March Madness has few rivals in the college outreach game

February may have the Super Bowl, the event that pays homage to the big-name and high-stakes players - in both sports and advertising.

February may have the Super Bowl, the event that pays homage to the big-name and high-stakes players - in both sports and advertising. March, however, is arguably one of the sports world's most anticipated months that, for the first time, will provide opportunity to the little guy.

This year, every NCAA Tournament game will be broadcast live on TV for sports fans to enjoy. For small colleges and universities, this is perhaps the largest PR opportunity they will ever have.

A school's logo, colors, mascot, and students will all appear on camera more times than administrators could ever hope. A run in the tournament can provide more recognition for a school than any other outreach program.

Getting to the Final Four doesn't even have to be part of the PR benefits package that comes with the three-week extravaganza known as March Madness, though it can't hurt. For some schools, just one broadcasted game provides unprecedented exposure.

And, as PR pros know, exposure can be both positive and negative. Schools are not only judged by athletic ability, but by conduct. Sometimes colleges are even judged by what others say, as was the case when radio host Don Imus insulted Rutgers University's women's basketball team in an infamous incident from 2007.

School administrators, coaches, and those that advise them would be prudent to learn from the mistakes of professional athletes and organizations.

Athletes are not only the spokespeople for their own brand and image, but also that of their team or school. Scandals and conduct issues involving star players damage an entire sports organization's brand.

Even if a school gets the opportunity to share its story for just two hours, the athletes, coaches, and students are the spokespeople for the college during that period of time.

West Virginia University learned this firsthand during a basketball game last season when administrators had to plead with students to tone down obscenities that could be heard on national television.

This PR golden ticket also has the potential to be a PR crisis. One out-of-line player or fan can create a storm of social media and news buzz that can put an otherwise unknown college brand on the map in an unfavorable light.

Prep for the big games shouldn't just include practice and training on the court, but also a clear communications plan to reap the rewards of exposure and be prepared for any unforeseen crises. Without one, the school that falls the hardest this year might not necessarily be the one that is the most point deficient.


Lindsey Siegriest is the news editor of PRWeek. She can be contacted at lindsey.siegriest@prweek.com.

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