Being a new Gonzaga University alum, seeing the basketball team’s historic run during March Madness was exciting. As a public relations professional, it was interesting to evaluate what this success meant in terms of awareness, exposure and public perception. Before the tournament, people routinely mispronounced Gonzaga as “Gon-zah-ga,” and asked where Spokane is located. I don’t think I’ll hear those questions again any time soon. Numerous articles have since been published about the small, Jesuit, private school and the city of Spokane. Gonzaga has always been labeled as the “Cinderella school,” but their tournament run to the championship game proved they are a team to contend with, and that title is no longer a good fit for them anymore.
So what did Gonzaga’s public relations department do to capitalize on this publicity opportunity? They turned to social media. Social media was a huge asset for the university during this basketball run. The communications department had videos ready to go depending on how far the basketball team went in the tournament. One of the university’s most viewed social media videos was titled “Who is this Gonzaga University seeded at the Top of the NCAA March Madness Bracket?” They seized the opportunity that comes along with this type of national attention to provide facts about the school during the tournament, as well as promote a couple key campus slogans through a series of videos titled “It Unfolds Here.” The public relations department did a great job homing in on the time when Gonzaga was receiving the most coverage and hype to tell the university’s stories beyond the court.
The basketball program has been a tool for free publicity for two decades since the team first made it to the Sweet Sixteen, and has led to increased donations to campus foundations and enrollment ever since. With all the free coverage earned by the public relations department, I’m sure admissions will have another year of being thankful for the success of our team.