9 PR Lessons from Baseball


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Baseball can teach PR people a thing or two. Like how to step back up to the plate after a strikeout (or a failed press conference) ... or that the ability to perform in the clutch can make or break your career. Here are nine lessons PR people can learn from America's pastime.

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9 PR Lessons from Baseball

  1. 1. 9 PR Lessons from America’s Pastime Want to be a PR hit? Heather Whaling • Geben Communication Heather@gebencommunication.com • @prTini photo credit: laffy4k
  2. 2. photo credit: caitlinator Strategy. Adrenaline. Superstars. Role players. Wins. Losses. At its core, PR about communicating the right information to the right audiences and engaging people in a way that will encourage them to help share your story. Nothing new. As much as we like to talk about how social media is forcing public relations to evolve, the simple truth is that the tools have changed, but the overall goals are incredibly similar. Simply put, PR is our “communication pastime.” Baseball is often referred to as America’s pastime. So, what can one pastime teach another? Baseball has 9 innings. 9 position players. 9 batters In the line-up. And, with that, here are 9 lessons PR pros can learn from America’s athletic pastime.
  3. 3. The ability to perform in the clutch will make – or break – your career. In baseball, clutch is how you perform with the game on the line. Bottom of the ninth inning. Two outs. Do you deliver the hit that drives home the winning run? Or do you swing and miss, striking out and costing your team the game? In PR, a clutch performance is delivering when everything is on the line. That could mean keeping your client out of a damaging news story, alerting your boss about a potential online crisis, initiating steps to be taken that mitigate the damage, thriving under high-stakes deadlines, or getting front-page news stories in the major national outlets/sites. Be a PR clutch performer. Take a deep breath and just do what needs to be done. 1
  4. 4. Prevent the competition from getting too far ahead. Pitchers give their teams a chance to win by throwing strikes, keeping runners off the bases and eliminating hanging breaking balls (easy pitches to hit). When pitchers perform well, they keep their team within striking distance – positioning them to win. Just as pitchers can’t totally control the outcome of the game – the offense needs to deliver some runs – PR people can’t control everything. But, we can put our team, aka our brands, in a position to stay ahead of the competition. And, social media makes it easier than ever to keep tabs on the competition. If part of your social media strategy doesn’t include monitoring what the competition is up to, you’re not doing everything in your power to help your team win. Stay one step ahead by using social media for competitive analysis. 2
  5. 5. Keep the team loose. If you watch SportsCenter, it’s not uncommon to see a player – frequently a role player – smash a pie in the face of a player being interviewed. What may seem like fun and games is actually important. Baseball seasons are long – spring training, 162 games, followed by the playoffs. To keep morale high, and to prevent people from getting too down on themselves, someone needs to assume the role of jokester. Same goes for PR. We can’t be super serious all the time. Why not create a funny internal video or add some good-natured humor to the workplace? Part of public relations encompasses employee communication. Follow the baseball player’s lead and sprinkle in some fun. Don’t underestimate the importance of employee communication. Loosen up. Encourage fun. 3
  6. 6. Don’t dwell on strikeouts. Ryan Howard, the Philadelphia Phillies All- Star MVP first baseman, set a record in 2008 for most strikeouts in franchise history … tying the record he set the year before. But, he doesn’t let some bad at-bats hold him down. Howard also set the record for the fewest games to hit 100 homeruns, fewest games to hit 150 homeruns, and most homeruns in his first 1,000 career at bats. What’s a PR strikeout? How about holding a press conference that goes uncovered by the media? Or posting something online that draws negative attention? Whatever it is, don’t let it define you. Analyze what went wrong. Determine how to “improve your swing.” And step back up to the plate. That next at-bat could be a homerun … or a grand slam. Don’t dwell on PR strikeouts. Analyze. Improve. Step back up to the plate. 4
  7. 7. Recognize top performers. Major League Baseball holds the mid-summer classic, the All-Star game in July. Plus, awards are given annually for a slue of accomplishments. Why? Because players like to be recognized for their achievements, and in the case of the All-Star game, fans welcome the opportunity to see all the heavy hitters together. How does this translate to PR? Recognize your top performers. Whether it’s a luncheon to recognize outstanding results, or a blog post touting someone’s good work – take the time to show people that you notice and appreciate their performance. Also, brainstorm opportunities to incorporate online tools to improve/update traditional morale- building activities. Find opportunities to reward achievements in a public way. 5
  8. 8. Quality matters more than quantity. In baseball, there’s a misconception that teams can buy championships. This may sound plausible, but it’s just not true. Of the teams with the 10 highest payrolls, only two made the 2010 playoffs. It’s not how much you spend on your team … it’s how you spend those dollars. We place a lot of importance on website traffic, RSS subscriptions, fans, followers -- numbers that indicate the size of our network. And, to a certain extent, quantity matters, otherwise you’re just talking to yourself; however, the size of the network isn’t the most important ingredient. Success is determined by how you interact and leverage the network. In baseball and in PR/social media, it’s not about the size of your wallet or the size of your network. It’s what you do with the dollars or followers that counts. How you interact with and leverage your online network is more important than its size. 6
  9. 9. Practice makes perfect. Sure, the best baseball players have some natural-born ability; however, that’s not enough to reach the upper echelon of their sport. The best baseball players are the ones who arrive early at the park to take additional fielding practice, or stay late to analyze their swing. The desire to be the best isn’t enough. It takes hard work, commitment and lots of practice. How can PR people practice? Hone your skills by volunteering for a nonprofit. Ask a colleague to offer constructive criticism about a recent project or blog post, find a mentor, hold “workshop” sessions with your team. Learn more by participating in Twitter chats. (For example, the PR 2.0 #pr20chat chat is every Tuesday from 8-9p ET.) Outwork everyone else. Volunteer for a local nonprofit to hone your skills -- or to develop new ones. Outwork everyone else. 7
  10. 10. Know your role. Generally speaking, each baseball team’s roster can only include one MVP. The other players have to know their roles. People want strong role players on their team. Someone who understands how to effectively help the team succeed, like perfecting the bunt to advance a runner into scoring position. That person is more valuable than the guy who’s focused on doing everything he can to stay in the spotlight. Likewise, everyone can’t be the PR superstar. For example, if you’re an excellent researcher, focus on delivering the best research possible. Go above and beyond to find those extra-valuable nuggets of information. Though there’s no award (that I know of) for researcher of the year, it’s a mission-critical aspect of effective public relations. Your teammates – co-workers – will remember and reward your ability to do the behind-the-scenes work that helps them shine. We can’t all be PR superstars. Instead of worrying about the limelight, know your role and excel at it. 8
  11. 11. You can’t always swing for the fences. Homerun hitters are fan favorites. There’s nothing quite like the excitement at a baseball game that comes from watching a ball sail over the fence. Leading the league in homeruns is synonymous with superstardom. But, baseball players know they can’t approach every at bat with the sole purpose of sending the ball into the horizon. Sometimes, the team needs a bunt. Or a sac fly. Or a hit-and-run. Or taking a strike to allow a speedy runner to swipe second base. That’s all part of the winning formula. Same goes for PR. While there are many aspects of public relations, there’s nothing quite like seeing your client on the cover of a national newspaper. But, every story isn’t worthy of front-page coverage. If we’re spending all our time looking for the next national feature, we’re missing lots of smaller opportunities along the way that will help our clients win. Work on the “homerun” story, but focus enough time & attention on smaller tasks that produce results. 9
  12. 12. Collaboration. Integration. Social Good. Heather Whaling www.gebencommunication.com heather@gebencommunication.com @prTini subscribe to my blog: bit.ly/prTini