Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
April 5, 2014

Channeling the “Madness” of March

As March Madness moves to the Final Four and one step closer to crowning an NCAA champion, many companies are continuing to look for innovative ways to maintain employee productivity during a period that can often steal their attention. Our teams at GCI Health found that we could leverage the excitement of competition and capture the spirit of this exhilarating basketball tournament to continue generating compelling work during one of our busiest times of year.

Employees at public relations agencies have to stay especially focused in March, as many client programs start to gather momentum heading into the spring. Keeping that momentum going and having account teams running at peak performance is challenging enough without any additional distraction from the NCAA tournament.  Last year we decided to channel the “madness” in an employee campaign we call “Take a Break from March Madness!” We created a competition that embraces the spirit of March Madness while fulfilling the need to keep accounts humming, by having teams compete against one another in a winner-take-all tournament.

During GCI Health March Madness, teams throughout the agency are awarded points for pre-established activities related to their work.  They earn points for noteworthy client accolades (above and beyond the normal “great job” kudos that we expect from delivering good work).  Securing new opportunities scores points.  Flawless orchestration of client program milestones also lights up the scoreboard, as does team member innovations or going above and beyond the call of duty.

Every week standings are circulated, which further ignite the teams’ competitive juices, but we also showcase some of the work that netted the points so everyone can see the top-flight work being done for clients. In the end, the winning team gets treated to a fun night out, as well as the satisfaction of bragging rights for the year.  The competition was a huge success in its debut in 2013, and is generating incredible enthusiasm this year.

But employee engagement shouldn’t just be a one-month affair. With employees spending more time at their desks or connected to work, finding the proper balance of work and fun can be a critical component to combating burnout. Building on a culture of embracing partnership, hard work, fostering fun and staff development, our advice is to remind ourselves and each other that we are all most inspired when we are challenging the status quo.

In a highly constricted environment – increasingly tight regulations that make innovation a challenge, GCI Health launched “Let’s Do Something Different” a commitment to take time every day to harness our shared passion for healthcare public relations and challenge ourselves to doing something different for our customers, community and company. The following are five elements that helped us build a strong program:

  • An agency-wide reward system that that acknowledges and celebrates employees who are doing things differently
  • Monthly spotlights of “Great Client Initiatives,” highlighting teams that execute new, different and effective programs on behalf of clients
  • Training and social opportunities that incorporate unique venue and unexpected skills to reinforce how we are doing things differently
  • Agency-wide brainstorm on ways we can things we can do to help our clients do things differently
  • In the spirit of putting patients first, executing a diverse RFP process, inviting healthcare non-profits to tell us why we should provide pro bono services to them

What do “Take a Break from March Madness!” and “Let’s Do Something Different” have in common? They are forms of effective team engagement that channel the competitive fire that burns in most of us and help direct that energy in a positive way.  It’s what can move your company or team from “good” to “great,” and from “great” to “best in class.”  By driving excitement for our team members, we also benefit our clients and reinforce a corporate culture that embraces inspiration and support for our employees.


Wendy Lund is the CEO of GCIHealth, a forward-thinking healthcare public relations agency with more than 140 professionals across the US, Canada and Europe. Wendy carries out the strategic vision of the agency, overseeing all operations across GCI Health’s global network and providing senior counsel to key clients. In her 25 years of experience in healthcare, Wendy led award-winning national and globally recognized programs in marketing, advocacy development, health and disease awareness and prevention outreach. 

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