What can John Elway teach PR firms in Michigan? More than you think.

By Nick De Leeuw

God.  Family.  The Denver Broncos.  Just not necessarily in that order.

We’ve all got priorities in life, and those are mine.  If the Broncos are on, I’m watching.  If there’s an article about Denver’s defense in the paper, I’m reading.  If a talking head or an “insider” has a #HotTake about Trevor Siemian, I’m probably arguing with them on Twitter.

The last few years in particular, thanks to some incredible (and instructive) work by the team’s general manager, have been a heck of a ride. 

In fact, much of the Broncos’ success can be traced back to management traits and strategies in the front office that professionals, firms, agencies, and other businesses outside the world of sports can and should emulate.

What can an NFL general manager teach professionals in the PR world?  Maybe more than you’d think.  Just look at his track record.

The Broncos franchise has been a model of excellence since the team’s owner named Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway (#GOAT) the director of football operations (and eventually the team’s General Manager) in 2011.

Since that time, the Broncos have won 5 consecutive division titles, made the playoffs 5 straight years, are one of only two teams in the league (Patriots) to win more than 70 percent of their games, appeared in 2 Super Bowls and won Super Bowl 50. 

The Broncos under Elway have had more playoff success in the last 5 years than the Detroit Lions have had in the 50 year Super Bowl era.  And it isn’t close.

But while those of us who also grew up cheering on the Honolulu blue and silver know Detroit’s professional football club will never successfully emulate Elway’s approach to team building, that doesn’t mean the rest of us in firms and businesses outside of the world of sports can’t learn from the Broncos example.

So how are they doing it?  Here are just 3 examples we can all learn from old number 7.

Research, research, research.

There’s a tired cliché around the NFL that championship teams are built through each spring’s NFL Draft.  Since taking over as GM, Elway and his scout team have excelled at identifying contributors every single year, including in the later rounds where few other teams find long term answers for the roster.

Of the 32 NFL teams that participated in the 2016 Draft, only a handful—including the Broncos—saw every draft pick make the final roster.  Late-round picks like Andy Janovich (6th round in 2016) and Trevor Siemian (7th round—the 250th overall selection in 2015) haven’t just contributed, they’ve pitched in with spotlight stealing performances and grade out as two of the best players at their position in the entire NFL through the first 4 weeks of the season.

Of course, your work isn’t a game.

Your time, resources and success are all too important to leave to chance. At Resch Strategies, two rules drive our work: 1) develop a strong message and stick to it, and 2) develop a solid plan and execute it.

Each starts and ends with strong research.

Success doesn’t happen without doing the grunt work on the front end, and doing it well.  Don’t skimp on your research.  You’ll pay for it later.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket –even if it means stepping outside your comfort zone.

The most successful public affairs and public relations firms are those that work with a variety of clients.  We’ve all got our specialties and our specific networks, but real success comes when firms are able to push their boundaries, master new skills, and meet the needs of a wider variety of clients.

Elway modeled that approach in Denver immediately after taking over football operations in early 2011.

Tebowmania swept the nation (and won a division championship) that season.  Elway went out and replaced it with the Peyton Manning era, and in 2013 assembled the highest scoring team in NFL history.  After the Broncos thrashing at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks and their immovable defense in Super Bowl 48, Elway went to work building a defensive juggernaut, planning for an offensive future without the Sheriff. 

Instead of burning through the team’s salary cap on the position Elway is most familiar with (and the position where most teams in the NFL burn through their salary cap), he diversified, spread the team’s focus, and improved its results.

It’s worked out pretty well. 

You created a budget for a reason.  Don’t ignore it.

 Brett Coomer,  The Houston Chronicle

Brett Coomer, The Houston Chronicle

See this guy?  This guy is Brock Osweiler.  He played in 8 games for the Broncos during their 2015 Super Bowl run, subbing in for an injured Peyton Manning. 

His stat line?  61.8 completion percentage, 10 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 86.4.

After the season, Elway played a high-stakes game of chicken with Brockweiler, refusing to match the Houston Texans’ 4 year, $72 million contract offer.  Instead, he opted to go with a competition at QB that lead to the ascension of the aforementioned Trevor Siemian at the “bargain basement” price of $583,000 per season. 

Through 4 games in 2016, Siemian has outperformed Osweiler in almost every meaningful way.  More wins.  More yards.  More touchdowns.  Fewer interceptions. A higher completion percentage.  Osweiler’s quarterback rating in 2016 is 74.8.  Siemian’s is 99.6.

And all of it for $17.4 million a year less. 

Public relations and public affairs firms would benefit from the same kind of spending resolve.

There’s a natural inclination to try to wow your client with the latest, greatest, and most expensive strategies and tactics.  Run a TV ad campaign.  Spend more on digital marketing.  Produce another round of full color glossy mailers.

While the mark-up can be irresistible, the results are often lacking. 

At Resch Strategies we pride ourselves on our strategic planning, and our ability to deliver results, even on a tight budget.  And when it makes more sense, especially on a tight budget.  Sometimes direct mail works better than a flashy radio ad campaign, or a phone call from a single key stakeholder will deliver better than a $5,000 Facebook ad campaign. 

Elway combines hard work, experience, and a fearless, self-confident approach to produce a winner, year after year.

Follow his lead.  You’ll like your results.

Go Broncos.

--Nick De Leeuw