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Training camp: Saints work hard at ‘routine’ media relations

Football training camps are all about drills and routine. And, it is also important for the players and coaches to have time to get to know each other.

The last thing the New Orleans Saints need is something upsetting the routine and camaraderie. That “something” could be the ever-present press, and the Saints’ media relations/communications team is working hard to make sure the players and coaches get the most production out of training camp, held again this year at Millsaps College in Jackson.

“The media can definitely be a distraction for the coaches and players,” said Justin Macione, communications manager with the Saints. “What we try to do is establish a routine. We’re getting ready for a new season. We want to set a routine now in media relations that will carry through the upcoming season.”

Routine camp

The Saints’ media relations team worked to capacity in 2005 and 2006. In 2005, the devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, which forced the Saints to relocate, was world news. The 2006 season was even busier — return to New Orleans, new coach, Reggie Bush, Drew Brees, etc.

According to Macione, this year’s training camp news has been more routine.

“I believe if you looked at all of the NFL training camps, you will find on average three or four compelling stories coming out of each camp,” he said. He added that the Saints’ camp this year is hitting that average, listing the free agent signings of tight end Jeremy Shockey and linebacker Jonathan Vilma, the signing of first-round draft pick defensive lineman Sedrick Ellis and the return from injury of running back and Mississippi native Deuce McAllister as the top items out of Saints camp in 2008.

Team approach

Five staffers make up the Saints’ media relations/communications team, which is led by Greg Bensel, vice president of communications. The team is augmented by interns, which Macione says are critical to the team’s outreach efforts.

Just as important is another group of support players — personnel of Millsaps College. Macione praises the college’s assistance in managing the throng of reporters at training camp. He added that the college’s help in special media events, such as special one-on-one interviews with players or coaches, is especially important to the Saints’ efforts.

Patti Wade, director of the Office of Communications at Millsaps, pointed out that the Office of Communications creates a Saints entry point on its website that includes schedules, media policies and frequently asked questions. The Office of Communications also fields questions from the media and directs questions to the appropriate personnel with the Saints. In addition, a staff member from the Office of Communications acts as a liaison to the Saints PR staff.

Winning strategy

While the Saints have not always been a success on the field, the team has always joined a rabidly loyal fan base. They might show up with bags on their heads, but Saints fans always show up.

“Obviously, it is important for professional sports teams to stay connected with their fans,” Macione said, “and a big part of communicating with the fans is through the media.”

Soon, it will be time to break up camp at Millsaps and return to Louisiana for the upcoming season. The last practice is August 11, and the team will be out of Jackson the next day.

It will not be easy on the Saints’ media relations staffers. They will have one day to break camp and set up shop back in Louisiana. However, Macione says the move is planned to be a seamless one, and he expects the staff to be back at work without missing a beat.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

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