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

2010 Sabre Awards Dinner

Even in a deep recession, the public relations profession is turning out amazing and meaningful work for clients.
That thought has resonated for me during the last month, since I attended the SABRE awards dinner at the gorgeous Cipriani building across from Grand Central Station in New York City in May. More than 1,000 public relations professionals had gathered for one of the big three awards shows to honor the best campaigns and teams in our industry (the PR Week Awards and Silver Anvil Awards are the other two major national awards).
Paul Holmes, the organizer of the SABRE Awards – which stands for Superior Achievement in Branding and Reputation – set the tone for the evening when he remarked that despite all of the economic troubles that have challenged our industry, the number of entries for SABRE recognition set a record (1,700) and the quality had never been higher.
As Paul noted, public relations has demonstrated that reach and frequency are not enough to create successful outcomes in today’s world. There must be engagement as well, and public relations has taken a leadership position among the communications disciplines in creating engaging, meaningful campaigns. This is particularly true in the realm of social media, which our profession has done a remarkable job of weaving into the overall communications mix.
Over the course of five hours (from the first cocktail to the closing coffee), Aleasha Vuncannon and I had the opportunity to talk with fascinating professionals from around the country, review the lists of finalists for the awards in each category, and enjoy the pageantry of an event as a participant (instead of as a behind-the-scenes organizer, which is our normal role!).
And when our time came, when the finalists for the top campaign in the category of Educational & Cultural Institutions were announced, we were thrilled to hear that our work in partnership with the International Civil Rights Center & Museum had been recognized as the best in our business. We had felt like it was worthy of this recognition. We knew how hard our team had worked and how much had been accomplished. Yet, we still held our breath in anticipation as the winner was announced, because every campaign that had made the finals had strong results.  It felt good to scream when we heard the results.
Here is a brief glimpse into the work that we did for the grand opening of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum:

After the dinner, Aleasha and I walked through Times Square at midnight, dressed in our best clothes, carrying a deceptively heavy trophy and reflecting on the evening (not surprisingly, no one batted an eye at us or thought we were out-of-place in the crazy scene that is Times Square). It feels good to do great work for clients, to create campaigns that generate meaningful results and advance our client’s objectives. We do this work not for awards, but when we strive to be one of the very best agencies in our industry, it is evenings like this that provide the mileposts to let us know that our agency is on the right road.