Is your team moving in the right direction? Understanding the similarities between sailing and PR & the meaning behind “ballast”

Posted by on Jun 22, 2017 in Lessons, PR Methodology, Sailing | 0 comments

As another Chicago summer sets the tone for humid heat and warm winds, public relations firms and sailing teams prepare for a busy season.

America’s Cup fanatics are watching the 35th Cup this week from Bermuda as Lake Michigan sailors get ready for Chicago Yacht Club’s 109th Race to Mackinac, taking off July 15 east of Navy Pier. Similarly, PR professionals are gearing up for a season of outdoor events, new seasonal products and holidays that celebrate the excitement of summer fun.

Though it may seem strange to liken business to sailing, when you break it down, and look at how each team plans and sets courses, the actions and intentions are strikingly similar.

The Ballast Group was founded in 2005 with the intention of being ‘heavy weight that keeps a ship steady and moving in a desired direction.’ The name represents a purpose to develop and tell leaders’ stories to the most important audiences in the channels that matter most.

Literally ballast is “nautical materials carried temporarily or permanently to give desired steadiness or stability.” As an avid sailor raised in New York and Florida, Ballast’s founder grew up understanding the importance of a ship’s ballast as a guiding force to keep her vessel balanced and moving toward its goals — true to a desired course. Ballast is also represented by people on a team, representing the weight necessary for steadiness.

Naming the company was easy for Kellee after she moved to Chicago and started sailing on Lake Michigan, also known as the Third Coast. “Ballast” combines these two passions.

Six years ago, a piece published in PR Breakfast Club called “8 Ways PR is like Sailing” outlined many similarities between sailing and PR. Reasons include:

  • “In PR, you pray and in advertising you pay.” A balance of the right relationships is key.
  • In PR, like sailing, keep the ship (client) steady and the team moving in the right direction. Creativity, innovation and measuring results are important for developing the best campaigns.
  • Managing campaigns is like helming a boat. Many variables change each day. One must be resilient in nature to handle change well and to take clients to new levels.

These analogies require the use of “ballast.” In PR and sailing, often one must manage the conditions that Mother Nature gives you at the moment. Keep the boat on the right course and the team watching out for each other, despite each member performing a dedicated role with one goal -safely winning. A client’s lifespan can be riddled with uncertainty and uncontrollable forces. The best PR initiatives keep your story out front, in balance with current trends and guiding you toward your goals.

So, what does this analogy mean for PR pros and business leaders?

Know the value of storytelling that keeps your organization’s purpose present and in front of your best audiences. Tame the uncontrollable winds of daily forces by keeping your organization’s story fresh and told in the channels that matter most. There’s a lot of clutter with social networks these days. With earned, paid, shared and owned media channels, there can be a lot of noise. One must prioritize the right channels for your organization which takes a skilled skipper at the helm.

For more PR tips and to learn strategies for developing and telling your organization’s story to your most important audiences in the channels that matter, contact @KelleeJohnson or @Ballast_ Group or visit


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