PR Lessons from the Super Bowl

On Sunday, February 6 over 111 million people tuned into Fox to watch the Green Bay Packers challenge the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. According to Nielsen, it was a record-setting television event.  During the evening I was completely absorbed in the game, as would be expected for a serious Packers fan, along with the halftime show and commercials and it quickly became clear that there was messaging, branding, and PR at work on the screen at every turn.

No matter who you were rooting for, there were some key learnings that jumped off the screen and that could better our PR toolboxes going forward.

And with that, I present my Top 4 PR Lessons from Super Bowl XLV:

1) Media Training is Key – This applies to all types of people – from sport stars to Fortune 500 execs to nonprofit leaders.  You must know your message when speaking to the media. Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers quarterback, was interviewed multiple times right after winning the Super Bowl, a time that could easily be explained as frenetic. During each interview he remained composed in demeanor as well as in his answers. A few times during an interview with Steve Young, a former Super Bowl winning quarterback, Young tried to get Rodgers to bite on the “monkey on my back” line of questioning in an attempt to get him to compare himself to predecessor Brett Favre. Rodgers just won the Super Bowl, he easily could have taken the tone that he is a better player and now had proof, but instead he stayed on the same message he had used in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl – never once disparaging another player or team.

2) Do More with Less – In addition to the game on the field there was the annual Super Bowl commercial competition. My personal favorites this year were the Volkswagen Darth Vader and the Doritos ‘finger licking’ spots. MBA students at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School agree.  During the seventh annual Kellogg School Super Bowl Advertising Review, they gave high marks to those two commercials and failing marks to Lipton, Kia, and HomeAway. Did you know that the Doritos spots were written, filmed and produced by amateurs? Doritos not only saved dollars by having amateurs make their spots but more importantly they engaged their fans to produce content in support of the brand.

A video contest is genius PR as it launched months before the game, utilized social media, interacted with a key audience, got fans to evangelize the brand, and now has legs after the actual airing, all on top of it being a cheaper production solution. When facing tight budgets, diminishing resources, and a shrinking staff don’t let it cripple you – instead push past the norm and truly think outside the “bag.” There are creative ways to rally your key audience to promote your brand – online contests, individually hosted events, and local spokespeople with TAD-like video presentations.

3) A Strategic Plan is a Touchdown – The Green Bay Packers are a storied franchise with a clean cut quarterback as their leader, now, but they hit a few public bumps four years ago when transitioning to Aaron Rodgers as their captain.  As a team they stuck to their outlined plan and went with Rodgers instead of Brett Favre when he openly toyed with the idea of retirement a few years ago. A strategic roadmap is a winning idea for a football team and its players, as it is for any business, association, or organization. Without a business marketing plan or without a campaign strategy it is easy to get derailed and not consistently achieve forward progress. Take the time to develop your strategic plan or consult with a trusted PR professional.

4) Branding is Everywhere – Do only big brands like Nike or Audi need a brand strategy? No – everyone needs a strong brand image and a brand strategy for how to handle the brand and its messages. Every nonprofit, start-up, solo practitioner, and mid-sized company should have a plan for their brand because branding is everywhere. NFL teams are big brands – their logos, players, helmets, jerseys, swag, chants, and even their color schemes are a way to identify them. Fans identify themselves and their loyalty to their team via these brand elements. If the Steelers had half of the team wearing purple and the coach wearing blue it would have caused a disconnect for their brand identity on gameday.

Similarly, your organization is a brand – doesn’t matter if you are one person or a team of 100 – your audience needs quick and easy ways to identify you.  If you own a small company in the service industry make sure all your employees wear the same branded uniform when interacting with clients.  If you are a nonprofit bring services into hospitals make sure your volunteers all have branded gear to identify themselves to patients and hospital workers. This will help in consistent branding so that people remember who you are and what you do.

Post a comment to share any PR, marketing, or branding takeaways from the Super Bowl that you caught.  Also, feel free to weigh in on your favorite overall commercial!

Tina McCormack Beaty passion is strategic communications, social media, public relations, events, branding, and entrepreneurial marketing. Currently, Tina is a senior director @CFoxComm and a freelancer with focus on Entrepreneurial PR.  She serves as the vice president of Washington Women in Public Relations as well as a guest speaker on PR for Entrepreneurs at her alma mater, Miami University’s Institute for Entrepreneurship.  You can reach Tina at @TMStrategy.

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