Earlier this year, way back in May, I wrote a piece on the benefits of having a scientific mind when it comes to PR. I stand whole heartedly by its conclusions that such a mindset gives you:

  • The ability to understand complex information
  • The ability to change tactics
  • The ability to work with data and question it
  • The ability to avoid buzz words

But I did call it ‘hiring a tech PR agency – unusual things to check, part 1’ so I thought I really should do a part 2 before the year was out. This time it’s about sport.

Sport has played a huge part in my life. I spent 7 years rowing, and at my peak trained for 37 hours on top of a PhD. I became the proud owner of a British Universities (BUSA) Regatta gold medal* (coxed 4s, since you asked), as well as exceptionally calloused hands, a mile-high stack of lycra, two back injuries, shockingly weak wrists, damaged knees and a misaligned shoulder joint. I then switched to triathlon and – like several people here – eventually settled on cycling.

Sport is now done for pleasure – and I’m a much nicer person to know as a result – but there are several things that a sporting mindset brings to business, hence many athletes being snapped up for business once they retire. Olympic swimmer and gold medal winner Adrian Moorhouse, for example, established the award winning business performance consultancy Lane 4 and its employees include Greg Searle (Olympic rower 1992 – 2012, gold medal winner) and Alison Mowbray (Olympic rower 2000-2004, silver medal winner).

And, importantly, a sporting mindset gives:

1) The ability to identify what’s important and what works then shift behaviour

The 2003 Rugby World Cup winning coach, Clive Woodward, famously said that “Winning the Rugby world cup was not about doing one thing 100% better, but about doing 100 things 1% better”. This is a sentiment also expressed by Dave Brailsford, who has orchestrated two Tour de France wins and seemingly countless Olympic medal winning performances.

The ability to look at what is working and what isn’t and adapt is vital to sport and it’s vital to business. And evaluation is key to improving returns on investment,  and as I’ve previously written about, we’ve used it to identify what publications deliver the best return on investment (in terms of article placements and time spent) and renewed our focus.

In rowing the most important metric was boat speed, being able to bench press more or run faster was a nicety, but it didn’t always affect the boat speed positively. And the same is true in PR – more coverage is good, but 100 pieces in a tier-3 publication may drive less traffic than just one piece in a tier-1.

My 2005 British Indoor Rowing Championships graph, tracking speed and stroke rate. The right metrics will let you adapt and improve in real time.

2) The ability to get on with it

As many people will attest, I’m really not a morning person. The closest I come to leaping out of bed in the morning is hopping in agony, clutching the toes I’ve just stubbed because my legs aren’t yet working and my eyes are still half shut. But sport taught me to just get on with it, regardless of the fact that my legs were weak from last night’s training, and my body could barely cope.

Almost all athletes have this mindset and put it to whatever they do.

3) The ability to perform when it matters most

In sport, there are key races and there are tin pots. If your end goal is to win the Tour de France, the Americas cup or just a college race, then it doesn’t matter about winning anything else on the way, it doesn’t matter if you’re losing for part of the race, it just matters that you’re in the lead as you cross the finishing line.

At the time of writing this, the Tour de France begins in 198 days, 2 minutes and 17s. The competing cyclists know they must be in peak fitness on this date and last for three weeks.

In PR, the deadline is just as important. I wrote back in February that a good piece that’s published is far better than a perfect piece that’s late. There are very few examples of news that will stop the presses. And there are very few feature articles that can’t be replaced by something that is delivered on time.

It is far better to have an article published and then say “I wish I’d included X” than say, “it’s a shame it wasn’t published, we’d spent ages to make it perfect”.

4) The knowledge that perception is everything

Admittedly not all athletes know about the importance of keeping calm even in the most tense of situations. It always surprises me that multi-millionaire professional footballers don’t receive better psychological training – especially when Zinedine Zidane’s head butt cost France the 2006 World Cup. But most do.

In Tyler Hamilton’s excellent autobiography about riding the Tour de France with Lance Armstrong, he discusses the importance of the poker face when climbing a mountain in agony.

This sentiment is reiterated beautifully by Olympic rower Annabel Vernon’s in her blog  about the football world cup and the English team’s  heavy criticism of the match ball.

Now, I’m no expert, but I’m guessing that the ball is a fairly important component of the game. So why come out on the eve of the tournament and tell all your opponents that you can’t kick the ball properly?

In business, perception is even more vital. And a number of our (now acquired) start-up clients – a great example is Quantum Research – have used PR to position themselves as dominant players and achieve fantastic returns when acquired.