At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be many similarities between sports communications and B2B tech public relations. However, after hearing from Christian Megliola, SVP, Communications, Boston Celtics, at a PRSA event, it’s clear that the sports industry offers many lessons for all areas of public relations.
Here are a few of the lessons PR professionals can glean from Christian’s PRSA Q&A panel presentation.
Lesson #1: Preparation, Preparation, Preparation
Imagine the number of variables Christian and his team need to account for during one season. The highs and lows of superstar athletes, the opposing teams, sponsors, media passes and interviews, the game outcome and the ever-changing season record, potential injuries and much more. Unsurprisingly, preparation is a key way Christian and his team ensure successful communications throughout the entire season and into the playoffs.
Planning for a new basketball season is not something taken lightly. Before the Celtics even step onto the court for their first game, Christian and his team sit down and pinpoint every possible situation and scenario they can think of – with both positive and negative outcomes – to try their best to plan ahead.
For example, when Gordon Hayward returned from his 2017-2018 season-ending leg injury, Christian’s team developed a strategy for a positive storyline – successful minutes and team wins – and a negative outcome – aggravated injury or lower-than-expected results. Not every variable in the NBA can be controlled or accounted for, but preparing as much as possible before the season starts helps Christian’s team stay on top of messaging.
Lesson #2: The Balancing Act
It’s a balance to keep internal messaging on point with external expectations, manage stakeholder relations and provide equal opportunity to interested media. Christian, who started his career in broadcast, believes in maintaining a transparent relationship with media.
At the end of the day it’s all about balance with public appearances, interviews and media days. When Gordon Hayward returned at the beginning of the 2018-2019 season, he gave an exclusive interview to The Today Show. To balance the mainstream media coverage, Christian’s team set up a press conference with regional media immediately to give them an equal opportunity to interview the Celtics star. Giving regional and national media, as well as sports bloggers, access to the players is key to media success.
In developing communications strategies, B2B tech public relations professionals must give thought to creating a well-rounded program that balances mainstream, top-tier coverage with trade and vertical press, bloggers and regional media outlets. This also means well-rounded media angles and themes, depending on the client, that touch on corporate strategy, product innovation, thought leadership and more. A comprehensive public relations plan should also include well-defined KPIs and metrics for success.
Lesson #3: Strategy for the Big Stage
For the Celtics, the communications strategy during playoffs is different than the regular season. For one, they’re dealing with higher scrutiny from the media, fans and opponents. The stakes are higher on the ‘big stage,’ so the Celtics’ communications team remains on high alert, ready to handle any situation or scenario.
Most B2B companies won’t experience the same level of analysis as high-profile NBA teams like the Los Angeles Lakers or Boston Celtics (unless they’re a Google or Amazon), but the lesson is the same: prepare for different levels of attention with appropriate, flexible plans. Day-to-day public relations efforts should be handled differently than worse-case crisis communications situations. Similar to how product news should be treated differently than transformational acquisitions. Identifying the ‘big stage’ in your PR planning will guide team priorities and efforts.
Lesson #4: Working with the Star Players
Before players even step off the court after a win, it’s time for post-game interviews with the media. How much preparation do they receive?
Christian says when working with the athletes, his team wants each player to be their authentic self (have fun, contribute to social causes, use social media, etc.), so the focus isn’t on rigid messaging or bullet points. Instead, his team gives players a ‘heads up’ before any interview about important stories on social media or in the news, offering the opportunity for counsel. If a player wants coaching, the team will offer support and share suggested responses or reactions.
The Celtics offer a great lesson about working with the ‘star players’ in the B2B world – executives and thought leaders. To be an authentic spokesperson or media source, executives should be themselves, but PR teams must support and coach them along the way.
When preparing executives for a media briefing, provide personalized support to each person. One SHIFT client, for example, prefers receiving short bullets via text messages, while another requests standard media best practice information in a multi-page document. Another tip? Always check the news cycle before the briefing to share relevant, need-to-know breaking news with executives.
Lesson #5: Find your Fans
When it comes to Twitter and social media, Christian says the Celtics “dove in head first.” For the NBA, particularly the Celtics, young fans and international fans have a huge presence on social media, so part of the Celtics’ strategy is to communicate directly with fans where they’re already engaging with the brand and talking to each other.
This lesson applies to the tech sector. As public relations pros craft social media messaging for clients, they must think about where the client’s buyers are spending their time on social media and which platforms they’re using. Correctly targeting these decision-makers on social media and with meaningful, impactful messaging is essential to getting in front of a client’s desired audience.
Sports communication and tech public relations are vastly different, but as the Q&A with Christian Megliola showed, the world of basketball offers important lessons that public relations professionals can apply to their day-to-day jobs and overall team success.
Keep in Touch
Want fresh perspective on communications trends & strategy? Sign up for the SHIFT/ahead newsletter.