother who gave me my first job in sports information. He was the SID at Eastern Kentucky and let me volunteer as a student. He has been the one constant throughout my career of offering the right advice when I needed it.
There are major differences that exist in college athletic communications; is there one core element that exists and is shared at every school?
Two come to mind: How to work effectively with coaches and student-athletes to tell their story and how to use social media platforms effective to deliver those stories.
How do you think the role of communications in college athletics will change in the next five years or so?
As mentioned earlier, the emphasis on the school using its resources to deliver the message more than relying on outside media. It’s something to keep an eye on and see how it evolves. Space in newspapers is shrinking and, of course, the future of newspapers is very much in question. Thus, social media platforms are more and more the vehicle to deliver and drive news and available as a source of promotion. I think that concept will evolve and probably impact local media coverage more than national. The impact of national media outlets – particular ESPN, etc. – will continue to be important in the communications approach for schools.