4 PR lessons from the Kentucky Derby


Welcome to May, everyone! When everything that’s old is new again. Like, incredibly giant hats and society’s nostalgia for horse racing. Better place your bets, the Kentucky Derby is this weekend!

Whether you call this Louisville legend the “Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports," "Fastest Two Minutes in Sports," or “Run for the Roses," this annual event knows how to claim is yearly 15 minutes of fame. And by 15 minutes, I mean approximately six straight weeks of nonstop media coverage and then some.

It’s true. Even after more than 140 years of running (and promoting) the same race, the Derby is still providing us with numerous lessons that transcend fast ponies.

Giddy-up, you are about to learn a thing or two from the Kentucky Derby about PR.

Look the part

The Kentucky Derby is as much about fashion as it is about thoroughbreds.

Let’s be real, the big hats didn’t create themselves and hop on anyone’s head. Nor did the fellas think to dress up until the ladies started showing up in their finest.

With all eyes devoted to the track during the twelve-minutes of prep and racing, the rest of the day is devoted to who is looking their best. If you were attending the Derby in person, you know you would want to look your absolute best.

Why would you not do the same for your small business or brand?

Make sure you look the part by accessorizing your PR strategy. Dress up your outward-facing communications so that every tool you use conveys the same brand messages.

Do your social media accounts need a makeover? There’s no better time than the present.

Think of all the things you can do to make your brand or small business stand out in a large crowd. Then implement them.

It’s never faking it until you’re making it if you look the part.

Have a game plan

Contrary to popular belief (or my friend Sarah) horse racing is not as simple as, “They are horses. Trust me, they just know how to run fast.”

Long before these foals are even birthed, their owners and trainers have a game plan for them. No man or animal gets to the Derby without a solid strategy.

That strategy is not to wing it, either.

In their short racing careers, the Derby is the longest race these three-year-old thoroughbreds will have raced at a mile-and-a-quarter distance. Race day also is the first time these colts will have to make two trips past a grandstand of thousands of roaring fans waving and cheering.

Derby day is no time to get spooked by the crowd or run out of steam before the finish line. The ponies must be consistent.

Just as you must be with your small business or brand. PR is a long race, it’s not a sprint.

A successful PR strategy takes consistency and stamina. Sure, there is a lot of noise out there. Some folks will be cheering for you. Others will always be cheering against you.

If you stick to your plan and are consistent, you’re PR strategy will put you in the winner’s circle.

Do your research

Placing your bets is a huge part of what makes the Kentucky Derby a fun day, whether you’re in the grandstands in Louisville or on your couch in Fargo.

If you’re lucky, betting on a 50-1 long shot because you like the jockey’s colors or because the horse’s name holds a sentimental value can lead to big winnings. Betting also is a fast way to lose your money.

Savvy bettors know to do their research because it trumps Lady Luck every time. They read the racing programs before casting their bets. It turns out, understanding a horse’s past performances, racing style, and its competition can increase your odds of picking a winner.

The same can be said for your PR efforts.

Do your research before unleashing a PR tactic, big or small. Take the time to understand your target audience, their everyday habits, and what messages they are most likely to respond to. Adjust your PR strategy accordingly.

Research takes time, but it’s a crucial part of whether your PR efforts succeed or fail. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, partner with someone who can you pick a winning strategy.

Have some fun

Not everyone walks away from the track or their TV a winner after the Kentucky Derby. However, the pageantry and suspense leading up to the race makes it one of the most fun-filled days in all of sports.

Win or lose, all that partake walk away having had a lot of fun. PR should feel the same way, it should be fun.

Yes, there is pressure going head-to-head against your competition. Sure, timelines can be unrealistic and demanding. But sharing your passion and brand with the world also should be exciting.

Think about it, fun is contagious. People get excited about things that other people are excited about. Be the fun and excitement that draws people in.

Show a little bit of personality behind your business. Let your brand have fun.

Staying true to your brand while still having fun with your business is a great way to keep in touch with your customers. Be the person, or in this case brand or business, others are drawn to.

One last piece of PR advice from the Kentucky Derby, there are no sure bets. However, with the four easy-to-follow lessons above, you’ll definitely be the lead horse in the PR race.

What other PR lessons do you believe the Kentucky Derby can teach us? 

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