What Sports PR Reveals About Social Media Marketing

“Set. Blue 42. Green 14. Hut, hut. HIKE!”

Like a quarterback, every marketer should be prepared and thrilled for the next opportunity to throw a winning play (or marketing campaign). You call out the plan to your team, you analyze the field, and you call the shots before launching into your next big run for the goal.

When it comes to social media marketing, there are plenty of comparisons you can make between sports and marketing or public relations. Additionally, there are plenty of lessons you can learn at the hands of sport PR mistakes or successes.

Whether you’re in communications or marketing, there are some shining examples we can learn from the strategies utilized by sports teams, coaches, and athletes — as well as their PR managers. Let’s dive into the savvy behind sports marketing and see what lessons we can learn from some of our favorite athletes and teams.

Being social media savvy

Navigating the online social world can be tricky if you’re representing more than yourself. Take student athletes, for example. They have to not only represent themselves, but their school, their team, and their teammates. Everything they do online can be monitored and used against them — some have even lost scholarships, been expelled, or have had to go on disciplinary leave due to poor choices and bad social media posts.

However, they can also use social media to their advantage by promoting their team values, highlighting their fellow players, or creating a positive image for their followers. Everything they post online is permanent, and they have to learn at a formative age how to become social media savvy.

The same goes for your social media venture as a marketer for your company. You have to be aware of how your messages can impact others and vigilant in recognizing any potential backfire your company or brand might receive. Remember that inappropriate posts, insensitive responses, and even the actions of those inside the company can have a lasting stain on your brand.

However, being social media savvy doesn’t just mean being conscious of the positive and negative ways of using social media; it is also about how to successfully garner an audience reaction. There are millions of people using social media everyday, and it’s tricky to gain the attention of your intended audience when everyone’s saturated with social media exposure. So what can you do to get shares, likes, or future customers? The best solution is to keep them actively engaged with unique, catchy, and simple content.

Take for example the ever popular Nike slogan: “Just Do It.” The simple slogan, created over 25 years ago, is still considered one of the most popular marketing campaigns of all time. However, it is also simple, true to the message of the company, and unique. Plus, it has translated well over the past few decades, even becoming a short enough phrase to turn into a hashtag. It’s an evergreen marketing campaign that Nike still uses to this day, and your company should find their own slogan that can withstand the test of time.

Just like young athletes, you will need to be conscious of your impact on social media. Be sure to build a campaign that lasts, and be an active user of social media to garner the audience you want. Additionally, you will need to find unique and catchy evergreen content. Remember this saying from Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.”

WWE lessons and gauging your audience

Now, hold up: is World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) a legitimate sport? Many might argue that it’s not, but even the WWE company agrees that it is “sports entertainment.” Regardless, WWE is a massive source of inspiration for marketers and PR leaders. Why, you might ask? Let’s dive into the specifics.

WWE relies on creative storylines based on “villains/heels” and “heroes/faces.” Rivalries, partnerships, “heel turns,” who wins, and who loses are all determined prior to the matches, but are all based on one thing: how the audience will react. WWE thrives based on their audience. Superstars like The Rock, John Cena, and Stone Cold Steve Austin weren’t constructed in a day. It was the audience that helped drive them to fame. This dedication to the passion of their audience has made WWE the success that it is.

The same goes for your business: recognize that everything relies on how your audience will react. Engage them, get them riled up, and have them cheering on every step you take. If something isn’t working in your marketing strategy, don’t be afraid to drop it. Use your failures or criticisms to evolve your business and change up your strategy. You’d be surprised at how loyal your fans will become if you listen to them and take their concerns into account.

One of the biggest examples within the WWE is how the Diva (now Women’s) division has changed over the years. In the early years, women were used as props or sex appeal for the show. However, through marketing research, writers started to pick up that the Divas needed a change, since many of the members of their audience were women. They slowly transitioned their Women’s roster, creating more matches and airtime for the athletes. Now the Women of WWE are taken more seriously and embraced wholeheartedly by their fans. Although the change was slow, it still happened, and the WWE is all the better for it.

Although progress is still needed to even the playing field, the WWE has progressed significantly because they listened to their audience, considered the criticism, and made changes. For your business and marketing strategy, you could do the same. Rely on your audience for inspiration, and they won’t let you down.

Losers and winners — becoming a fair sport

Another important lesson that PR professionals and marketers can learn from sports is that not all publicity is good publicity. Additionally, sometimes the hardest lessons provide you with the biggest opportunity for success.

This can be seen with many football teams that have made it to the Super Bowl but ultimately lost. The Panthers lost Super Bowl 50 in 2016, but the reaction from the team led to some negative publicity. Instead of accepting defeat, they ignored the loss, refused to congratulate the winning team, and ultimately missed out on identifying opportunities for growth. Nobody likes a sore loser, and negative feedback from NFL fans quickly followed that loss.

The biggest loss, however, was their inability to grow from the opportunity. This translates well into how businesses should approach, analyze, and grow from their own losses — whether that’s with the loss of a client, loss of money, or ignoring an apparent risk to your business until it was too late. Ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away, and it prevents your business from becoming better. Awareness of mistakes is the first step to improving your business.

Additionally, criticism or any opportunity to change paths should be embraced with open arms. Instead of ignoring the losses or avoiding reality, turn to face it. Be open about changes you want to make in the future, both with your staff and with your customers. Your audience will appreciate your transparency and will be able to guide you down the road you need to take.

Bases loaded, ready for a home run

When it comes to marketing, there are many lessons you can learn from every sport out there. However, some of the most important lessons are these: learn your craft, be savvy and strategic about what you post, let your audience guide your actions, and embrace challenges or losses with open arms.

When it comes to building a winning marketing or PR strategy, don’t expect it to be easy. However, you can approach the challenge with the same tenacity and character as many sports stars of the modern era. You might even become the next superstar of the PR world.

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