On Monday, Zack Hill, a seasoned public relations executive, discussed his experiences working in Philadelphia sports for over 30 years at Pizza with the Pros
Rowan University students attended the meeting stocked with a variety of questions relating to the behind-the-scenes processes of a professional sports team.
Hill was first asked about his longevity and how he lasted in a position so scrutinized.
“Surviving,” Hill said, in regards to his adaptability through various management changes in the NBA and NHL.
Although adjusting to his surroundings helped Hill keep the same corner office, he said that he would not have achieved as much as he has without believing in himself.
“You’re all a salesperson… you are going to be selling yourselves,” Hill said.
The next few responses quelled curiosities students had about Hill’s position, one often overlooked in sports. He told students that players who are outspoken and talkative are the most unique types of players for public relations.
Former 76ers star, Charles Barkley, and former Flyers star, Jeremy Roenick, came to mind when Hill thought of players who fit this stereotype. These people are great players and people in their own right, but Hill claims their “no filter” nature made things interesting for PR.
Perhaps the highlight of Hill’s visit was the discussion of his experience regarding the debut of the famous Flyers mascot, Gritty. The ugly-looking mascot has grown to become a fan favorite in the NHL, but not without an equally ugly origin. Hill recounted the struggles that occurred during this time, noting multiple falls and mishaps.
“Oh Christ, this is not gonna be good,” Hill said, regarding his first reaction and the immediate reception of Gritty. The narrative around Gritty in Philadelphia changed almost overnight due to public scrutiny, but local fans began to rally around him. These events contributed to the love fans regard Gritty with today.
Hill explained how when spirits are low with the team, it is important for players to trust the PR staff. The communication between players and media runs through the public relations department. Without a healthy process in that department, chaos within an organization could ensue.
“If the players don’t trust you, it will be tough,” Hill said. He continued further with the importance of simply having someone vouch for you and how far that can go with newer players or staff.
Making most of every opportunity is highly important when working in a competitive field.
Hill told one story of how a player was struggling to get a fax machine delivered within the week and asked Hill for help. Hill knew that it was a moment that could result in monumental social approval, so he phoned the fax machine company himself. With the bargain of free tickets, he was able to get the machine delivered overnight. From then on out, that player spoke very highly of Hill and treated Hill with respect.
Hill concluded his discussion with behind-the-scenes intel on how he presents social media etiquette to his team. He passed out copies of a list consisting of the most problematic tweets in sports history. While providing a comedic flare, this list allowed students to dive into what people working in public relations worry about on a day-to-day basis.
Pizza with the Pros will return next Monday with COO Leslie Gudel from Elevate Sports & Media and former Villanova Football Head Coach Andy Talley. Together, they’ll discuss marketing for a non-profit foundation.
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