Longtime Olympic reporter offers PR tips
Elliott Almond is looking for great stories. He has covered nine Olympic Games and has covered Olympic stories – features, issues and news – since the late 1970s. We talked with Almond, who is an Olympics, soccer and college sports reporter for the Bay Area News Group, to find out what qualities he’s looking for in Olympic content.
Q: Do you have a favorite story or memory from your Olympic coverage?
A: This is an example of how society and the Olympics have changed. In 1984, someone I happened to know well through another reporter won a historic gold medal for that person’s country. We retired to a Westside L.A. taqueria that had a jukebox full of Patsy Kline tunes. Being the non-drinker I was charged with getting the athlete and journalist friend safely home. The gold medalist was staying in the Athlete’s Village at UCLA. When we reached the first one my friend grabbed the gold medal and handed it to me to show security: ‘I’m here to escort the Gold Medalist to the dorms.’ We got past two or three checkpoints this way and I dropped the athlete off in front of the dorm entrance. That is something from a bygone era and is terribly missed in our current security-heavy Games.
Q: What are you looking forward to covering this summer?
A: I like to cover great stories. That could come from BMX racing, equestrian or rowing; it doesn’t matter. I am partial to women’s soccer because I have covered some of the players extensively. Also, soccer will be played at some historic stadiums such as Wembly in London and Old Tafford in Manchester. I’m also looking forward to following Ryan Lochte in swimming because I think he is interesting and the story between him and Phelps also will be interesting. Tennis might be an interesting story being held at Wimbeldon. Road cycling is going to be huge for England with Mark Cavendish going for the gold medal.
Q: Do you find PR contact useful during your Olympic coverage?
A: Not an easy question because it’s not absolute. I’ve told publicists before that each Olympic writer just can’t handle the volume of pitches that come in around an Olympics. I really do my best to respond to each and every one but it’s a time suck. On the other hand, those I have relationships with and worked with in the past are invaluable.
Q: What are you looking for in Olympic pitches?
A: Here’s the deal: Access is valuable when it is a big name. But if that access comes with promotion of a product I have to decline the opportunity. Sometimes, it works well when the pitch is centered around something real that your client wants in the public domain. For example, I’ve interviewed a big-name runner for a story I will do later. The runner and PR firm are pitching supplements. A story on the use of supplements that aren’t tainted is part of this athlete’s life. So it is part of the story and not forced as something like hair products or cosmetics for a gymnast.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
A: Most publicists I’ve met are sincerely trying to be helpful. I’ve had a good experience and track record with the majority. I have only two issues: if I have to decline I have good reasons so please just accept it and move on. (Sometimes people want to debate it when I just don’t have the time and it won’t change a thing). Agencies should consider regionalizing pitches except for the big names. During the Olympics and the buildup I get too many pitches that have nothing to do with my region and make no sense for our readers. Or worse, I get pitched to speak to an athlete whom I know well and have their contact information on my own.
Get insight into key sports media influencers and the stories they’ll be covering for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games by downloading Cision’s complimentary briefing book.
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