What triathlon training teaches about public relations

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During the winter of 2019, I committed to competing in an Ironman triathlon. That’s a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, followed by a 26.2-mile run. After a canceled swim at Ironman Louisville in October 2019 and COVID-19 canceling Ironman Lake Placid in July 2020, I am proud to share that I recently achieved my goal that has been more than three years in the making.

Anyone who has trained for an Ironman understands the long nights and early mornings that make up the grueling training program. During the moments of clarity attained during the long swim, bike and run sessions, I’ve identified several parallels between long-distance triathlon training and effective public relations.

Start with research

Whether it’s exploring what kind of bike or wetsuit to buy or researching techniques to improve your swimming, research is key to improving effectiveness and performance.

Research also is fundamental in public relations. Conducting research allows you to understand your audience and market. And your research findings will allow you to develop sound communication strategies. Always start with secondary research and conduct additional primary research as necessary.

Planning is key

Balancing a career and demanding Ironman training schedule, which can be up to 17 hours per week, can be daunting, so having a training plan in place is remarkably helpful. Taking time at the beginning of the week or month to plan your training sessions removes the daily guesswork of what discipline, style of workout or distance you need to complete each day.

Likewise, PR planning also is beneficial. Whether it’s a social media content strategy that outlines content categories and frequency or a media plan that identifies ongoing media opportunities, having a road map will keep you on track to maximize efficiency.

Even with a well-thought-out plan, it is essential to be flexible and understand that changes will come up in your training and communications efforts. Give yourself the grace to modify the plan as timely items pop up.

Execute, consistently 

Even the best plan is not effective if you don’t execute consistently. As an athlete, it’s important to show up every day and give your best effort. The only way to increase your speed and endurance is by putting in the work every day.

The same is true for public relations. Whether you’re building a social media following or positioning yourself in the market, consistent, high-quality content is a key to effective communications.

Commit to creating and sharing content that provides your audience with value. Depending on your target market, two ways to add value is through educational or entertaining content.

Measure, assess and adapt

Whether it’s reviewing training pace or volume, collecting data and making sense of it is critical to making gains when triathlon training.

Public relations efforts need to be measured and adjusted too. Collecting data based on key performance indicators will determine the success of a campaign and provide insights into how to improve your next plan.

In Ironman training and public relations, setting measurable objectives, also known as SMART goals, is critical to understanding data and measuring success.

Find your community 

Whether it’s a spouse, group of training buddies or online community, finding a tribe is helpful on many levels while training for endurance sports. These individuals are a source of accountability, inspiration and support. You also can ask them questions when researching something new.

In public relations, your network is everything. Your community is a great way to spark organic engagement and can be a tremendous source of content and creative collaborations.

Consider employees, vendors, sponsors, board members, volunteers and other business partners when building your community.

Ask for help

Leave your ego at the door and ask for help when you need it. Whether you’re training or developing a public relations campaign, many people have done it before you and likely experienced the same pain points. So, if you have a question, ask. Other people’s diverse perspectives and experiences are invaluable.

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