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Five PR Takeaways from March Madness


How’s your bracket? Is it busted? Who did you pick in the championship?

These are the important questions more than 40 million people are asking this month after jumping into bracketology - the spring tradition of picking/wildly guessing who will win each of the 67 games in the NCAA basketball tournament. The month of matchups seems to permeate every corner of our lives. It’s in the news (nearly 36,000 stories have been written about the madness in less than two weeks), fills our social media feeds and spills into our work.

A national event of this size brings opportunity, and reminders, for marketers. Here are my five PR takeaways, inspired by this year’s NCAA basketball tourney.

1) People Want Distractions

Experts predict American businesses will lose $6.3 billion in productivity during this year’s tournament. Millions of us will spend hours researching our bracket while at work, streaming games on our laptop and talking about the games with co-workers.

We all like to say about how busy we are. But in reality, we’re eager to make time for the things we really want to do. What’s the PR takeaway? If you want people to engage with your campaign, offer a fun distraction. There can be informative or persuasive elements but first and foremost, make it entertaining.

2) Sporting Events are Safe(r) Distractions

Not all distractions are created equal. Some topics (e.g. politics) are polarizing and can become PR poison if a brand gets too close. The conversation becomes overly emotional and no one wins.

I know what you’re thinking – sports fans can be crazy at times and wildly irrational in their devotion to, or hatred for, a particular team. You are right… some are. And there is the beauty of March Madness. Most of the 40 million people who fill out brackets are not fanatics. They just want to join the fun even if they don’t know Iona from FGCU. PR takeaway? Keep it relevant and respectful, and joining the tournament conversation will be a safe play.

3) People Love the Underdog

If the favored team won every time, ratings for the NCAA tournament would tank. Knowing #13 Winthrop has a chance (no matter how slight) to knock off #4 Butler is a big part of the fun. Unless your team is on the court, most people are cheering for the underdog and hoping for an upset.

PR takeaway? If you are a dominant market leader, the public may think you have an unfair advantage and be less sympathetic to your cause. Anticipate these feelings and be ready to adjust your messaging accordingly. And if you’re an underdog or challenger brand, use that to your advantage.

4) People Want What’s Real

Sporting events may be the last outpost of water cooler TV – even though we watch more and more games on our phones, and water coolers have been supplanted by social media. Games aren’t scripted. We don’t know when a 15 seed might knock off a number 2. On-demand viewing won’t cut it. We are drawn to following these games in real time.

The PR takeaway? Tap into the moment. No one has enough money to buy an audience this big, so don’t miss the opportunity to come alongside and join the conversation. Just make sure what you offer is timely, relevant and clever.

5) Look Beyond the Trending Story Lines

The NCAA tournament is about more than just basketball games. Look beyond the box scores and you’ll see countless backstories. Often the human drama unfolding beyond the court is what makes play on the hardwood even more interesting.

The PR takeaway? Look for points of connection between your brand and the action unfolding on and off the court. If you can legitimately tie something you do with some part of the tournament, your story pitch to reporters will be a slam dunk.


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