If you've been following the Blue Jackets on Twitter or Facebook, you're already familiar with Ryan Holtmann, the Blue Jackets' Manager of Communications, but you may not have realized it. The man behind the team's social media accounts (and many other facets of the team's media relations) was good enough to take time out of his schedule to answer a few interview questions from The Cannon.
Q: For those who aren't familiar with what you do, can you please describe your role as the Manager of Communications for the Blue Jackets? What does it involve on a day to day basis?
A: As the Manager of Communications, I am essentially the liaison between the media and the team (players, coaches, management, staff). Between my boss (Vice President of Public Relations Todd Sharrock) and myself, we handle all the media requests from local, state and national media. I handle the team’s official Twitter account and assist with maintenance of the official Facebook page. I am also in charge of a majority of the team publications, including the Media Guide, Season in Review Guide (or as it has once been called, the Playoff Media Guide – I am hoping that name returns again this April), Game Notes, Game Program and Press Releases.
I handle a majority of the player appearances and requests like autograph signings, celebrity bartending, etx. The community development requests for fundraisers and charitable work goes through Karen Davis, our director of Business Communications. Also, Todd (Sharrock) and I split travel with the team when they are playing on the road, so one of us is with the team at all times.
Q: Since you brought the playoff media guide, what some of the other additional needs or challenges you had to resolve during the playoffs that might not occur in the regular season?
The biggest challenge for the playoffs was the Playoff Media Guide itself. It’s a 180+ page document that in non-playoff years, I will spend around a month working on. However, the Playoff Media Guide (which about 15-20 percent can be worked on during the season) has to be put together and turned in to the printer by two days prior to our first game (or if we travel, two days prior to our departure date). The 2008-09 regular season ended for the Blue Jackets on Saturday, Apr. 11. After our game that night, I went home and worked until about 2 a.m. on the guide. I was back in the office at 7 a.m. Sunday and worked until 1 a.m. that night. I was not alone, either. Todd, Karen, Ryan Mulcrone (Multimedia Manager) and our former Communications Coordinator were all here for the majority of that time as well. They had their duties to handle, but when they had down time they helped with the Playoff Media Guide. We were also waiting for the NHL to announce the playoff schedule (dates, times, TV sked) and that did not come until late.
Monday was much of the same, only the office was busy, phones were ringing, etc. Since our first playoff game wasn’t until Thursday (and I was driving up separate from the team), we had until Tuesday morning to get the content to the printer. We hammered out the final pages late Monday, took a quick edit of the guide Tuesday morning and got it to the printer. After that, it was fairly easy. During the playoffs, everything is controlled. There are no player appearances to worry about. Media availability for the players is limited to the locker room after practice. There is a press conference set up for the head coach for each day of practice that both home and road coaches utilize (same set up is used post-game and includes players from both teams). In-game had a few more pieces, as there can be more than the typical home and road broadcast, so intermission interview requests were slightly busier (this would only increase the deeper in the playoffs the team would have went). But the days were spent doing everything we could to make sure the media had the information that they needed and planning for the TV broadcast that evening (they send a request list the day before the game so we know what to expect). Although it was great to get that first playoff experience under our belt, it was far too short.
Q: One of the reasons Jackets fans may be more familiar with who you are is your twitter account, @RyanCBJPR. What made you decide to start using the Twitter service to showcase things like the press corps meal menus, or prepping for a game?
A: I had been using Twitter through my personal account occasionally. The more I began to use it, the more questions people began to ask about the job. Prior to the start of the season, a few people suggested that I take them through a day in the life of a PR guy (another NHL PR guy, Ryan Stanzel @rstanzel, did this, which is where I think the people who mentioned it got the idea).
I like the PR gig because I am a behind the scenes guy. However, I like providing the behind the scenes view to those who request it. I think it opens the eyes for a lot of people. Although the sports world is a great profession to work, it may not be as easy as some think. A game day was a great example of the hours put in and work that needed to be done just for a game that lasts two and a half hours. That was the biggest eye opener when I first started working in sports. I could not believe all the work that went into what I thought was a simple game day. As for the press meal photos, that was requested by a few of the media members. It allows them to see if they need to grab food elsewhere if they do not like what is on the press menu.
Q: It seems like the team has stepped up its use of social media like Twitter and Facebook in general. What's the biggest challenge using social media compared to managing the team's communications through traditional methods (press releases, radio, and TV)?
A: I wouldn’t really call it a challenge, just another step (or two) in the process. As recently as a few years ago, we would write the press release, send it out via e-mail and fax, post it on our website and make phone calls to all the key media outlets to make sure they received the press release. Now we have a few extra steps. With the way Twitter is set up and designed for people who use it, as soon as we get confirmation on an official announcement, we will post that information on Twitter first.
If the press release had not been written yet, we would then write the press release (almost all of the releases are written before news becomes 100 percent official, but we do not send it until the paperwork has been filed with the NHL). The release would then be posted on our website, while at the same time it would be e-mailed out to the media. Once it has been posted on our website, we would post the links on Twitter and Facebook. Also, somewhere in this process, and if the news is big enough, we will send out a text alert (this is sent to fans who have signed up to receive these alerts). Since most of the media is dialed in to either their Twitter account or have access to their e-mail via their cell phones, we no longer need to make phone calls unless it’s a major announcement or involves media availability.
Q: Since you've been with the team, is there a particular moment or memory that stands out for you?
A: Even though I still love seeing "The Goal" that Nash scored at Phoenix and will always be something that I remember, the moment that I will never forget is the night the team clinched its first playoff berth in franchise history on Apr. 8, 2009 at Chicago. Even more specifically is Nash’s game-tying goal in that game, which proved to be the playoff clinching goal. Even though I was not with the team (and to be honest, I am glad that Todd was on the trip with the team. He has been with the organization since the start and he deserved to be in Chicago with the team celebrating with them), I was at a jam-packed R Bar. Since I was on standby to send the press release (had we clinched), I only had one beer during the game.
Being in a place surrounded by so many people made it feel like a home game. I really tried to take in everything that I could because I knew it was something I would (potentially) never forget. It was also great to get to be a "fan" that night, too. Working in PR, you are trained not to cheer as cheering is not allowed in the press box. After being in so many press boxes, you get accustomed to not reacting – good or bad – to goals or certain plays. That night was a different story. I was able to be a fan and cheer every goal and be upset with every goal against. I have to admit, it was not the easiest of jobs sending a press release out when you have fans going crazy around you, but it was more than worth it. Once the press release was sent, I joined in on the celebration. It was great to celebrate with a lot of our staff and our fans.
Q: I recall a survey which was sent out to season ticket holders this off-season with quite a few questions about the team's efforts to reach out to the fan base, including social media. Has the increased use of Twitter and Facebook by the team been a result of that survey, and are there any changes or additions to the team's social media experience that fans should keep an eye out for in the future?
A: Social Media has become very popular over the years and become even more popular for sports teams as of late. Our job as an organization is to make sure that our fans are getting what they want. Not everything we do is going to please every single person, but we strive to do our best to make sure we can please as many as we can. With the growth of social media, and as we were trying to grasp how we were going to utilize it to reach out to our fans, we wanted to get their feedback. It has helped us get a better understanding of what our fans want and that’s what we are trying to give them.
You may have noticed the updates to our Facebook page with the look and feel of it. As for Twitter, we do our best to answer as many questions as we can, provide as much behind the scenes info and pictures as we can and try to post as often as possible. We are still working to implement other things into both Facebook and Twitter, but are finalizing some other steps first. Hopefully during the second half of the season we will have more contests and ticket giveaways similar to what we did last season.
Q: The NHL has been at the cutting edge of embracing emerging technologies and media to reach out to their fans over the last few years - are there any trends or technologies that you hope to take advantage of in the near future for the Blue Jackets, or hockey in general?
A: I am sure that more things are going to come along. Think back a few years when Twitter first started. Who would have thought it would have grown into what it is today? I remember when I first started using it, I didn’t understand it at first. Now I feel like I can’t use it enough. It has so many advantages. I am sure as new technologies come out, we will start using them and see if they work. I am sure that some won’t, but at the same time we will at least attempt it. If it works for our fans, it will work for us. One thing we recently just started using is a flip cam to get video while the team is on the road. We have also increased the video that we post to Jackets TV on BlueJackets.com.
Q: Last but not least – one of the most interesting "side stories" this season has been the secrecy around the team's new third jersey. How much of a role did you have in the efforts to keep the new uniforms under wraps, and why do you think the team was so successful compared to the other franchises who saw their third jerseys leak?
A: It was easy for me to keep it under wraps… I did not see it until the morning of the unveiling when they showed it to the staff here at the Arena. I think the reason it was kept under wraps so well is that very few people were allowed to see it. I was surprised and pleased to see that the image of the jersey did not get out to the public prior to the unveiling. It made the unveiling that much more special to be a part of, at least for me.
Thanks again to Ryan for taking the time to answer our questions!