Laura Petrolino

A Bodybuilder’s Guide to Communications Strategy

By: Laura Petrolino | July 20, 2015 | 

A Bodybuilder's Guide to Communications StrategyBy Laura Petrolino

Life is the best teacher.

And this is why so many of my blog posts focus on the adventures, misadventures, and circumstances I face in life.

Life is where you learn to be human, and any communications strategy is about connecting with humans.

It just makes sense.

This also means most of you know about my tendency to injure myself with sharp objects, my love of unicorns and 80s rap, my ridiculously horrible inability to do laundry, and the fact at any given moment there is probably at least an 80 percent chance I’ll have no idea where my keys are (among other things).

Today’s post is about another very important part of my life (one many of you probably don’t know about), which directly relates to communications strategy development and success—body building.

Building a Communications Strategy

I compete in physique, which most people know as “bodybuilding.”

Anyone who follows me on Instagram, probably has some idea of this, but otherwise I’m pretty quiet about it online.

I also powerlift, but haven’t done a meet yet. My first one will be sometime this winter, whereas my next physique competition is coming up mid-October.

I’ve learned so many lessons through this sport about life in general, but today we look at five lessons building a body can teach us about building (and executing) a communications strategy.

It takes time to craft and implement a successful communications strategy. Not to mention focus, attention to details, and an ability to analyze many individual pieces in context of the organization and it’s goals.

This is exactly what you do in competitive bodybuilding.

The Most Effective Work is Not the Most Prestigious

Any communications pro knows that it’s not the one “ego” placement in the New York Times which makes a communications strategy, but the tireless day-to-day, behind-the-scenes work.

It’s the content creation, the social media outreach and community building, the smart and targeted earned media pitches and placements, the measurement and analysis—these are where success happens.

Likewise in physique sports, while your time on stage is important, it’s not where a champion is made.

Instead it’s in the day-to-day grind.

The extremely non-glamourous work in the gym, the calloused hands, the constant attention to nutrition and fueling your body as it needs to be to successful, the mental work required.

Success is “built,” hence the word bodybuilding. And when it comes to your communications strategy the same holds true for “business building.”

Focus on Your Goals

This is one I struggled with quite a bit. I love being active and want to compete in ALLLL the things.

ALLLLLLLL the things.

I want to race triathlons, and do adventure races, and….and….and.

Unfortunately—despite my belief to the contrary—I am not a superhero. And therefore, my attempt to be a champion at everything, took away time and both mental and physical energy from the goals that mattered for my sport (and prevented me from being a champion at anything).

This last year however, with the help amazing and extremely patient coach, I’ve been laser-focused.

The result?

It’s by far been my most productive and successful year.

It’s the most important broken record in communications—your communications strategy must be built based on your goals.

Every tactic you employ must directly move you closer to those goals. Any tactic which doesn’t only dilutes or hurts your efforts—no matter how trendy or popular. 

Focus is key to success.

Understand Your Weak Points

In every sport athletes have strengths and weaknesses. The biggest mistake any athlete makes is to ignore their weak points and think their strengths will get them by.

The weak points are what define champions.

Bodybuilding is no different, and while the weakness itself might be visible, the reason for it often is not.

This is where knowledge, research, and a bit of investigative work comes in.

The same holds true when you build a communications strategy. You must understand the weaknesses in your organization and the obstacles to reach your goals.

Your communications strategy must built upon the weak points, just as much as the strengths.

Success Takes Time

When we start with a new client we are very careful to set expectations.

Your domain authority won’t increase 12 points in three months. Nor will you be forced to run from paparazzi two weeks after initial earned media outreach (unless you did something very bad or have the last name Kardashian).

Your brand new blog won’t drive thousands of leads the first month. 

While we wish we could grant you instant success. We can’t. Success takes time and consistent, focused work.

Bodybuilding is much the same, despite the “six week transformation” stories you see, this isn’t the way the sport works.

It takes years (emphasis on the plural) to build a winning physique.

And guess what else? There is no off-season. You are either improving or you are prepping. There isn’t a time you just sit idle.

No matter what you do in life, if you want to be successful, you just have to put your head down, focus on your goals, and continue to pump out consistent, exceptional work day in and day out.

That alone is what creates success.

Integration is Mandatory

Bodybuilding isn’t just about lifting heavy things.

A successful physique athlete has to integrate many working pieces together:

  • Training
  • Nutrition
  • Psychological
  • Posing

All these things must be in focus and work hand-in-hand.

I have a coach whom I trust to be able to use his insight and knowledge, as well as his ability to have a comprehensive view of my situation (my body is like a start-up organization, and I’m the founder—it’s pretty difficult to be unbiased and detached from the immediate and emotional) to integrate everything together.

Likewise, a communications strategy must encompass all four media types and they must work seamlessly together—tactics for each supporting and complimenting those in the next.

Sure, you might be able to get some attention only focused on one media type and I might make some progress only caring about one aspect of my training. But goals aren’t reached by “might,” “maybe,” and “some.”

An integrated communications strategy maximizes your opportunity for success.

And there you have it! Five tactics of successful bodybuilders for you to use in your communications strategy planning.

So go out there and pump it up!

Oh, and wait, wait….I almost let this post come to a close without an Arnold Schwarzenegger meme. I’d surely be kicked out of the sport!

So, here you go:

A Bodybuilder's Guide to Communications Strategy

About Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

  • EmilyNKantner

    Is there any fun analogy you can’t creatively tie to communications? Love it!

  • There’s a great deal of truth in this post! My brother-in-law was a competitive body builder (Mr. South Carolina, yes we are PROUD!), so I got a good deal of insight into the process. Many egg yolks went lonely and neglected due to the dietary restrictions! You are right — just like many other things, the hard work gets done day after day, in a decidedly unglamorous way (with, hopefully, a like-minded community which provides support and encouragement – that part is pretty critical!). // I have had a coach for my running etc since April 2012 and it has been an interesting journey — you are right — it is good to ask the hard questions about goals and we almost always need a third party to help us look at that objectively. // Good luck in your competition(s)!

  • AnneReuss

    AHH. I adore this, Laura! One day you and I will do an obstacle course together! I think the meme at the end does a perfect job summing it up: Being into fitness/pumping iron teaches you to love the grind because in 2 months, 6 months, one year – the progress is so rewarding physically – and in the mind/business, too. You’ll have written a blog you didn’t think you would have in two months, then in one year you’ll have a growing email list, etc. 

    One thing I would add that pumping iron has taught me is the incremental rewards helps you not burn out. I’ve had a few days where I thought I lost my mojo. I was tired and I couldn’t PR (personal record) in a movement I was working on. I shook it off, and next week I got it! Embrace the suck & the grind, there’s something pretty great waiting for you! 

    Again…..stellar post!!

  • I can´t decide which one is the best: “Life is where you learn to be human, and any communications strategy is about connecting with humans” or “It takes time to craft and implement a successful communications strategy.” or
    “No matter what you do in life, if you want to be successful, you just
    have to put your head down, focus on your goals, and continue to pump
    out consistent, exceptional work day in and day out.”
    All of them hold so much truth and summarize one thing: you have to put in the work to succeed, period!

    Great post Laura. Best of luck (though is not about the luck, it´s about the work) in your future competitions!

  • I mean, really. It’s not enough that you beat me in steps every day, but now I have to look at your INCREDIBLE triceps?!? Grrrrr.

  • EmilyNKantner We were talking about her bodybuilding and I said, “You can totally write a blog post about this!” It’s super fun … and now something everyone does.

  • susancellura

    This. Is. Fab. Very inspiring and I am taking away so many things for myself and how I present my biz to potentials…

  • susancellura Oh yay! Then my work here is done! Go get ’em Susan!

  • ginidietrich Oh please, we will just go for a bike ride next time I’m in town and you’ll feel better.

  • LauraPetrolino ginidietrich Have her take you to Soul Cycle.

  • Corina Manea Ah…wow! What an honor to get called out for so many quotables! 

    And thank you! I’m sure you’ll see lots pictures!

  • AnneReuss I love everything about this comment. And yes, good add on. There are days you go to the gym and you  feel like crud and you have to dig really freaking deep to do what you need to. Those are the best days in the gym because you realize you can do anything you put your mind to.

  • whitney_fay

    LauraPetrolino ginidietrich Exactly. What is this? It’s Monday AND I have to look at Laura’s muscles?? 

    This is an outrage.

    P.S. I’ve walked approximately 762 steps today and it’s almost noon… 0_0

  • danielschiller

    “The weak points are what define champions.” I wish I wrote that 🙂

    I learned something new about you today LauraPetrolino — but it’s not so surprising. 

    Enduring a bit of physical pain each day is an essential element of a winning comms strategy.

  • biggreenpen I could never do this without a coach. You need that outside perspective, along with someone to tell you the brutal truth. With bodybuilding and running an organization, you are so close to it, it’s very hard to be objective and separate the data from the emotions. Not to mention the fact he is the expert in this field. 

    I’ll also add that finding the right coach is key (just as finding the right communications/pr firm). I’ve worked with several coaches in the past—some good, some bad. But my current coach is by far the best fit I’ve ever had, and in turn my progress (not to mention enjoyment) is much higher.

  • ginidietrich EmilyNKantner It’s funny, as I started digging into it I thought of so many more ways they correspond. I had to narrow this down by a lot.

    And Emily! Thank you, that’s the most fun compliment ever! And also, challenge accepted. I welcome suggestions for communications analogy challenge suggestions!!

  • BillSmith3

    Great post Laura and I love the connection between lifting and communications strategy! A lot of people forget that communications is a lot of work and not very glamourous. A lot of people don’t understand that the unglamorous work is what makes the campaigns effective, getting a placement in the NYT is great but perhaps focusing on your specific audience through an industry site or publication. 

    I workout at the gym and sometimes run for off season conditioning for skiing.

  • LauraPetrolino biggreenpen Totally agree with you re: coach fit.

  • biggreenpen LauraPetrolino ginidietrich Oh, I am going to force her to take me to SoulCycle. I hear about this awesome place all the time. I will not be left out!

  • whitney_fay LauraPetrolino ginidietrich LOL! You all are too good for my ego!

    And start walking Whitney, why are you even here commenting, you should be walking! Goodness knows you have plagues to outrun, you need to train woman!

  • biggreenpen LauraPetrolino P.S. maybe your next post for us can touch upon lessons from running. I know you have many of them, especially with as involved as you are with the community.

  • BillSmith3 EXACTLY Bill, you nailed it!

    Do you cross country or downhill ski? This next winter I really want to up my cross country game. I can step out my door and do it, so there is no reason not to!

  • danielschiller LauraPetrolino Ah, thank you! That means a lot to me coming from someone like you (whose writing I admire).

    And pain and communications go together….in more ways than one! HAHAHA!

  • BillSmith3

    LauraPetrolino BillSmith3

    I’ve been downhill skiing for 40 years and I try and get out every weekend from Christmas to roughly the end of March. 

    Now I could use running tips. I was doing roughly 40km per week back in 2012 but had a bad 2013 (Summer pneumonia) and 2014 (runner’s knee), I’m totally out of it this year and have to start from scratch with intervals.

  • lyndsay canada

    Fantastic post lady! I can relate this to my line of work (Digital Marketing Consultant & Figure competitor) – well said. Lyndsay Canada

  • Omg! Incredible triceps indeed. So so jealous @LauraPetrolino . Glad I don’t have to compete with you in steps or size of muscle. Oh and amazing post. Love the analogy. So true.

  • lyndsay canada I’m so glad you came over to comment! I totally thought of you as I was writing this post, because I’m sure you’ve made these same analogies. I actually cut way down because there were just too many. And don’t even get me started on the powerlifting analogies…..endless.

  • mattshere Yes, I’m sure martial arts has so many lessons!

  • BillSmith3 LauraPetrolino Ugh…starting back to running is painful. biggreenpen is our running expert here. Maybe she has some tips.

  • LSSocialEngage Hahaha! You are the sweetest! Thank you, on all counts.

  • LauraPetrolino BillSmith3 biggreenpen Give BGP a second to convert the 40KM from metrics :-). My first piece of advice is to do it for enjoyment — it is so easy to fixate on some arbitrary mileage goal. What are your hopes in resuming running? Especially since you have had some challenging times in the fairly recent past, I would focus on interspersing your running with activities that make you strong and flexible. I run 3 days a week (with only one of them being “long”) and cross train/yoga the others. // I was laser focused on a specific goal (reducing my 5K time) for so long until my health situation forced me to reevaluate …. now I’ve swallowed a huge helping of humble pie and reminded myself that much of what motivates me about running is the people in the running community, which leads me to be a little less prescriptive about “the plan.” This is an interesting article about “micro quotas and macro goals” that I ran into when thinking about a good post to point you to: Good luck and happy happy running! 🙂

  • LauraPetrolino biggreenpen ginidietrich Just make sure to be appropriately attired 😉

  • LauraPetrolino biggreenpen Love the idea!

  • BillSmith3

    biggreenpen LauraPetrolino BillSmith3 I never raced. I use running for meditation, to build cardio strength and off season training for skiing in the winter. A nice side effect when I was doing 40 KM per week back in 2012 my metabolism sped up  and lost a lot of weight. Unfortunately with two bad seasons (I don’t run outside during the winter) a fair chunk of that weight I lost, returned. 

    I can do about 3.25 miles with intervals on a good day, it also didn’t help I had two back to back colds this past spring either. So I’m pretty much starting from scratch with intervals doing 3.25 miles (roughly 5K). Not where I want to be but I learned the hard way I can’t go out five days a week back in 2012. 

    These days I’m mostly weight training legs, shoulders and triceps one day. The other day chest, back and biceps. Core gets done on both days.

  • mcamaclang

    Great comparison between communications and body-building!
    It really impressed me how communications professionals can creatively weave fresh and
    new content out of their day to day lives. What an enriching post for a starter
    like me!
    Personally, this also applies to my new career as one who
    was working with the public for more than ten years and currently pursuing a
    diploma program in public relations and communications as an immigrant in
    another country (Canada).  Indeed,
    success is a product of consistent disciplined and targeted efforts.  As well, PR practitioners, whether a veteran
    or a novice in the industry, should avoid the dangers of complacency. We know
    that working in communications and specially with people is not always
    measurable with ROI or ROO. Therefore, we should always have an attitude of
    learning and a mindset that our weaknesses can be compensated by foresight, particularly
    through research and preparation, as you mentioned in this post.