Blogs  / October 19, 2012

How to Score a PR Homerun: Interview with ESPN’s Chris Sprow

by Rebekah Iliff

The following interview was conducted by AirPR’s Director of Product, Rebekah Iliff. In addition to her role at AirPR, she is a technology/startup blogger for The Huffington Post and has recently been a featured columnist for Entrepreneur Magazine’s “Young Entrepreneur.”

If you’re a baseball fan, which I admittedly am not, then you’ll appreciate the blatant attempt to tie-in sports with this week’s blog post as the Giants face some serious competition in the MLB Playoffs. Standard disclaimer: our office is three blocks from the stadium, and I wasn’t even aware they were in the playoffs until this week. Oops.

It just so happens that I spent some time with my good pal and colleague Chris Sprow a few weeks ago in New York, who also just so happens to be part of the stellar ESPN team. Over pasta and vino, we waxed poetic about technology’s impact on everything from customer engagement and content development, to article writing and media relations.

Oh, and there was the occasional act of nostalgia in which we paid homage to the “olden days” back in Chicago when we were both hustling in our respective careers, only to land squarely where we sit now: a muy importante person at ESPN in New York and the Director of Product for a tech startup in San Francisco. Queue slice of humble pie.

So without further adieu, I excitedly give you a behind the scenes glimpse into the world of sports from a very different angle: one which has nothing to do with baseball, football, boxing, basketball, or tennis, but rather gives insight into how the world has changed with the digitalization and mobilization of just about everything.

Rebekah Iliff: Give me a brief overview of your current role at ESPN, and what you were doing prior to this gig?

Chris Sprow: I’m an editor and a reporter with ESPN The Magazine, which encompasses work at ESPN.com and ESPN Insider. I spend a greater deal of my time on the web. This involves a lot of long-range planning on ideas for print, web and TV stuff, editing, writing, and a lot of oversight of online work. There’s even been a lot of TV appearances involved, which are fun. Prior to this I was a magazine editor in Chicago, where I also freelanced as a writer for companies such as ESPN and the New York Times.

RI: How focused is ESPN on digital, and where do you anticipate growth over the next 2-5 years?

CS: ESPN is extraordinarily focused on digital initiatives, and I would describe the anticipation for growth by saying I think this company plans to be at the forefront of the way people will seamlessly migrate from TV, to online, to “print” within a digital realm. Great content is great content, and it can exist in many forms and mediums, and ESPN seems to recognize that.

RI: In your opinion, how has technology (namely social networks, smartphones, etc.) changed the way people find and share information?  How has this impacted a huge, well-known brand like ESPN?

CS: It’s changed everything, and it’s all about interconnectivity. What we watch, download, read and enjoy is now so much built into not merely our preferences, but our social networks and connections. You ask how technology has impacted how we share information, and I think now we realize how we share information is all about where technology wants to be. It’s hard to tell who’s wagging which dog. This impacts ESPN because a media company such as this is in a constant gathering and feeding mode. To be a trendsetter you have to risk losses investing in what you hope people will love, not just what they already do.

RI: I assume that you are pitched (no pun intended!) on a regular basis by PR folks wanting to tell their clients’ stories….how do you decide what is newsworthy and what isn’t?

CS: What I find newsworthy is a perpetual mix of what I can already see is important, and what I think should be. If someone spots a trend, or pitches based on one I can see, I’m interested. But if you can convince me something I don’t know a lot about is the way people will want to be reached, I’m interested. Or maybe it’s just inane. I’ve read 8,000-stories about building a better umbrella, with the answer being you just can’t.

RI: What is some advice you’d give to PR pros in this over-saturated, information heavy marketplace?

CS: Find a specific fit. Know your product and exactly where what you are pitching fits. So many people pitch with the idea that an idea or story can live ANYwhere — web, print, online, as a series. But it can’t, so be specific. We’re not looking for a “perfect idea” that can go just about anywhere. Make it clear you’re familiar with the brand you’re pitching to. Don’t try to sell ketchup to everyone the same way.

Hope that was helpful. Come back to NY soon so we can hit the dumpling bar next time!

RI: Absolutely.  And when you’re tired of the 3 ft. snow drifts, you know where I’ll be.

Follow Chris Sprow on Twitter: @Sprow_ESPN