It is the easiest and most difficult job in the world. This is how Benito Pérez Barbadillo (Jerez, 1967) describes his work at the head of communication for the best Spanish tennis player of all time.
Rafa Nadal’s press officer began his professional career in the press office of the Jerez Circuit, where he ended up directing its communication. Later, in 1996, he made the leap to the ATP as director of public relations in Europe and Latin America, where he created a programme for the media and sponsors to have easy access to the players.
In 2006 he began to manage the communication of the tennis player with the most Grand Slams in history, after accepting an offer from Carlos Costa, Nadal’s manager and co-founder of the academy in Manacor. Pérez Barbadillo has combined the management of Nadal’s communication – a task that occupies most of his working day – with that of other tennis players such as Novak Djokovic, Juan Martín del Potro, Dominic Thiem or Caroline García or the coffee brand Lavazza, one of the biggest sponsors of tennis. He does this through his consultancy firm B1PR Sarl, based in Monaco.
Pérez Barbadillo is in charge of coordinating and supervising all the pieces of Nadal’s communication. He is in permanent contact with the tennis player, his manager Carlos Costa, his coach Carlos Moyá and the Rafa Nadal Academy. In addition, he manages some of the content of his social networks with the maxim of not announcing news through this channel without first informing the press. “The press are our friends and we have great respect for their work,” he told DIRCOMFIDENCIAL.
Nadal’s press officer explains that one of the peculiarities of this job is that “the client wants to see you directly, because of the experience, contacts, knowledge, so I can’t work simultaneously with many clients”.
He points out that his work with Nadal is easy, on the one hand, because, “unlike other communication directors, who have to contact the media and offer them attractive pitches so that they echo about it, in the case of Nadal it is the opposite. People automatically want to talk to Rafa, everyone is interested in him”. However, this virtue also gives rise to a difficulty: “deciding which media to attend to and which not to attend to, to avoid annoying anyone”. The press officer acknowledges that “this sometimes creates problems with journalists or, rather, with the journalists’ bosses”.
“Mallorca’s television is more important to us than CNN”
Pérez Barbadillo states that the predominant criteria for determining which media to pay special attention to are thematic – sports media are more important than general media – and geographic. Regarding the latter, the press officer comments that “Spanish media are given greater deference, but never exclusivity”, and that the Mallorcan media are of paramount importance. “Mallorcan television is more important to us than CNN,” he stresses. Moreover, journalists who travel with Nadal to tournaments are given greater preference, regardless of the reach of their media outlet.
Nadal’s communication strategy: attending to all the media
Nadal’s communication strategy, endorsed by the tennis player himself, includes attending to the media as a gesture of gratitude to journalists. Pérez Barbadillo reports that the day after the victory at the last Roland Garrós in June, “when the whole world wanted to get in touch with Rafa and there was a lot of fighting between journalists”, the tennis player spent five and a half hours answering questions from national and international media. This attitude, according to the press officer, is unusual for other sportsmen. In fact, it surprised the reporters themselves, such as Juanma Castaño from COPE, who travelled to Paris that day to interview him and “couldn’t believe the situation when he saw the whole world there”.
“False accusations are what hurts the most, but where you enjoy working the most”
The press officer says it is “impossible” to choose the best moments of his career alongside Nadal. He does recognise that “the worst are the accusations of crisis, lies and pressure. The false accusations are what hurt the most, but at the level of communication is where you enjoy working the most”. Of course, in those delicate moments “the best of Rafa comes out”, such as the one in which a French minister accused him in 2016 of doping. She was convicted of defamation.
Pérez Barbadilla does not envisage a future away from tennis. He says he wants to continue to get sponsors for the sport that has marked his professional and personal life.