Media Madness: Six Public Relations Lessons to Learn From March Madness

By Caroline Nobles
Now that the battle to make it to the Final Four is over, it’s hard to escape the office talk of whose brackets have been busted or whose team is still in the running to be crowned the 2013 NCAA tournament champion. Whether you are an avid basketball fan or you merely watch to see which team has the best uniforms or most unusual mascot, there are six lessons for public relations professionals to take away from the Big Dance.


1.    Have a Game Plan

Having a game plan is just as important for public relations professionals as it is for college basketball players. Whether you a developing a new client proposal, pitching reporters or monitoring social media, mapping out the steps to accomplish a project is key to maintain efficiency and productivity. At RLF, we use Basecamp, a project management system that allows us to keep track of individual projects, corresponding documents and communications in one manageable location. (It also helps to cut down on extraneous emails internally!) With Basecamp, we create to-do lists and set deadlines, which allow us to easily track the tasks that have to be accomplished for each project every day.

2.    Scope Out Your (Client’s) Competition

In advance of every game, no matter if it’s No. 1 seed Louisville playing No. 16 seed North Carolina A&T or it’s No. 8 seed University of North Carolina playing No. 9 seed Villanova, players and coaches review scouting reports of their competition. To be the very best players they can be during the NCAA tournament, players have to understand their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.
The same goes for public relations professionals. To best serve your clients, you have to understand not just your client’s business, but also their competitors. Research how your client’s competitors are being discussed in the media, how the competition is talking about themselves and how your target audience views the competition. By being aware of the competition, you gain a better understanding of how to best position your client, serve their key audience and make them stand out from the crowd.

3.    Expect the Unexpected

March Madness wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if all four of the No. 1 seed teams wound up in the Final Four each year. We all love the unexpected thrill of seeing Florida Gulf Coast make history as a No. 15 seed heading into the Sweet Sixteen or having the No. 1 seed Gonzaga out of play after the second round. It’s the excitement of the unknown that allows teams to adjust their game plans and delivers some of the best basketball games we watch all year!
In public relations, you have to expect the unexpected each day. Clients call with emergencies or a reporter requests an interview with a client…to be held in an hour! Public relations pros have to be able to adjust as new projects come up or crises occur. It’s important to be flexible and able to quickly change paths to generate the best outcome for a client, even if you have to deviate from your original game plan.

4.    Take a Timeout

Timeouts during the NCAA tournament games are crucial for helping players and coaches regroup, catch their breath and plan the next step to secure the win. Timeouts allow teams to analyze what they are doing well and what areas of play need some improvement. Timeouts also give players time to prepare themselves for their next minutes of play.
For public relations professionals, it’s important to take a timeout during the workday. Step outside for some fresh air or grab lunch with friends and colleagues. Take a few minutes to catch up on your favorite blog or Twitter feed. It’s crucial for your health and sanity to remain refreshed and revitalized so you can be at the top of your game for clients. A recent post on PR Daily makes the case for eating lunch away from the office and provides several alternatives, including yoga, playing an instrument or just reading your favorite book. Changes of scenery are a great way to give your mind a break, and stepping away from your desk may provide just the inspiration you need to break your writer’s block.

5.    Play as a Team

There are natural leaders on every team – sometimes it’s the steadfast senior who builds the team up with constant encouragement and leads by example while other times it’s a younger player, full of verve and enthusiasm, ready to assist the team to a win. Leadership is important during games, to boost morale, set a positive example and encourage team members, but ultimately, games are won and lost as a team.
In the fast-paced world of public relations, don’t be afraid to pass the ball and ask your teammates for help. Ask the senior partner for advice on your new project or bounce ideas for a pitch off your officemate. Working as a team keeps ideas fresh, and allows for thoughtful, deliberate ideas to garner client success. Working as a team also prevents you from burning out too quickly. As important as timeouts are for PR pros, working as a team is also just as important. Teammates share the workload, resulting in better ideas, boosted efficiency and more success for clients.

6.     Celebrate the Win

At the time this blog post was written, the winner of the 2013 NCAA tournament was still to be decided. No matter who is crowned the champion this year, prepare for some true March Madness in celebration once a winner emerges! Teams push forward all season toward the goal of becoming tournament champs, and the winning team should revel in the feeling of success and accomplishment once it’s all over!
The same can be said for public relations professionals. Share your success stories with your co-workers and clients. If you arranged for a client to be the keynote speaker at their top industry conference, celebrate that moment! Or if you pitch a well-known reporter and your client’s story gets picked up, pause to share the good news with someone. You work diligently each day to provide your clients with the very best service and ideas, and it’s important to celebrate the wins, all the while looking forward to next year’s tournament or new project!
What other public relations lessons have you learned from March Madness this year? Share your thoughts below.
Photo from QuincyRoberts’ Flickr photostream