Jayne Pearce, the only female Match Press Officer (MPO) at the Rugby World Cup Japan 2019, has carved out a stellar reputation in sports media operations since becoming the International Amateur Athletics Federation’s (IAAF’s) first ever press director more than three decades ago
Her success has been built on two pillars: a belief that journalists “deserve an answer, and a quick answer” and the do-list – “world-renowned” according to her company’s website – that allows Pearce to plan even the most hectic of match-days to perfection.
In truth, calling the latter a list almost feels derogatory. It is a tome of colour-coded tasks, goals and targets that [at the time of writing] runs to 28 pages; those whose name appears with two question marks run the risk of falling into her bad books.
“I’m just a little bit known for it because I never go anywhere without updating the do-list,” Pearce explained. “It’s my own JP categories; short-term, medium-term, long-term, my husband, my daughter, clients and it’s something that I swear by. I don’t want to be too philosophical about it but knowing yourself is very important and this really gives me a grounding.
— Pearce International (@PearceIntSport) 18 September 2019
“I know exactly what I need to do and I make various bold colours that I now have a recognition for. I look at it and I know if nothing else I need to do these two things [today], nothing else. And I know if I have time I’d like to do these things and gosh, if I have a lot of time these things.”
There is a simple reason why the do-list swelled to 28 pages ahead of Japan 2019 – Pearce has been exceedingly busy this year.
Her first event of 2019 was the European Indoor Athletics Championships in Glasgow in March, which was followed by trips to Peru to keep an eye on the Pan American Games media operations preparation, a UEFA Champions League-winning campaign with Liverpool, and roles at both the FIFA Women’s World Cup and netball World Cup.
As a netball player whose path to international honours in the late-1980s was blocked only by Kendra Slawinski, England’s most-capped player, July’s World Cup was significant for Pearce.
“FIFA were kind enough to give me a venue that finished at the quarter-final stage, so I dashed back and then went to the netball,” she said. “It was a pretty tough summer but obviously it meant a lot to me to do the netball because it was my sport, so I didn’t want to miss that and both organisations put their trust in me to deliver and not let it affect [me]. And it was a true privilege, it was a great year.”
Pearce admits that she did not get a lot of sleep while in France, her mornings being taken up with media accreditation and ticketing requests for the netball World Cup before she even went to work at Roazhon Park.
But the late nights and early starts were worth it as Pearce watched media coverage of, and interest in, the two women’s events intensify as the action unfolded.
A sea-change year
“This year has been fantastic. I’m very lucky,” Pearce said. “The coverage, the media attention, the behaviour of the female football players, netball players [was] outstanding.
“I think it’s been a sea-change year for women in sport.”
Pearce is currently working at her third Rugby World Cup having coordinated the MPOs on behalf of World Rugby at France 2007 before she oversaw the set-up of media operations for England Rugby 2015 and consulted during the tournament.
Eight years ago she was credited with playing a key role in the organising committee’s decision to allow non-rights holding broadcasters into post-match mixed zones for the first time at a Rugby World Cup.
“I’m a great believer in innovation and best practice, and I think we need to keep pace with how media work,” Pearce said. “I passionately believe that non-rights holders have a very important place in major sports events. Their coverage drives interest to the rights holders as long as you protect the jewel in the crown, for want of a better word, which is the action on the field of play.”
Pearce, who grew up with a passion for sport and languages, began her career in 1987 when she joined the IAAF, where she was initially charged with translating press clippings.
In those days the organisation did not employ press or media officers – “the role didn’t exist” – but it was Pearce who took it on herself to reply to journalists who made inquiries. “I was the one who got back to the pesky phone calls that kept coming in,” she explained.
— Pearce International (@PearceIntSport) 20 July 2019
“There have been, unfortunately, quite a number of doping cases over the years and, of course, I’m the one who felt we should get back. So, I naturally became the point person that they rang and then it was literally a matter of ‘well, do you know what – do you want to be the media officer?’”
Pearce added: “I’m very respectful of the media and the job they do and I think they deserve an answer, and a quick answer. Especially now with social media.
“In the role that I have and my colleagues have, we have to respect that they need an answer quickly. Even if that answer is ‘I don’t know the answer but give me an hour’. And I’ve always had that work ethic, I suppose.”
It is an approach to media operations that has paid dividends from the IAAF to Japan 2019, via several Olympic Games and World Cups in various sports.
And not once during her 32 years working in top-level sport has Pearce felt held back by her gender. Quite the contrary, in fact. “I don’t subscribe to banging the drum of ‘poor me, I’m a woman’. I’ve never experienced any difficulties, any sexism,” she said. “I’ve worked with big football managers and moderated their press conferences, and knocked on the doors of changing rooms and actually seeing a woman there works in my favour.
“So, I’m the only MPO woman here but, certainly in the World Rugby sphere, I’ve always been treated with the highest respect and I feel that they don’t look at me as a woman, they look at me as a professional.”