Archive for August, 2012

It’s been exactly one week since the final curtain was drawn at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Many saw the event as an awesome display of sportsmanship; others will breathe a sigh of relief as normal programming resumes on their TV screens. Some athletes are still basking in the glory of laurels of their victories whilst others sit in the dust of defeat.

As much as sportsmanship is part of the games, the Olympics are ultimately about winning – collecting the medals, the bling, the silverware, the brass.

Accolades and opportunities only follow hard work

As with any sport, being an armchair referee is easy. Only those who have trained long, hard hours to be even qualify to compete know what the game is really like. Caster Semenya received some criticism for only managing to secure a silver medal for her 800 metre race. Some say that she left her attack too late, others felt that her performance was ‘good enough’ in light of the fact London was her debut Olympic appearance.  One @missgambu on Twitter hit the nail on the head when she tweeted “It is very easy for us to say what is best or appropriate. #Caster did not get voted into the Olympics. She worked for it. She qualified.”

In industry, it is no different. It’s very seldom that a company will win as “Best XYZ” without having put in the long hours and the hard work.  The PR agencies who flaunt the silverware and accolades have worked for them. Talent will get you noticed, luck may get you ahead, but there is no substitute for good old hard work.

Train at the level you want to compete at  

Cameron van den Burgh clinched South Africa’s first medal in the London Olympics when he won gold in the men’s 100m breaststroke in a world record time of 58.46 seconds. A little known fact is that until recently trained in a 25 metre pool in his local gym and he has resisted the temptation to train in the United States as is the trend with many international swimmers.

In the build up to 2012, he tightened up his training by moving to an Olympic-size pool of 50 metres and improving his nutrition. One could say that training in a 25-metre would not have put him at a disadvantage to compete at the Olympics as he could just do two laps when doing his time trial, it’s mainly about his speed. I beg to differ. From my perspective, is about the mental shift in his training and preparation. When working towards any goal, it’s important to have a visual simulation of the conditions in which you will be competing. The concept of a dress rehearsal allows you to prepare your mind and your body for the final run as though you are performing in the real event. There will be a few variables that one will have no control over, but why not perfect and pre-empt the variables that you know are constant.

In PR, if you’re competing for a certain accolade you have to work to deliver against the set judging criteria or metric for that award. Why chase “creativity” when reach and volume are what you will be measured on? Why celebrate regional success if the campaign will be measured on a national scale? That is simply an exercise in futility. As Stephen Covey says in his best-selling book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Begin with the end in mind”. This will ensure that all your efforts and how you work eventually measures up to a set standard and not the elusive “do your best” which may not even qualify you to compete against your competitors.

It’s a Team Sport

Our national rowing team; which came back with a gold medal from London, is probably the most  comparable to the PR game. Although every team sport has a captain, it is ultimately the collective effort of the team that will win or lose the game. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Similarly in PR, you may have one sterling performer or creative, but ultimately the team’s contribution and efforts are what will set one agency or one campaign a cut above the rest.

PRISA has 27 award categories that are applicable to an agency and only 2 that are dedicated to an individual. This bears testimony to the fact that in our profession; very seldom does the success or failure of any endeavour lie with one individual. There certainly are great leaders and ‘star players’ who are the driving force behind the team, but when we collect the accolades and celebrate our victory, the team is glorified above the individual. In the Olympic history books 100 metre relay winners will go down as “Jamaica”, not as Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, Nesta Carter and Michael Frater.

David can beat Goliath

Gorgeous gold medallist, Chad le Clois showed us all that David can beat Goliath when he beat world champion for the 100 metre butterfly, Michael Phelphs.  Michael Phelphs has 18 medals, 14 gold, two silvers and two bronze medals under his belt. London was Le Clos’s Olympic debut. Despite being determined to put on his best performance, he did not think that he would beat his long time hero. But upsets are what make sport such a beautiful thing. The underdog winning the game is what makes it so exciting.

How many times have small, seemingly insignificant PR agencies dethrone the well-known big names with quirky and effective PR campaigns at annual award ceremonies? How many times has the ‘new kid on the block’ sweeped up awards and recognition much to the disgruntlement of the old boys who’ve been in the PR game for years?  Size and stature will stand you in good stead to compete, but it does not guarantee winning. Hard work; solid, consistent performance, results, creativity, innovation are the common denominators that almost all competitors boast of, but sometimes it really boils down to luck and who “pushed” a little harder in the final leg of the race.


You’re only as good as your last performance  

It’s one thing to be the world champion, it’s another to defend and maintain your title. If you hold, the challenge is to match it and beat it, because you’re only as good as your last performance. Resting on your laurels not only creates stagnancy but may open the gap for your competitors to “catch up” and beat you.

The same applies with in the media and PR industry; you are only as good as your last campaign or achievements. The maximum standard you delivered last year is next year’s minimum benchmark.  It’s all about breaking records and setting new ones for others to follow. Similarly, industry is about innovation and being ahead of the trend and adoption curve with your competitors.

In conclusion, both sport and industry and life in general are essentially about survival of the fittest and most adaptable. The rules of the game do sometimes change and keeping up with the change will ensure you stay in the game.