I work in South Bend, Indiana.
Before the Mayor Pete moment, I would hear “That’s where Notre Dame is, right?” whenever South Bend came up.
That’s the same thought I had about South Bend before moving here.
I learned about South Bend watching the movie Rudy. I still remember watching the film for the first time. I was 15 years old, about to be a sophomore in high school, and sitting in my next door neighbor’s basement at an informal church youth group “movie night.”
I became a cross country runner---not a football player, but the movie lit me up.
We still have a family joke related to a scene from the film that comes out when I’m together with my siblings or parents. When there is a lull in the conversation or we are getting ready to go, it’s likely you’ll hear someone chime in, “After high school I’m going to play football at Notre Dame.
If you haven’t seen Rudy, you should. The movie follows the title character, Rudy’s, improbable journey to become a student and football player at the University of Notre Dame.
If you’re like some of my high school buddies you’ll find the production a bit too cheesy. Or, if you’re like some of my acquired Notre Dame network family you may squirm in your seat about some of the details. But, if you’re like me it will strike the balance between imagination, aspiration, and achievement.
Pep talk as content strategy
Early in the film you see a childhood Rudy giving an impersonation of a pep talk to his friend while a record of Knute Rockne, the famous Notre Dame football player and coach, plays in the background. Later in the film you see Rudy, now a janitor (but not yet a student) at Notre Dame, stand in the locker room and deliver to his fellow janitor, part of the speech he learned as a child.
Whether you are a football fan or not, the energy of the speech is fun to hear. I’m a “words” guy and a “sports-applies-to-life” guy. I’ve always thought it would be fun to learn that speech. I was also curious about the original.
It turns out that Knute Rockne was not only a great player and coach but also a great marketer. The reason that Rudy was able to be inspired by Rockne’s speech as a child in the 1950s, and the reason we have the speech today---and not only the audio, but a film recording---is because he organized a press conference and film crew in the late 1920’s to record an example of his motivational techniques with the players.
Note to content strategists: if you aren’t using video yet, you are about 90 years behind the times. Don’t worry! Almost everyone else is too, so there is time to catch up.
Why was Knute Rockne a great marketer?
Knute Rockne not only delivered a winning product, he was also a wizard at promoting that product through owned and earned media.
During Rockne’s time as a player and a coach the team expanded its schedule to play teams around the country (marketers, think new markets and new channels).
However, they didn’t simply show up at the stadium, play the game, and then go home. They used all the communication channels (marketers, think content) they could to amplify the game and the team.
Team (marketers, think product) performance and brand building went hand in hand.
These efforts were wildly successful. The Notre Dame community even has a term they still use today, subway alumni, for the huge fan base of supporters that love the team and the school, although they never even attended.
Content marketing ideas pulled from Knute Rockne’s approach
Creating great content can seem daunting. What topics do we highlight? How do we make the time to create content consistently? Who is most interested in our content, and how do we get it in front of them in a way that is engaging?
With a coaching record of 105-12-5 (wins-losses-ties), I’m sure Rockne was a busy guy.
He still made time to execute a content strategy.
Here are some things I can apply directly from Rockne’s pep-talk to the world of content marketing:
- Share what we know. Coach Rockne knew a lot about football. He also knew a lot about coaching. He shared what he knew.
There are so many things we’ve become good at in our jobs and day-to-day lives. We don’t often think about how our expertise and insights could be valuable to others---but they can be if we share them.
- Do a little extra work to capture a lot more value. Coach Rockne likely had hundreds of moments motivating and instructing players during practice and games - just like every other college football coach. He showed up to work and worked hard. It took effort to organize a press conference and a film crew so that one of his speeches was recorded and shared. However, this incremental effort was small compared to all the work it had taken to get to his team and himself to that point. The pay off for that extra effort to create content can be huge.
- Sometimes content can simply be sharing our work. Coach Rockne’s pep talk was not something out of the ordinary or complex. His direct message wasn’t even to his target audience (fans and supporters). What he shared was part of his job day in and day out. He shared an inside view into the work he did, and people ate it up. We all love to feel like insiders. We also warm up to people much faster than brands. These are both good reasons to have some of our content highlight our team members and the work they do.
A Marketing-centric variation on Rockne’s speech
Many years ago, after hearing me give a rousing endorsement for his new ideas, a colleague in grad school once told me, if things didn’t work out with the whole engineering thing I should consider a career as a motivational speaker.
Well, so far, I haven’t gone down the mechanical engineering path or the motivational speaker path, but I do get super pumped up about the ideas I work on, the people I work with, and the cool things we can do together.
Still, I haven’t always been the best at letting that enthusiasm shine through over the last few years. I’d like to break that habit and get back to sharing that excitement.
I created a pep talk parody targeted at marketers based on Knute Rockne’s famous pep-talk.
This was a home-grown effort. I took the original speech transcript and substituted marketing lingo for the football references. My wife gave wardrobe advice, and my two high school girls helped film. Everyone at home got to listen to me rehearse over and over again.
I hope the video gives you a smile. Either way, I’d love to hear how this article inspired you (or how it made you want to run screaming from the room).
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