Jun 11, 2015

PR Lessons from the Cleveland Cavaliers on Achieving Success with Less

The Grit Squad PR Tips

Undermanned. Scrappy. The Perennial Underdog.

These words have been floating around in my head all week while cheering on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2015 NBA Finals. After we lost two of our all-stars to injuries, many basketball fans counted the Cavs out against the Golden State Warriors.

However, as Cleveland proved in games 2 and 3, you can do A LOT with little. After pulling out an overtime win in the Finals’ second game, LeBron James commented: “Our guys love that we’ve been counted out. It’s the grit squad that we have.”

If you work in PR or marketing, “The Grit Squad” is likely a nickname that resonates with your experiences. As business demands skyrocket, best practices shift and resources shrink, most of us are working in teams that must be leaner and meaner in how they approach their projects. Staffs are slim and budget is almost nonexistent.

Regardless of whether you’re a Cleveland or Golden State fan, here’s how to channel the Cavs and achieve success with less.

Start with a vision.

In the case of the Cavs, the vision is winning the Finals and bringing home Cleveland’s first pro sports championship in 50+ years.

There’s a lot riding on that vision, just as there is with most PR and marketing strategies. However, having a goal and metrics for success in place can help you map out how you’re going to accomplish it all.

For instance, if your vision is to drive a certain percentage of sales with your campaigns, set up a timeline for success with revenue checkpoints along the way.

As you reach your checkpoints, review the metrics from your campaigns to see how much each one contributed to your goal. This will help you determine early on whether you need to allocate more resources and time to achieving your vision.

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Don’t be distracted by naysayers.

Listening to a little bit of criticism can be healthy; however, at some point, it becomes a distraction. Although the Cavs could have given in to everyone saying the Warriors were going to win it all, they’ve defied expectations and proved their critics wrong.

When you’re faced with an overwhelming number of tasks and not enough resources, it’s easy to become your worst critic.

When that happens, just remember that almost every PR team is under-staffed and working with limited resources. Accepting this allows you to move on and prove others (and yourself) wrong.

Focus on your team’s strengths: Is your team awesome at using data to optimize your campaigns? Are you better at visual communications? Look for ways that your strengths can compensate for your weaknesses and use them to your advantage.

Every team needs a LeBron…

When LeBron James returned to the Cavs after playing a few seasons in Miami, he came home a true leader — effortlessly able to rally his teammates and coaches.

Every PR and marketing team needs at least one person who can pull the pieces together and remind their colleagues about the vision they’re fighting for…and that it’s achievable.

It’s helpful if your department head is this inspirational force; however, she doesn’t have to be. From the CMO to the newly hired intern, we’re all called to light the spark in our coworkers.

Help organize a shared editorial calendar for your department or resolve yourself to be more attentive during team meetings. Inspire ideas and offer solutions for problems even if they don’t directly impact you.

and a Delly. 

“You want a ring? Go get the rock,” said ESPN’s Mark Jackson during the Game 2 broadcast.

Jackson was referring to Matthew “Delly” Dellavedova, the Cavs’ Australian point guard, who had just dived to the floor for a loose ball.

It was a move very typical of the player, who’s made a name for himself not because he’s the fastest or most athletic, but because he works hard, hunkers down and hustles on the court.

Delly’s playing style may not be pretty, but he’s determined, reliable and feisty.

Today’s public relations and marketing professionals are called on to do much more than they were trained for.  Perhaps you started off in the field because you loved to write. Now, you find yourself being tasked with graphic design, website coding, and video production.

There are a lot of tools out there that make these tasks easier and free ways to learn how to do them better. Be like Delly and proactively round out the skills you’re lacking.

Adapt to change and understand your limitations. 

When the Cavaliers headed into the post-season, they didn’t know that all-stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving would suffer season-ending injuries.

However, when both things happened, the team was prepared. LeBron has pushed himself to play harder than usual and other players have adapted their approach around the missing pieces. They may not be playing the same game they did before, but it’s still possible to win.

Surprises will always pop up in your PR and marketing projects. Budgets get slashed mid-quarter; employees get sick or leave. Anything can happen.

And despite it all, you’re still expected to deliver. The key here is to understand how a change is going to limit you, adapt accordingly and embrace the positives of the new situation.

Don’t lose focus in OT.

Two of the three Finals games have gone into overtime. The team that came out the winner in each was able to stay calm, focus on the next shot and deliver.

Panicking over a deadline will not help you. Instead, look at how many tasks you have left (i.e. how many points you need to score) and break down how to do it in the time left. Knowing how to manage your projects against ‘the clock’ is essential.

Keep your fans happy and they’ll repay the favor.

Sports teams need their fans cheering them on to victory. Similarly, your team will need people who can support and champion for you. These ‘fans’ may be the journalists and influencers you pitch, the agencies you partner with, your clients, or other departments in your company. Being respectful, friendly and professional can go a long way especially if you need last-minute help or a morale boost down the line.

We have a rallying cry in Cleveland — #ALLinCLE. I love it because in just three words it shows that everyone is essential to the Cavs’ success — the fans, the coaches, the stars, players that are just now getting a chance to play and prove themselves. Even if we don’t win the Finals, we’ll know we’ve still defied expectations.

To accomplish meaningful results with your public relations and marketing campaigns, your team has to bring the same level of dedication to your work.

So, tell me: Are you all in?

If you’d like to learn more about achieving your business goals by taking full advantage of PR’s power, download our white paper Best Practices for Growth: Aligning PR Programs to Corporate Strategy.

Amanda Hicken is PR Newswire’s senior manager of strategic content. She’s also a fan of all things Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @ADHicken for tweets about the media, marketing, Cleveland, and comic books.

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