Be prepared for opportunity

One of the maxims I've picked up in my 15 years at MP&F in Nashville is that any good public relations campaign begins with research, which to me is just another way of interpreting the Boy Scout motto of "Be Prepared."

One of the maxims I've picked up in my 15 years at MP&F in Nashville is that any good public relations campaign begins with research, which to me is just another way of interpreting the Boy Scout motto of “Be Prepared.”

So as I conclude this three-part blog series on PR lessons learned from an encounter with Vanderbilt football coach James Franklin, I'll focus on the notion of preparedness.

Lesson No. 3: Be prepared for opportunity
One of the things that most impressed me about Coach Franklin's session with the Vandy freshman students was the enthusiasm and seriousness with which Franklin approached his opportunity to speak with them. He had just walked off the field from a spring practice session. These weren't wealthy donors, potential recruits, important members of the university administration or faculty – they were “just” freshmen taking a class on sports and society. But Franklin prepared a special slideshow just for them. He spoke and took questions for nearly two hours. He was emotional and motivating. He even took the opportunity to do a little coaching, telling one kid whose cell phone kept ringing to always remember, for the rest of his life, to set his phone to vibrate. Franklin said he tells his players to do back-flips out of bed each morning, to embrace life with enthusiasm and to be excellent at every single thing they do. Franklin could have given less than his best when speaking to some freshmen. But he prepared for and approached the task as if his audience were the most important in the world, and I don't think there's any doubt those kids will now be raving fans.

One of the props Franklin used in his presentation was an enormous three-ring binder, bursting at the seams with papers, tabs, and hand-written notes. The binder, he said, was his “goldprint for success” (Vandy's colors are black and gold, after all), 10 years' worth of notes he had kept as he climbed the assistant coaching ranks at outposts across the country, preparing for the day when he would land his first head coaching job. Long before he was given the opportunity to lead a team, long before there was even a likelihood that he'd ever have that opportunity, he began to prepare for the job, keeping notes on lessons he was picking up along the way by observing the people around him. Here's what I'll say the first time I meet with my team. This is what I'll want to accomplish in my first 30 days. Here's how I'll handle discipline. Here are things I will never do.

As PR practitioners, not a day goes by that we don't run across a brilliant idea, see a project handled in a way that we'd love to copy someday, or observe a conflict handled in a way we never would have done ourselves. But what do we do with all of those ideas, the approaches to mimic, and the ones to avoid? Do we hope that we'll remember them someday, or do we proactively store them so we're prepared when opportunity knocks? Whether you're a young PR practitioner envisioning the day when you'll run your own firm or a seasoned veteran dealing with the challenges of management, it's never too late to start building your own “goldprint” for success.

Andrew Maraniss (@trublu24) is a partner at Nashville-based McNeely Pigott & Fox Public Relations.

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