So You Were in Marching Band

So You Were in Marching Band

By Adelle Girvan

In my deepest sleep, in a sleeping bag on the floor, I am awakened by a PA system playing “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M. It starts off quietly, and then the volume is increased slowly. I hear the rustling of the others emerging from their sleeping bags, the sound of air mattresses being deflated.

The UMass Marching Band was on the road again, and all 400 of us squeezed onto the floor of a high school gym. Looking back on these memories, the long trips with only a Subway sandwich to sustain you, the constant bark of “run it again” from the on-field intercom, the nights with minimal sleep, and the expectation to be positive and to perform, I can honestly say that marching band taught me everything I needed to get started in public relations.

Here’s what I learned about PR from those days and nights on the field:

Be Relatable, Kind and Communicate What You Need to be Successful

Once, the marching band was at a NFL stadium. My section was looking for a place to warm up before we performed. However, it appeared that everywhere we went, a security guard told us we didn’t have access to that area. Just then, my coach Chris pulled a bag of fun-sized chocolate bars out of her backpack, turned to us and said, “stay here.” I watched her go over to the security guards, hand them candy, point to us, and speak very kindly about who we were, what we needed, and asked how we could work with them to accommodate them, as well as get a space to practice. She returned, giving us a “thumbs-up” and stated that we had the space for twenty minutes.

This is a perfect example of how kindness is the best way to get something done. Chris could have yelled and screamed at the guard, saying we needed to warm up before performing, but instead she simply explained how important this was, and asked what would work for them. This is the best way to communicate with anyone—a client, a reporter, or a member of your team.

Collaboration is the Key to Success

Marching Band is an “ensemble sport,” meaning the key is to work together to create a great product. For those of you who aren’t well-seasoned band geeks (like myself), I will explain the concept of “drill.” Drill is the way bandos know where to stand on the field to make those cool shapes you enjoy from the stands. That awesome Ohio State Michael Jackson feature where the band makes the shape of Michael Jackson moonwalking? That was created by a very talented drill writer.

The point of drill is just that: to make a shape that is recognizable to the audience and entertaining. While we are all given coordinates to land on our exact location, the sad truth is you don’t always make it to your exact drill spot (what we call your “dot”). Thus, you have to create the form by basing your spacing off of the people surrounding you.

In PR, you have to work with a lot of people from a lot of places to “make it work” for your client. However, you can only make it work if you’re working with your team to ensure the end form is as perfect as possible.

….But Don’t Forget About Individual Practice

While you have to work together to make it work on the field, you also need to pull your own weight. Imagine this: a marching band rolls out onto the field at halftime. The crowd is screaming the school’s fight song. The trumpets lift their horns, and… nothing happens. No one practiced. No one knows the music. Without putting in your own individual hours of work, nothing can happen within the team.

This proves true for PR. If you don’t build the media list, how is the team going to pitch? If you don’t build a relationship with your client, how will you know what the team needs to do to better serve them?

Perform Your Best… Even in a Hurricane

The late-great leader of the UMass Marching Band, George Parks, had a saying that stuck with me forever: “you are at your best when things are at their worst.” For example, in 2011 hurricane Sandy roared across the Northeast, bringing with it destruction, winds, and buckets of rain. The UMass Marching Band was on the road to Lowell, MA for MICCA finals, an exhibition performance at a high school marching band competition.

As the day went on, Sandy’s clouds came in above the stadium. We all wondered if they were going to cancel our show. But, of course, about an hour before our show, rain splattered across our tour busses, and soaked the turf field. There wasn’t thunder, and this was one of our biggest shows of the year, so we had to push on.

How does this relate to PR? Well, not all days are good days in the PR world. Still, it is our job to perform with excellence and to the best of our abilities for our clients to make sure we push through that storm, and do so with a huge smile on our face. You have to be at your best when things are at their worst.

But, Most of All…

Marching band taught me that working hard is the greatest form of success. Knowing that hard work can lead to a great end product makes it all worthwhile. Whether it’s applause from an audience or a “thank you” from a client, putting in the hours to ensure that whatever you do, you do well is the most rewarding end product of all.

How has your favorite sport prepared you for the workplace? Tell us about it in the comments or send us a tweet @LaunchSquad.

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