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Take me out to the ball game: Kevin Saghy on managing communications for the Chicago Cubs


August 1, 2013

Kevin Saghy has “always been a huge baseball fan — binders of baseball cards growing up and all — and dreamed of working in the sport,” he says. As the manager of communications for the Chicago Cubs, he’s now in his fourth season.

Saghy is responsible for promoting the team’s marketing and ticketing efforts, community involvement and other off-the-field endeavors through various communications channels, while also leading the club’s overall social media efforts. In his role, he helps the Cubs publish content and implement sweepstakes, giveaways, polls, player interviews and in-ballpark activation, while focusing on personal engagement with fans.

Prior to joining the Cubs, Saghy worked as an account executive in Ketchum’s corporate practice. He is an advisory board member for the Plank Center, a founding board member of the Ohio Northern Chicago Alumni Club and a volunteer for several Chicago-based and national PRSA committees. He is also a past national president of PRSSA and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in public relations with a business option from Ohio Northern University.

How did you get your start in public relations?

I was fortunate to have targeted public relations as a career path while I was still in high school, which allowed me to choose a university with an established program and get involved on campus. This allowed me to complete a few internships and take advantage of opportunities in PRSSA, where I joined the National Committee as a junior and became national president as a senior. The leadership experience and networking opportunities were invaluable, and ultimately led to the beginning of my professional career at Ketchum.

Were you always a big baseball fan?

I have always been a huge baseball fan — binders of baseball cards and all — and dreamed of working in the sport. I grew up in Ohio, east of Cleveland, so I was a fan of the electric Cleveland Indians teams of the mid-to-late 1990s. Once I set my sights on Chicago to begin my career, I put a poster of Wrigley Field on my dorm room wall and began paying attention to the Cubs as my “National League team.”  You can imagine how rewarding it was to find out I’d be walking to Wrigley Field every day. I still own that poster.

What is your job like in the off-season and during the season?

It sounds cliché, but no two days are the same here. My duties are split between traditional PR outreach and social media. As soon as I wake up, I usually check my email and our Twitter feed to see if there are pressing issues to address.

On a normal day, I work with our internal teams in business operations or community affairs to help promote their initiatives through traditional and new media.

Our communications team also works hand-in-hand with our colleagues in baseball operations and media relations to ensure roster moves, game updates, etc., are communicated to media and fans on a unified front. We serve as a resource for our players’ foundations and community outreach as well, so it’s always rewarding when we’re able to amplify their efforts.

What’s the best way to keep fans engaged  —  especially with so many different stimuli and with consumers who are always on the go?

We must deliver what fans expect from us on social media, such as game updates, replays, roster moves, player insights and behind-the-scenes pictures and video.

Beyond this basic content, we strive to exceed our followers’ expectations by interacting on a personal level online, then connecting in a memorable way offline. This includes quick interactions, such as giveaways or visiting fans in their seats, to larger occasions, such as helping a family in need after discovering their story on social media. Our fans remember these interactions for life, and the positive stories spread organically.

You can stand out as a brand once your followers see there are people behind the corporate logo who are listening, responding truthfully and legitimately care about their customers. We hope those folks will want to support the team even more as a result.

What advice do you have for young professionals hoping to go into the sports sector?

Network. There are many qualified candidates and few positions available in sports, so it’s important to create meaningful relationships in the industry so you are top of mind when a position becomes available. This must complement a strong background. It’s worth pointing out that the sports industry requires hard work and long hours, so young professionals should be passionate if they plan to carve out a career in sports.

What trends do you see for sports PR and for public relations in general?

Digital media is changing the sports media landscape. From the speed at which information spreads to the fan experience, sponsor opportunities and player interaction, we need to be responsive and creative to keep up with the demands.

How has the media landscape changed in terms of coverage? How do you decide who are credible sources (with all of the fan sites) and what type of access they get?

The lines continue to blur between traditional media, online outlets, blogs, broadcast and our fans/customers. Some of our best customers, such as season ticket holders, also operate media sites. We look at a site’s readership volume, tone, professionalism and editorial process when evaluating what access to grant. MLB has credentialing guidelines we must follow as well.

How does the organization decide what to address for trades, retirements, etc.?

I’m fortunate to be part of an organization that communicates honestly and transparently to media. That approach starts at the top with our ownership and management team. There are some topics which it’s not appropriate for us to address, particularly on social media. We’re not going to publicly speculate on trade rumors and we can’t discuss other teams’ players until a deal is official. It’s not my role as a social media manager to participate in chatter about a player’s performance, our manager’s decision on the field, an umpire’s call or another team’s performance — that’s best left to our fans.

How are the Cubs using social media to reach fans?

We’re active on nearly every major social media platform — Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Vine, Google Plus, Tumblr — and we keep an eye on other emerging outlets to see where we should focus our efforts. We cover every game, home or away, and constantly monitor for breaking news.

It’s important for us to share news on social media directly with fans as soon as it’s official. We also want to be sure fans can see the fun guest experiences we have, as well as the work our players and front office do in the community. We are conscious not to overload our feeds with too much of one subject area and try to keep promotional posts light and interesting.

Finally, we rely on traditional PR tactics to attract attention to our social media outlets. We worked with Pearl Jam to execute a social media leak strategy announcing their Wrigley Field concert this summer, which landed our feeds in the pages of national rock ‘n’ roll publications we wouldn’t normally dream of. We pitched and secured quite a bit of coverage about our first-ever Social Media Night at Wrigley Field last year, including an Associated Press article that wound up on the cover of The New York Times’ Sunday Sports edition. These types of efforts raise awareness that we’re doing some cool things.

Does the team have a social media policy for players and others in the organization?

We do. Historically, we’ve communicated the opportunities and dangers of social media to our players in Spring Training, in accordance with MLB’s social media policy. We recently stepped up those efforts with new social media guidelines for the front office and will implement training courses for our associates in the near future.

How do you protect such a storied franchise like the Chicago Cubs and what role does public relations play in protecting that brand?

The Cubs have a storied, beloved brand and we feel tremendous responsibility to uphold everything people love about this team. Whether we’re working with reporters or speaking directly to fans, our team strives to be authentic, engaging and honest.

We can’t always predict or control how the results will play out on the field each season, but we can control how we treat our key stakeholders. I’m proud to see our leadership teams on both the baseball and business sides communicate openly about our plans on and off the field, and most fans have responded positively to this transparency.


Getting to Know Kevin Saghy

Who’s your favorite athlete?
Present Cubs excluded, I have to trace back to my Cleveland roots and give a nod to Omar Vizquel’s brilliance with the glove.

If you could have any 3 dinner guests — past or present — who would they be?
Jesus, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin

What’s your favorite movie? 
“Forrest Gump”


Managing Editor Amy Jacques interviewed Kevin Saghy for this month’s member profile.

 



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