“Knitting and the Super Bowl don’t go together!”
Allison Melangton, SVP of Hulman Motorsports and a keynote speaker at this year’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) National Conference in Indianapolis, didn’t let her colleagues’ negative reaction stop her.
For 30 years, Melangton has led internationally renowned events including the Indianapolis 500, NBA championships and the 2012 Super Bowl. She talked about how she used the 46th annual Super Bowl to engage people in and around Indianapolis who might not have otherwise been able to participate in or attend the game. She created unique events designed for different publics: the planting of 2,012 new trees; production of 7,000 “Super Baskets of Hope” for people hospitalized during the game; creation of “46 for XLVI” murals around the city; and the knitting of scarfs (13,026 of them!) by hundreds of volunteers for thousands of people working for the Super Bowl.
“People respond by gathering,” Melangton told me and the more than 1,000 PRSSA members gathered. “They want to unify around common things. You should find ways to engage and involve people.” Thinking outside the box is important. When she ran the Indianapolis 500, a track car race which has become largest single sporting event in the nation with 350,000 attending, Melangton organized 500 “porch parties” around the state featuring sports personalities, politicians and celebrities, brought together 500 children from area schools to sing, and got 1,800 people to bike ride to the track.
The five time Emmy-winning executive shared lots of sound advice with the students. “You can plan and plan and plan as much as you want, but things happen,” she said. “The unknown is part of life. Don’t let the distraction be a distraction. Respond, don’t react.” She also pointed out that because social media has become the dominant force in the public relations profession, “Your microphone is big and it’s important that you can handle it responsibly.”
Melangton ended by advising, “Embrace what’s next; you never know what it’s going to be.” Her suggestion resembled my favorite quote, sung by John Lennon, which observed, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Your thoughts?