It’s time to expose the myth that public relations is only to draw attention away from a crisis.

I’ve talked a lot about the different social media tools and strategies to create a personal brand the past weeks, but today I want to discuss the importance of public relations to an athletic career.

PRSA defines public relations as, “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

Sports public relations does this by distributing information to the public that they otherwise wouldn’t know, and communicating messages that craft an organization or individual’s public image. Essentially, sports public relations depends on the personal and professional relationships developed between athletes and their peers. Without the proper guidance, athletes risk losing their audience and thousands of sponsorship dollars.

Let’s play a game. I’ll pick three names, and you hold on to the first word that comes to mind.

Johnny Manziel

Manti Te’o

Alex Rodriguez

Now, I bet the words you thought of were reckless, liar and steroids. Three perfect examples of poorly managed public relations that resulted in damaged personal brands.

To avoid cases like those above, athletes must remember the importance of being honest. Almost every lie can be solved with the power of the internet. There’s a common misunderstanding that public relations is about spinning the truth, but that’s incorrect. Not only will lying get an athlete nowhere it can overshadow a lifetime of hard work. Take Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte for example.

Lochte and a few other team USA swimmers reported a robbery by armed men on their way back to athletes’ village after a night of partying. Lochte’s story ended up a lie and took away attention from team USA’s historic achievements. Everyone involved in the hoax received a ban from competitive swimming, along with some embarrassment and a damaged public image. Lochte did earn some respect back after publicly apologizing, but would avoid the entire situation by telling the truth.

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Tim Tebow’s response to questions about him trying professional baseball after a disappointing NFL career also made headlines.

“I’m having so much fun,” Tebow told Bleacherreport.com of pursuing a baseball career. “You know what’s amazing? When you do something for the love of it. I’m so passionate about the game and pursuing it and playing every day.”

Tebow was honest and humble about chasing his dreams. The experts saw his honest passion and for that, they gave Tebow a chance. World series champion, Gary Sheffield went as far to say he absolutely believed Tebow would make it in the major leagues.

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Being an athlete isn’t for everyone. The drive to compete everyday takes a toll on a person both physically and emotionally, and even when things don’t go the athlete’s way it’s important they handle adversity properly. Losing a big match or important game is the quickest way to expose an athlete’s true character. Look at Dominick Cruz’s title fight loss to Cody Gardrandt at UFC 207.

Cruz was undefeated for nearly 10 years and the champion heading into the fight, afterward many critics, including myself, wondered how he would handle defeat for the first time in so long. Cruz immediately showed class in his post-fight Q&A  congratulating the new champion’s heart and fight awareness. Cruz’s composure after a tough loss earned him respect from media and fans around the world and impressed Garbrandt enough to offer him a rematch.

Ronda Rousey headlined UFC 207 and suffered a devastating one-sided loss to the UFC Women’s Featherweight Champion, Amanda Nunes. After the fight, Rousey decided to skip the post-fight Q&A and stayed quiet for days. No one knew how she was handling the biggest loss of her career after taking a year off. Fans and critics were quick to insist she retire after she stormed off, delivering a huge blow to Rousey’s image.

I’ve stressed the importance for athletes to be honest and handle adversity with class to advance athletic careers. Now, it’s time to talk about how athletes can communicate their stories with fans around the world.

Social media is the go-to method of direct communication with fans, but athletes like Michael Bisping are now starting to host their own podcasts. Bisping, being the wisecracking Englishman that he is, uses his podcast as a platform to deliver insight information to MMA fans while also generating excitement for upcoming fights. They’re a perfect way for athletes to build personal relationships with fans while building up their credibility and simultaneously marketing them.

So, to all the athletes reading this, remember that public relations is more than just trying to spin the truth. Public relations depends on how athlete’s carry themselves and the stories they choose to communicate with the world. Athletes that follow the rules of public relations experience more rewarding and successful careers than their counterparts.

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