3 Lessons from the Tampa Bay Lightning Communications Team


In the world of professional sports, the Tampa Bay Lightning organization is widely regarded as the standard of excellence. As a Tampa resident, there may be some bias. But it’s difficult to dispute their 2016 honor as the best sports franchise in the U.S. by ESPN's Ultimate Rankings.

The PRSA Tampa Bay Chapter recently held an event at Amalie Arena featuring the Lightning’s PR and Communications team, including Bill Wickett, executive vice president of communications, Brian Breseman, director of public relations, Angela Lanza, senior manager of events marketing, and Caley Chelios, the team’s hockey reporter and correspondent for Fox Sports Sun.

Here are just a few of my takeaways from the event:

1.     When opportunity arises, act quickly

The Tampa Bay Lightning had 7 months to plan the NHL All-Star Weekend and coordinate with the city of Tampa (which was also hosting the annual Gasparilla Invasion that weekend). It was all hands on-deck and took a lot of work to execute a successful event, but the payoff was worth it. All-Star Weekend brought huge crowds to the Tampa area and showcased the city on a national platform. Having the game the same weekend as Gasparilla also provided some unique media opportunities (See: The Stanley Cup joined Tampa Bay’s pirate festival during NHL All-Star Weekend) and gave hockey fans a little taste of life in Tampa.

My takeaway: Things happen quickly in the world of PR and managing all of the moving pieces can be overwhelming on top of our carefully crafted schedules and to-do lists. But going the extra mile and making that big event or interview happen will always be worth the payoff. This is probably why PR is consistently voted one of the most stressful jobs in America. My acupuncturist would likely agree…

2. It’s our job to help the media craft their story

When it comes to scheduling interviews with local and national reporters, the Lightning PR team works hard to make sure the reporter gets the story that they envisioned. From picking the perfect location for the interview to prepping the player or coach for what they believe the reporter will ask. So much thought goes into each media interview.

My takeaway: As PR people, our biggest fear is that the media will take our idea and go in a completely different direction – maybe not even mentioning our client at all. Asking them upfront what they envision for the story will (1) clue us in sooner and limit the number of surprises and (2) allow us to be a better resource to the reporter.

3. Always have a plan

When it comes to playoff games, the team often won’t know who they are playing or where until the week of the series. Yet, to host a successful home game with all of the components that fans have come to love – like events along the Tampa Riverwalk and viewing parties in Thunder Alley – they have to be prepared. Once the schedule is announced, it’s the Communications team’s job to execute these events and alert the public so people show up. It’s a quick turnaround time, but because they already have a plan in place it’s only a matter of setting that plan in motion.

My takeaway: Those who fail to plan, plan to fail. But really. It’s so important to have a plan in place, even for events and stories that may never happen. There’s nothing worse than having a last-minute project pop up and having no clue where to start. Just one way to make our jobs a little less stressful than they have to be. 

Insights like these are why attending events like the one hosted by PRSA Tampa Bay are so valuable to PR professionals. Not a member? It’s worth checking out. My PRSA membership has more than paid for itself with the professional development and networking opportunities that I’ve gleaned from my almost four years with PRSA Tampa Bay.