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5 Lessons from the Madness


March 17, 2017

It’s that time of year again, office brackets, nail-biting drama, buzzer beaters, and underdogs. We wake up and contemplate calling in sick only to drag ourselves to the office fashionably late with an extra shot of espresso in our coffee in an attempt to get with it after staying up way too late to watch the nail-biter out in the West Regional. Yes, you guessed it- tournament time! College basketball fans look forward to it every year and somehow, every year, the tournament never disappoints.

Since I didn’t play sick to watch basketball and I’ve had my double espresso, I’ll do the next best thing – take company time to write a blog post about our beloved basketball tournament and what PR agencies can learn from the Cinderellas and number one seeds alike. 

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

I guarantee you that as you watch the basketball tournament and that one underdog keeps making that run, inevitably there will be a graphic come onto the screen and a particular statistic will be highlighted and pointed out as the underdog’s key to success. The underdog has found their formula and is winning over the hearts of millions of Americans, with hustle, heart and a hot hand.

In PR we are often faced with the decision on whether or not to toy with our strategy when we are “winning.” If the strategy you put in place is producing, there is no reason to call a timeout and try to reinvent the wheel. Stick to your guns and move on to the next round.

Make a Halftime Adjustment

On the other side of the coin is when the strategy isn’t unfolding as was previously planned – you have to think outside the box and adjust or watch yourself burn. Just like a basketball game, news and events can take an unexpected turn and the PR team has to make an adjustment, often a creative one, to achieve the desired results. Whatever the obstacle is, there is an answer and as a PR team, you cannot be apprehensive about answering that question regardless of whether or not it was in your plan.  As Coach K said, “Imagination has a great deal to do with winning.”

Stay Humble

Humility is not something we often associate with high-level athletics. I promise you this – when the bracket has dwindled to the last four teams, all of those teams will have at least one thing in common. Every member of that team from the starters to the waterboy will know their role and how what they do, however small, helps the team win. That takes a strong dose of humility. Every member of that team was a star in high school, just like everyone at your PR agency was the smartest in his or her class. Acknowledging your role and embracing it will only help the team succeed.

At the end of the day, winning is what matters, right? When the team wins, you win. Knowing your role and trusting that everyone around has embraced their role and is just as focused on winning as you are is the kind of humility it takes to produce results time and time again. All it takes is for one person to get a big head and before you know it someone else is celebrating on your court and you will be forever on the wrong end of the highlight reel.


Everyone who has ever played sports has been a part of a timeout where the coach is irate over a lack of communication. Good teams know what everyone is doing and where everyone is going to be. This means that we can rely on one another to be where we need to be to make plays. Good teams play together and communication enables them to do that. When the team is on deadline we need to talk, just like switching on a pick and roll to make sure the other team doesn’t get an easy basket.

Taking the time to communicate can be difficult since busy is normally an understatement in the life of a PR pro. We need to take the time to contact our teammates. I’ll be the first to admit that I am guilty of not communicating at times and it is a part of my “PR game” that I need to improve. Maybe I’ll sneak the live stream up next to a press release this afternoon and learn from a couple of tournament teams.

Enjoy the Moment 

Jim Valvano gave a famous speech right before his passing. Valvano could have easily spoken about how cool it was to be the head coach of the North Carolina State Wolfpack when they upset the Houston Cougars in the 1983 championship game. Instead, he spoke about how to lead your life and making sure you enjoy your limited moments. The video clip of Jimmy V running across the floor looking for someone to hug after his Wolfpack pulled off the miraculous upset will be on every tournament commercial until the end of time.

We can all learn a lot from Jimmy V that can be applied to our professional and personal lives. Hopefully, we all love what we do and we should never lose sight of that when we are up against a deadline on a big project. No matter the project or the client the project team must enjoy what they are doing. If assignments are only done with the purpose of getting them done, your true skills will not show in your work. Work done begrudgingly will never be as good as work done with passion. Never lose sight of how fortunate you are to be able to wake up every day and do what you love, embrace those around you and take the time to build relationships that forge a bond stronger than just a project team.

As you watch the tournament over the next couple of weeks, take a few pointers from the hard-working student-athletes on the floor, and on the bench for that matter, and see what it is you think makes them a successful team and then apply that to your project teams at your PR agency. Hopefully, this helps build your team into a championship caliber PR agency.

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