PR and Social Media Lessons From a World Series Champ

In the moments before the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in a dramatic Game 7 last fall — in what’s been called the greatest game ever — Kevin Saghy, the team’s assistant director of communications, was in a tiny room just off the playing field, waiting for history to happen.

Saghy recounted those halcyon days at a Public Relations Society of America event on April 26 at Harry Caray’s Restaurant in Chicago. He discussed the team’s PR and media strategy — one that’s evolved significantly this decade around the proliferation of social media and the improved fortune of the Cubs.

Saghy, who was joined on a panel by Comcast SportsNet Chicago sideline reporter Kelly Crull and moderator T.K. Gore, also of CSN Chicago, talked about his time with the Cubs, including the intensive preparation required leading up to Game 7. Saghy’s team had to be ready for any outcome – whether it meant the Cubs ending a 108-year championship drought or the team returning to Chicago, consigned again to wait till next year.

“But could you plan for that Game 7 — how it worked out?” Saghy said.

Given the wild finish to the game – the Cubs won in 10 innings — the answer is almost certainly no. But preparation was still important, as was being adaptable, Saghy said. We talk a lot about those two principles at Greentarget, and Saghy’s discussion of his time with the Cubs made us think of a couple other Greentarget values that we try to live and embody every day.

Failing forward — or at least not being afraid to

In early 2015, the Cubs were coming off their fifth consecutive losing season. But with a host of young charismatic players — and with some key free agent signings in the previous offseason, including proven yet quirky manager Joe Maddon — Saghy figured it was time to take more risks on social media.

Saghy’s basic thinking was that fans would be open to a “funnier/edgier” tone if the product on the field was better. It wasn’t all smooth — Saghy recounted one incident in which a rival team was mad about what he felt was a harmless joke. “It was a good reminder about being humble,” he said.

But the overall strategy worked. The Cubs went on to dominate their World Series opponents, the Cleveland Indians, as well as all other teams throughout the 2016 playoffs on social media. Even before the World Series run, the Cubs’ strategy seemed to be working. Newswhip reported in April 2016 that the Cubs ranked fourth best for engagement on Facebook – even though they were posting less than any other team.

In addition to compelling video content, which naturally works for a sports franchise, the Cubs’ social media strategy capitalizes on the personality of its likable young team. It’s hard to look through the Cubs’ Facebook and not catch their unbridled passion and joy for the game. Other teams should find a way to emulate this enthusiasm and match their own fans’ zealousness for social success.

Be Authentic

Saghy’s comments rang especially true when we recently recalibrated our social media strategy at Greentarget. A key component for the Cubs, and for us, is authenticity. For the Cubs, this meant altering their tone on social media to mirror their younger players and a loose, energetic clubhouse. By having more fun and interactions with their followers, the Cubs social media team created a social presence that was indicative of the team’s culture.

For us, authenticity in social media, and other external channels like our blog and newsletter, means creating compelling content that we believe will add to a smarter conversation. To do that we use social listening to ensure we have a solid understanding of what our audience is talking about and responding to.

Similar to the Cubs, when we updated our social strategy, we wanted to illustrate how much fun we have on a regular basis. In order to do this, we’ve used more pictures and visual elements and altered our tone to reflect our upbeat and positive culture. The idea is to create social profiles that are representative of who we are and what we value — much like the Cubs did.

Now if someone would just throw us a parade.

Tyler has found great success in developing and implementing media action plans that positively position clients. His passion for social media has helped him create effective plans and conduct useful social media audits.

Tyler  enjoys tweeting about TV shows, finding fantastic restaurants and cafes, and adding to his extensive collection of coffee cups.

Paul has a keen understanding of what media outlets want and what reporters deal with on a day-to-day basis.

When he’s not working or watching his beloved Chicago Cubs, he spends his time working on personal writing projects and reading non-fiction.