On Par: The USGA’s Adam Barr on Communications Strategies and the Game of Golf

August 2, 2016

Adam Barr
Adam Barr

“I wanted to be a lawyer, and for a while, I was,” says Adam Barr. “When I recovered from that, I got my real dream job, which was to be a golf writer.”

Today, he is the senior director of communications, responsible for developing communication strategies for the United States Golf Association (USGA), and oversees the three core functions within the communications department — championship communications, editorial and multimedia content, and public relations.

Barr joined the USGA — which is the national association of golf courses, clubs and facilities, and the governing body of golf for the U.S. and Mexico — in 2014 after more than 20 years in the profession as a golf writer/reporter (print, TV and digital) and as a golf club company executive.

Before breaking into the golf industry, Barr practiced law in both Pittsburgh and Chicago, and also edited legal publications on taxation. He earned his law degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Pennsylvania. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, Teresa, and their son, Joseph.

How did you first become interested in communications and get your start?

I began as a freelance writer, then the business and equipment editor for GOLFWEEK magazine in Florida. From there, I went on to Golf Channel; the two positions solidified my interest in sports communications and gave me the valuable perspective of seeing the world of golf from the media’s place on the circle.

What are some challenges (and exciting things) you face in your day-to-day role at the USGA?

Attribution is one: People confuse us with other organizations in golf’s alphabet soup (PGA Tour, PGA of America, etc.) The exciting task is telling the human stories of our champions and other competitors, plus illuminating the work of the more than 300 people within the USGA who are striving to make golf better every day.

What are some best practices when engaging on-the-go consumers with so many digital stimulants and social media platforms out there?

Be brief, be visual, be relevant. “Snackable” content is a misnomer — it has to be brief, impactful and a filling info meal, as it were. 

What do you think are some of the keys to implementing strong, strategic storytelling?

Never forget the fundamental questions: Who is the audience, and what do they care about? The takeaway has to match that, or you’re wasting everyone’s time. There is research out there that says every golfer’s favorite game isn’t the one that some pro plays — it’s the golfer’s own game. You need to be relevant to the reader’s/viewer’s golf life and aspirations in some way, or you’ll lose them.

What are some best practices for influencer outreach and brand communication?

Influencers are human too, so relevance matters just as much — maybe more — when you’re recruiting them to carry a message authentically. Quality over quantity, and organic versus “staged,” are good guiding principles. Case in point: Prominent pros who began their careers by winning a USGA championship as a junior are always willing to help, because they mean it when they speak glowingly about their experience, and it shows.

How would you describe your leadership style and what makes a good leader?

Leaders listen. They’re not fearless; they’re simply willing to confront their fears and make decisions. My style is to delegate and trust — but I have a duty to everyone involved to verify. Respect, loyalty and a “we’re-in-this-together” vibe are crucial, in my view. It’s not the only way to lead, but it’s effective.

Why do you think it’s important to be involved in organizations that focus on networking and continuing education?

Especially in a “one-sport” organization, it’s vital to get the wide view. Being involved in the world beyond golf and beyond sports can only help weave our message into informed and fulfilling lives.

What advice do you have for new professionals looking to break into sports and communications?

So many people want to get into sports that they dive into any open hole, often not thinking: Does this position fit my skills and ambitions, and is this niche under- or overserved? A little analysis on the front end will lead to better performance and happiness for all involved — and a lot less job changing, except in the form of promotions.

How do you protect such a storied brand like the USGA and what role does public relations play in protecting that brand?

Transparency is key. Tell the truth and be as up-front as possible. Public relations is crucial in getting the word out and, more to the point, getting ahead of stories as a proactive messaging tool. The third-party endorsement — or constructive criticism — by media will always be an important component in stating our case.

What are some trends you see on the horizon for public relations and sports?

We’re seeing more stepping-out with video and Snapchat-like “hooks” to invite readers/viewers deeper into stories. Another trend is the elevation of non-celebrity sports “heroes” as relatable role models.

What do you think PR professionals can learn from golf and apply to their daily communications practice?

In a word: persistence. Golf’s image as staid and non-diverse is undeserved in modern times — but it remains, and we have to patiently chip away at it day by day.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your communications career?

Listening is the greatest compliment. Also, organizations are known much more for what they do than for what they say.

What’s some of the best career advice that you’ve ever received?

On breaking into golf writing: “Cover golf business; not a lot of people are doing it,” the great golf writer Jaime Diaz said in 1994.


Getting to Know… Adam Barr

Any three dinner guests — past or present?

Winston Churchill, Meryl Streep, Abraham Lincoln

Favorite athlete?

Roberto Clemente

Best place to travel?

Lisbon, Portugal

Favorite downtime activity?

Cooking

Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.

Comments

Christopher William Grindrod says:

Excellent article. My dad still golfs three days a week and he is 84. Keep up the great work!

Aug. 2, 2016

Ibrey Woodall says:

Good to see the profile, and Adam doing well. Adam and I worked together together at GOLFWEEK Magazine many years ago. I could have sworn he would have put me down as one of his "any three dinner guests- past or present." :)

Aug. 14, 2016

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