First off, whether the Braves play in Cobb County or Hooterville doesn’t make much difference to me. I have attended exactly one baseball game in the stadium the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games built for the Braves in Atlanta and that was only because of a church function. I doubt seriously I will exceed that number in Cobb County.
My favorite sport has consisted of walking the high-wire in the external environment. I was deeply involved in two high-profile and complicated projects — the divestiture of the old Bell System in 1984 and the subsequent creation of the Baby Bells and then the ramp-up to the 1996 Olympic Games.
As a result of those two mega-events, and the challenge of an Olympic Park bombing thrown in for good measure, I was identified as one of the “100 Most Influential Public Relations Practitioners of the 20th Century.” OK, so it was a slow century for PR people, but I take my recognition however I can get it.
While I don’t have a dog in the fight to bring the Braves to Cobb County, I do have some advice for the proponents and opponents of the proposed move based on my experiences. Take it for what’s it worth. Just remember that I’ve been there, done that and have the scars to prove it.
First, to the proponents: Don’t presume this is a done deal. You have a long and winding road ahead. I think most people in the county are pleased to see the Braves come as long as they don’t have to pay for the privilege and we are a bit leery at this point. Our trust in government —at any level — isn’t very high these days. Don’t take us for granted.
Develop grassroot support for the pending move. Create a coalition of supporters and don’t let it look like it is being manipulated by the Chamber of Commerce or the Braves. They will become an easy target for your opponents. The broader and deeper the support, the easier your job will be.
Come up with three or four message points and use them in everything you say and do. Don’t make it complicated. If you had 30 seconds with the president or the pope to make your case for the Braves move to Cobb County, what would you say? Keep it that simple.
Most importantly, stay transparent. The media, including this paper, are going to bore into every single detail of this deal. That’s our job. Don’t write down anything you don’t want to read in the MDJ tomorrow. We will report it. (Ask the poor guy in the city of Atlanta who forgot that little detail and had to apologize publicly for demeaning Cobb in an email.)
Now, some advice to the opposition: Time is your enemy. This deal got snuck past you like a sunrise by a rooster. You are playing catch-up and, like a lot of us, you have some questions. Fair enough. As with the proponents, develop a broad coalition and a message strategy on how you think the deal would negatively impact the rest of us. And, please, don’t let your allies tell us what a bunch of rednecks we are. We don’t like hearing that, particularly from people in Atlanta. They have enough problems of their own.
Don’t make the Cobb County commissioners the enemy. Focus on telling the rest of us why the deal is a bad deal for us. Keep the professional agitators in the background. They generally have another goal in mind — raising their profile and raising money. Neither will be helpful to your cause.
Be very careful who you put out front to articulate your opposition. Rich Pellegrino is not that person — unless fasting on honey and water is a key part of your strategy. Also, send Debbie Dooley and her histrionics back to Gwinnett County. Surely, you have some competent spokespeople available to make your case without resorting to these two. I promise that pair will turn us off quicker than bad breath.
OK, enough advice. Let us say goodbye to the ice storms of 2014 and focus our attention now on the pending storm that is the proposal to bring the Braves to Cobb County. “We the Unwashed” are waiting to see who can convince us of what is in our best interest and why.
May the best team win.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139; online at dickyarbrough.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb.