The Sports Turf Managers Association has embarked on a renewed education program.
But this one does not involve conferences, webinars or certification points. In fact, the program is not primarily targeted at sports turf managers; rather, it’s directed toward those who use the fields (athletes, parents, coaches, media) and those in influential/leadership positions for organizations that own the playing surfaces.
In November 2013, the STMA board of directors approved funding for an outreach program to educate and inform those primary audiences on a variety of issues. To assist, Buffalo Brand Invigoration Group, based in suburban Washington, D.C., was brought in to help develop strategies, create key messages and pitch to media (local, regional and national) stories featuring STMA professionals. In addition, Buffalo works with STMA staff and members to develop resource documents on field management that members also could use in their own communications.
“Associations exist for two main purposes,” STMA president Allen Johnson says. “First and foremost, they are to advance the competency of their members through education. Second, they exist to represent and promote their members.”
Johnson says the STMA has done an admirable job in offering a strong education program, but a lack of resources has hindered the association from making a sustained and strong push to reach the public and decision-makers. However, increased budget resources and a shifting of priorities have enabled the association to enact the program.
Glenn Gray, public relations director for Buffalo’s sport division, has been the lead strategist working with the STMA and its members. While it’s early in the game, they are encouraged by what the Buffalo team has seen in terms of member support and engagement and media interest.
“In the first eight months, we saw nearly 100 media placements in print, digital and broadcast outlets including Bleacher Report, Chicago Tribune, Sports Illustrated, USA Today and many others,” Gray said. “We also submitted ghostwritten educational articles for a number of outlets. We provide a monthly report to the STMA staff and board so they can chart progress. Social media is another area we focus on, and we have grown STMA Twitter followers from 100 to more than 1,700.”
As for this year, the biggest change will be a greater emphasis on vehicles that reach employers. Unlike golf, where golfers can significantly impact the standing of the superintendent, the end user for sports turf managers does not have as great an impact. Johnson, who has been the fields manager for the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, says frequent changes in supervisory personnel and a lack of experience in sports turf management puts an onus on the association and its members to educate and inform.
In addition to the public relations tactics, STMA Executive Director Kim Heck says the program includes an element of communications resource development. Last year, staff and members worked with Buffalo to produce information on the characteristics and management aspects of natural grass surfaces. STMA does not take a position regarding natural grass over synthetic surfaces, but, according to Heck, the association believes it has the responsibility to support the industry with a well-rounded body of information.
“Our study found a tremendous amount of information in the marketplace regarding synthetic playing surfaces,” Heck says. “But there was not as much regarding natural grass, and certainly not very much that was new. The board and staff felt it was important to refresh and add to what we had available to members, the public and employers so that an informed decision can be made.”