Forty years ago–back when the only "tweets" of mass consumption were found in the lyrics to "Rockin' Robin"–Greg Aiello was already spreading the word, writing about Syosset High School's newfound football glory for the Syosset Advance.
"I think I mailed them," Aiello says, laughing, when recalling how he got his stories to the office.
It's a different world now, but for the 57-year-old Aiello, new modes of communication express the same passion for the gridiron. The senior vice president of public relations for the National Football League was tweeting away leading up to the NFL's 90th birthday on Aug. 20. He solicited "PG" ideas for the league to celebrate, and got a doozy from Late Show With David Letterman Head Writer Eric Stangel.
"He said that Clinton Portis should dress up as Marilyn Monroe and come sing 'Happy Birthday, Mr. Commissioner,'" Aiello said of the Redskins running back with a penchant for alter egos. "I thought that was inspired."
Aiello joined the commissioner's office in 1990 after an 11-year PR stint with the Dallas Cowboys and sportswriting gigs for Newsday and United Press International. While his name is ubiquitous in media circles, Twitter has a way of raising anybody's visibility. When NFL Total Access host Rich Eisen refers to league news, "Greg Aiello's Twitter account" is now much more commonplace than "league press release."
"For me it was April of 2009," Aiello remembers. "My wife, Kirsten, told me about people on Facebook migrating to Twitter, and she created the page for me. My only intent was to use it to promote the NFL and as another way to communicate and get our messages out."
Now laymen and media types alike are finding out about subjects like Ben Roethlisberger's recent suspension through new means.
"It's like a wire service now, so if I want to get something out today, the quickest way would be Twitter," says Aiello. "As opposed to the old days where you'd send it to AP, and then when the AP got it on the wire, everybody had it. Or more recently you e-mailed it to everybody in the media at the same time, and they communicated it. And we still do all those things, but now we can put it on our Twitter accounts and move it out right away and it gets circulated very widely in a very short period of time."
One could say that Aiello was destined to get the NFL's message out. He fell in love with football playing for the Syosset Spartans travel team, but showed more promise as a writer at Walt Whitman Elementary and Thompson Middle School. Every scribe needs a good muse, and when Aiello started covering sports for Syosset High's newspaper, The Pulse, he got one in future Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Ed Newman.
"One of the clear memories was my junior year," Aiello says. "Our football team had not been very good. Syosset High School only started in the late '50s, so we weren't very far into it. So my junior year in the fall of 1969, we played Hicksville at home, and won on a last-minute pass. It was very exciting and dramatic; it was the first time we beat Hicksville and I wrote it up for the school paper."
His work at the Pulse led to the job at the Advance, and he went on to earn degrees at Notre Dame in 1974 and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in 1976. He was eventually recruited to work for the NFL in part by someone else who started in a league PR job–NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. These days the pair navigates thorny issues–strongly worded responses to the players union over collective bargaining agreement negotiations among them–without forgetting to have a little fun.
"He's a bit of a needler, and he likes you to needle him back," Aiello says. "There's a lot of that that goes on, not just with me but with everybody."
The interactive nature of Twitter fits those playful personalities. Aiello still enjoys talking about last year, when he and Goodell were tweeting with fans while in the press box at a Titans game. A woman whose husband was off on a camping trip asked the commissioner to join her in her extra end zone seat. He did just that in the second half, creating some positive press the next day.
The atmosphere puts Aiello in the enviable position of meshing work and leisure–which never hurts when one has young children.
"We have three kids, 7, 9, and 11," says Aiello, who lives in Manhattan, "and now everyone's running around at night watching their different TV shows or doing homework; everybody's doing their different thing. So, sometimes in the middle of all that I'll sit there on the BlackBerry and tweet away."
Aside from his job, he appreciates social media for its ability to help him keep up with old Syosset friends. His 40-year high school reunion is upcoming, and although he's not sure if he'll be able to make it, it does help him conjure up memories of his time growing up in Syosset.
"I remember when there was no Long Island Expressway," Aiello says. "We lived just south of what ended up being the expressway. So I remember being 7 or 8 in 1960 as they started building the expressway. As they were building it we used to go sledding down a hill [near where they were building]. I also remember going down and messing around with some friends and getting into a rock fight with some kids who lived on the other side."
Aiello pauses for just an instant, then–fitting for a man who has made it in PR–makes sure to add, "Nobody got hurt."
Follow Greg Aiello on Twitter @GregAiello.