Sophie Pascoe is special in and out of pool

GREG FORD
Last updated 05:00 26/09/2012
Sophie Pascoe
GOLDEN GIRL: Sophie Pascoe displays her haul of medals from the Paralympic Games in London.

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OPINION: Because I don't know much about public relations I'm not sure if this qualifies as a PR gaffe per se.

However, I rather suspect an email I received from one of Sophie Pascoe's sponsors yesterday qualifies.

Canterbury's golden girl of the Paralympics, the email informed, would be appearing at her old school Halswell Primary today to say hi to her old teachers. I was invited to come along, but with an interesting rider.

Pascoe's sponsor, Westpac Bank, listed seven things The Press would not be able to talk to her about.

They included: details of her accident as a child and how she thinks it's the best thing that ever happened to her; her relationship status; how her family supported her through her second Games; what the future might hold for her Paralympic hopes; what she's missed out on and what others think she may have missed out on growing up; how she plans to build her legacy; and what drives her to be as competitive and successful as she is.

Surprised? I was. But it all made sense when I found out little old loveable, huggable Sophie has signed a deal with a weekly women's magazine and part of that commercial agreement is she does not spill any beans to rival media outlets presumably on matters of intense public interest, including who her latest boyfriend is.

The email did helpfully include topics safe enough for us to discuss.

They included; how her school and teachers helped encourage and get her where she is today; what does it mean to come back to her old school and celebrate her achievement with them; what it means to give back and help the future generation of NZ athletes succeed; what is some advise (sic) she would give to those that want to have a career in sport; how important was it to have the support of friends, teachers and NZ during her lead-up to and during the Paralympics; what did it feel like to win the medals; her Paralympics experience, living at the village, highlights, challenges etc.

It's common for celebrities in Hollywood to make certain topics off limits before media interviews.

But it's very rare in New Zealand sport and probably unprecedented for a Paralympic athlete which neatly demonstrates Pascoe, through her amazing deeds in the pool, is now a brand, a highly marketable and valuable brand if a phone call a few hours after the aforementioned email arrived is anything to go by.

A polite and patient lady by the name of Hannah, from Essentially Group, called to try to “clarify” a few points in the email.

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As it turns out Westpac forwarded my "what gives?" query after they sent their email to Pascoe's agent who apparently penned them.

Yes, Sophie has an agent, interestingly from Auckland-based Essentially, who do not represent any old mug.

They have Dan Carter on their books and Richie McCaw, who Westpac also sponsor.

Helpful Hannah explained to me that the interview conditions were misleading, that they were sent to me by mistake, and she would be happy to erase four of them if I wanted to talk to Sophie, leaving just three topics off limits.

I guess I found this episode interesting enough to write about on several levels.

In the month I spent in London covering the able-bodied Olympics, no athletes put conditions on their interviews. Had they I would have told them to get lost.

But it also demonstrated that Pascoe is no ordinary Paralympian.

She's special in the pool, and now outside it; something Essentially is eager to leverage off.

For me, yesterday, I admit my slightly condescending view of Paralympians was lanced, which I'm told is just what Pascoe would want.

Pascoe wants to be "treated like any able-bodied athlete", she is fighting for the same slice of the marketing pie as the Mahe Drysdales and Lisa Carringtons, and if that means flexing some muscle with the media then so be it.

One thing is for certain. Watching Pascoe cope with the demands of being famous will be as interesting as watching her swim.

And we'll get a better idea on how that's progressing later this month, not when the mag article hits the news-stands, but when Pascoe announces a new sponsor.

All will be revealed, Hannah hinted, shortly, presumably in another email. I'll keep you posted on my invite and any interview conditions imposed.

- The Press

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