Marquette wins big in Final Four PR play

MILWAUKEE: Marquette University used a quickly crafted PR push to raise $4.7 million during its final week in the NCAA men's basketball tournament in late March and early April.

MILWAUKEE: Marquette University used a quickly crafted PR push to raise $4.7 million during its final week in the NCAA men's basketball tournament in late March and early April.

The money will finish financing construction of a new facility to be used by the men's and women's basketball teams and the women's volleyball team.

Marquette was the Cinderella story of this year's tournament, advancing to the Final Four for the first time since 1977, under legendary coach Al McGuire.

Media interest in the school was high as it advanced in the field of 65 teams that compete. Once it staged a major upset of Kentucky to reach the Final Four, though, national media inundated the school's three-person media relations staff with requests for interviews.

Director of communications Ben Tracy spoke with the university's advancement director and its president at the Kentucky game, suggesting the tournament presented the opportunity to launch a final fundraising drive for the new building, which is named after McGuire.

The school's president announced the effort at an alumni gathering after the Kentucky game March 29. The next Tuesday, Tracy issued a press release dubbed, "The Push for the Final Four Million" to tie into the tournament.

Local and national media such as The New York Times jumped on the story. Roughly $2 million in pledges came in the first day, which led to stories on the rapid response, Tracy said.

The fundraising effort also got coverage from CNN, USA Today, and the Chicago Tribune.

While they pushed the campaign, Tracy and his staff also had to deal with a crush of media calls in the week leading up to its last tournament game April 5.

Rather than hold daily press briefings, Tracy opted to work individually with reporters flocking to the university's urban campus on the edge of downtown Milwaukee. He also tried to establish key messages for each day of the week, steering reporters to stories on students waiting for tickets one day, the McGuire Center another, and benefits the university received from the tournament - such as increased applications for admission - another day. By week's end, he was focusing on students going to the Final Four games in New Orleans.

Tracy is still reviewing a 157-page report on media coverage Marquette received in the final tournament week to determine total media impressions. That includes coverage in 385 broadcast reports.

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