5 PR lessons from the Boston Marathon


It’s been called the sweetest left turn in the world, the corner of Hereford that leads to the final stretch of the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street. For a few hours once a year, Boylston becomes the hallowed ground for thousands of runners. On this day, Boston is no longer the name of a city. It’s the name of a race, run every year on Patriot’s Day, also known by those who line the 26.2-mile route as Marathon Monday.

Spectators and runners alike love the event, but for those who get the chance to race Boston, it’s an Everest of sorts. A final chapter for those who toil the roads on 16-week training programs through the winter.

As a PR professional and former Boston finisher, I can tell you firsthand there are some key similarities between the discipline and determination needed to successfully train for long distance that translate directly into requirements for a success media relations strategy.

Even if you’re only ready to go for a jog around the block, here are a few lessons from running the marathon that translate into successfully pitching the media and landing coverage.

Do your research

No one makes it to the Boston Marathon by accident. This journey requires a lot of research.

Before taking one step on their way to 26.2, Boston athletes will have studied the course, which foods makes the most sense to fuel their bodies, when time of day is the best to train, and how frequently or far they should run each week.

All of this research plays an important part in helping runners train and, ultimately, cross the finish line on Marathon Monday.

Research also should play an important part in your media outreach. Before you send your first pitch to the media, it’s important to take the time to identify the right contacts you should be reaching out to.

It may seem like a no brainer, but the last thing you want to is pitch a story about healthy lifestyles to an editor who exclusively covers the banking and financial world. While tracking down the appropriate contacts to pitch, read a few of their recent articles in order to tailor your pitch specifically to them versus blasting a generic email to dozens of reporters at once.

Want to take your media outreach to the next level? Take the time to research timely trends and weave these themes into your pitch. This research will put you in a prominent position to get the media’s attention and land media coverage.

Practice makes perfect

Beyond doing their research, there are numerous strategies runners can apply when preparing for their marathon. No matter what approach they use, however, taking the time to prepare and build up their endurance prior to the big event is crucial.

First time runners start by running short distances at a time and gradually add one to two miles week-over-week until they are comfortable their bodies can handle a full 26.2-mile endeavor.

This practice makes perfect philosophy translates to PR, as well.

Before reaching out to the media, practice your pitch out loud to a peer or by email. Get their feedback on your messages and delivery.

This type of preparation is helpful no matter which media outlet or industry you are pitching. It also can help you build your confidence before you hit the phones or send on an email, which boosts your odds of successfully selling your story in a quick and compelling way to the media.

Shed the excess

When out running on the road, trail, or treadmill, it’s easy to spot the newer runners. When most start training, they run with headphones, cell phones, snacks, and tons of gear.

Ask any experienced marathoner, many of whom have raced Boston, and they’ll share one piece of advice with you—shed the excess. Possess less and carry less and you’ll weigh less.

The same holds true for PR.

Shed the excess fluff. Stick directly to your key messages. Keep your key messages to the point. Limit your pitch emails so they are brief, yet informative.

Get rid of anything that is unnecessary to tell your story or make your point. All the extra verbiage is weighing down your chances of gaining media coverage more than you think.

There will be uphill battles

Downhill runs are easy because everything is on your side—your stride lengthens, speed is picked up, and less energy is exerted. Uphill runs, however, are tough. Everything is working against you—your stride shortens, breathing gets heavier, every step feels like it may be your last.

During a marathon, there are plenty of times you’ll experience an uphill. Self doubt will creep in and you will need to pump yourself up again in order to make it to the downhill. And don’t forget about the possible muscle cramps, exhaustion, or dehydration that can happen to even the most experience runner on race day.

Sadly, it’s the same thing when reaching out to the media. Even the muscle cramps, trust me.

When pitching your story to the media, be prepared to get one no after another. Yes, it can feel discouraging after a while. But remember, editors and reporters get pitched hundreds of story ideas daily and do not have the ability to pursue every media lead that comes their way.

The key is to keep at it, adapt your messaging to fit the outlet you are pitching, and learn as you go along.

Still being rejected? Make sure you are pitching the right media contacts and that you’ve done your research.  Double-check your pitch and make sure it is on message but still relevant.

It also is important to be persistent with your follow ups until you land that coveted yes from a media outlet who is interested in covering your story.

Brag it up

Answer me this, if you train and finish a marathon and don’t brag about it every step of the way, did your marathon even happen?

Laugh if you must—there are numerous memes out there—but those who brag day in and day out about their training and race day accomplishments are actually applying an age old PR concept to their self promotion. And this humble bragging can actually lead to additional media coverage when done correctly.

Known as PRing the PR, once you’ve received media coverage, make that placement work its very hardest for you.

Here are some examples:

  • Promote the article or feature across your social media accounts.
  • Write a blog post about the experience of being featured.
  • Make sure you send it to the editor you worked with.
  • Update your website, press materials, and the like with “As seen in.” Do this for each product that was featured.
  • Send out an email blast to customers, wholesalers, and other contacts with the news.
  • Make it easy for your networks to share the news by including a sample tweet, post, or email.

Regardless of whether or not you’re a runner, keep these PR tips in mind the next time you reach out to the media to ensure success.

Does your PR strategy have what it takes to go the distance? 

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!