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Jul 30 / Dan Levy

How to be an all-star with that media credential

Dan Levy and Jimmy Conrad

The author, right, and former MLS star Jimmy Conrad.

The MLS All-Star Game took place on Wednesday at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., meaning America’s premier soccer league took over the city of Philadelphia for the better part of a week.

From the giant—GIANT—autograph ball rolling around the city to a press conference with stars from MLS and EPL club Chelsea in front of the Liberty Bell to building a new playground in the footprint of Philadelphia Union stadium, the MLS did an excellent job of getting involved in the growth of its sport within the region.

One of the events the league held was the annual Media Cup (sponsored by Castrol with the company’s logo emblazoned across the jerseys like we were real pros), inviting all press covering the All-Star game to play in a round-robin tournament.

I jumped at the chance to play, asking the MLS PR folks to make sure I was on a team that didn’t suck.

My team didn’t suck.

In fact, my team was so good we won the whole damn thing. I have the trophy and the celebratory photo with former MLS Defensive Player of the Year­—and my Media Cup teammate from KickTV—Jimmy Conrad to prove how good it was.

I could recap the whole tournament, or I could use that as a launch into my bigger point: I was there because I’ve taken the time to develop a solid relationship with the public relations people in MLS. They know my name. They know my work and they know I will conduct myself professionally when I’m there.

I don’t cover MLS every day. Heck, I don’t cover MLS much at all (though I do write quite a bit about soccer, it’s mostly international soccer or the U.S. National team) and I was not only credentialed for the event, I was invited to multiple functions during the week, including the Media Cup (which my team won, if you didn’t know).

I have spent most of my career making sure that I’m not the guy PR offices have to worry about because I understand the PR office is not the enemy of the media.

In many cases, we couldn’t do our jobs without them. Sure, our interests may not always be the same—their job is to create positive spin for their brand and our job is to serve our audience with engaging news and information—but in many cases, one cannot exist without the other.

I can’t tell you how many young writers I’ve spoken with who try to circumvent the process of dealing with PR offices. Sure, you can write a story without asking for official comment, but the story won’t be as thoroughly reported unless you do. A “no comment” is sometimes the most telling comment on a story. If your goal is serving the reader, it stands to reason that getting that “no comment” is doing more service than just assuming they won’t talk to you.

Even if you don’t get that comment, you’ve let the PR office know what you are planning to write, which helps them prepare for any potential aftermath. While playing your hand may not always be the best move before publishing a story, it will certainly earn you favor with the PR staff down the line. You may need a quote or credentials to an event at a later time and making sure the PR office knows you, trusts you and appreciates your professionalism can go a long way in the future.

Speaking of professionalism, there are a few notes from this week’s MLS All-Star game I’d like to share (and no, it’s not the fact that my team won the Media Cup, if you didn’t already know that).

I got to the game early, found my seat on press row and shook as many hands as I could shake. If you are going to get credentialed to an event, make sure people know you are there. Don’t be afraid to talk to another reporter or a member of the staff before an event. Share with them what you plan to write and see if anyone can help you with an angle or a quote you may not be able to get on your own.

Most importantly, always remember where you work.

Remember that there is a news outlet you are there to represent. It may be Bleacher Report or, for many people who currently write for the site, it may be the next gig you move on to in the industry. It may be a full-time job for some of you, but if doesn’t matter if you’re a full-timer or someone asked to cover one event for free, when you get that credential, remember you are wearing it at all times.

I’ve gone to two major events in the last few weeks and I saw how other online outlets sometimes treat the importance of having a credential. I have seen multiple empty seats on press row. If you request a credential to an event and you are lucky enough to get it accepted, you better show up.

Next time, they will fill that seat with someone who actually has enough respect to get there.

Second, and I cannot stress this enough, if you are at an event with a pass—hell, if you’re at an event in the stands and you’re wearing your Bleacher Report hoodie—don’t be an idiot.

I was sitting on press row during the MLS All-Star game, working to make sure people realize this company belongs there with the other big media giants, and I saw some online media walking around with beers in their hand! Working media, with credentials, walked around drinking beers and sitting in the stands instead of covering the game.

Do not do that. That may be okay for some outlets, but it shouldn’t be. I don’t care if you are covering a beerfest for crying out loud. When you go to an event, you go representing your company, your brand and yourself. Don’t be an unprofessional idiot.

(Oh, and this goes double on Twitter, too, but that’s another story for another time.)

If you always try to handle yourself professionally no matter what the media setting, you will grow to earn the trust of those who hold the passes in the room.

You have to learn to play the media game right. They even give out trophies.

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Dan Levy is Bleacher Report’s National Lead Writer. Follow him on Twitter at @DanLevyThinks.