5 PR lessons from March Madness


It's March Madness and you know what that means: Millions of people filling out brackets, trying to figure out who the Cinderella team will be this year, and which team has what it takes to make it all the way to the Big Dance. No matter what your level of interest is in college basketball, this time of year reinforces a sport's connection with its core audience better than any other while simultaneously gaining the attention of new potential fans.

Long viewed as a million-dollar productivity waster for businesses everywhere, March Madness actually presents a number of lessons for how businesses of all sizes can promote themselves.

As teams test their skills through multiple rounds of the tournament, and fans watch their brackets get busted, here are just a few of the PR lessons you can learn from March Madness.

Do your homework

Before filling out brackets, serious basketball fans take time to do their research.

Sure, there will always be someone who gets lucky and wins the office pool after making their picks based on mascots or school colors. There also will always be on court surprises on the way to the Final Four.

You may not be able to plan for every upset but, more often than not, doing your homework will pay off.

In the media outreach game, you’re always in competition with another business (or a bunch of businesses) trying to get your story heard. If your product offerings are similar, the onus is on you to figure out what sets your story apart from your opponent.

It’s no secret the teams who reach the Final Four know their opposing teams almost as well as they know their own. They’ve done their homework. Apply this to your PR strategy. In order to get solid media coverage, you may just need to know your competition better than you know yourself.

What’s that one thing that makes your business unique? What’s the one thing your business does better? The answers could be as simple as looking at your business’ mission, founding story, or customer feedback. Start your homework and research there.

Have fun

March Madness captures the attention of basketball diehards and seasonal fans every year around this time because it's fun. The games are fun. Predicting who is going to win is fun. Trash-talking your colleagues who live and die with the Blue Devils is fun.

The chance at the Big Dance also is fun because the 62 teams vying for their Final Four spot promise drama, crazy fans, and a sense of pageantry. And every year, March Madness delivers on that promise.

Few moments in the tournament are better than the look of utter joy from the victors or disappointment from the youngest fans when the buzzer sounds at the end of the game.

While the NCAA may not describe it as such, for the young men and women on each roster, this is their job. If you look mid-game at most benches, guess what they’re having? Fun. Yes, fun. All while stressed, playing their hearts out, and starring in what could very well be the biggest game of their lives.

Are you applying fun to your media outreach and PR strategy? You should be. Fun is contagious. The more you and your staff enjoy their part of doing what it is you do, the better the experience will be for everyone else that touches your business.

Plus, news is easier to deliver when it promises to be fun and engaging. Not only will it engage your current fans, but it also will draw new customers to your business.

Be a Cinderella (not the princess)

If there’s anything this basketball tournament teaches us, it’s that the highest ranked teams don’t always bring home the title.

Every year there are upsets where the small program comes out of the middle of nowhere and takes down the high-ranked seed (looking at your Middle Tennessee).

In basketball and life, it’s easy to focus on the favorites and forget about everyone else. But remember, everyone loves a good underdog out-of-nowhere story. And there is always a scrappy underdog story.

Why? Because underdogs always work harder. And knowing that hard work pays off is inspirational.

Trust us, everyone loves a good Cinderella story.

In the world of underdog publicity, Dollar Shave Club is a perfect example. The brand came out of nowhere after launching its company in the simplest fashion—through a YouTube video. Within days of the video’s launch, thousands of customers had signed up for Dollar Shave Club. Even better, people grew to anticipate what crazy thing the brand would do next.

I’d be willing to place on wager that powerhouse player Gillette didn’t even see Dollar Shave Club coming.

Perfect your practice

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a hundred times: “Practice makes perfect.”

There’s no way around it, the teams selected on Selection Sunday have been practicing together for months, if not years. They know every play by heart and can execute each flawlessly.

This intense practice fosters success because teams are preparing the right way. They're not cutting corners or taking shortcuts. They’re not going straight for the championship without gaining a solid foundation of other smaller wins first.

You should be applying the same way of thinking to your media outreach.

While it may be tempting to go for big splash PR, it can be hard to maintain success long term. Yes, we’re speaking directly to all of you hoping for O, the Oprah Magazine or The Today Show coverage on day one of PR outreach. Sure, it’s exciting to get a giant PR feather in your hat, but then what?

Whether in PR or basketball, the team that’s the last one standing is the one that puts in the time and effort. Players have practiced their craft, scouted the competition, seized the opportunity, worked as a cohesive unit to execute plays, and been able to adjust mid-game.

By tightening your key messages, knowing your true audience, having news-worthy pitches, and building a solid foundation of media coverage wins, you’re practicing good PR.

The key to winning the media game is pacing yourself to ensure that the momentum your media outreach generates continues long after the initial launch. And guess what that takes? Yes, that takes practice.

Plan for upsets

The lead up to the Big Dance would be disappointing without the Cinderella team that busts everyone’s brackets. When lineups aren’t meshing and certain plays aren’t working, the team has the ability to quickly turn things around based on guidance from their coach.

The same can be said for your PR strategy and tactics. A solid communications plan is essential to keeping your eye on the prize, but it should be a fluid document—not a list of rigid instructions set in stone.

Your publicity plans can and should be adjusted if new circumstances arise.

This year, as you watch March Madness unfold, imagine all of the possibilities while examining each team’s strategies carefully. You never know, your business could be this year’s Cinderella story.

All it takes is One Shining Moment.

What are you doing to up your PR game?

Want more helpful tips like the ones above plus more? Check out The Buzz: A Media Darling’s Guide to Press Coverage, get on the wait list for Hearsay’s PR mastermind group (launching soon), or email me directly to schedule a Mini PR or Mini PR Plus session today!