LeBron James Learns a Lesson in Effective PR

Posted on July 14, 2014 
Filed Under General

LeBron James’ stunning announcement on Friday that he was heading back to Cleveland and rejoining the Cavaliers provides some food for thought for PR pros. Make that a feast.

For starters, it certainly didn’t go unnoticed that James chose Sports Illustrated—if ever there was a symbol of traditional media—to tell the world that he was returning to the Cavs after spending the last four years playing (and winning two championships) for the Miami Heat.

Sure, brands and organizations are tripping over themselves to develop more robust social media strategies. But James’ use of SI to get the word out is a reminder that when you have a critical announcement affecting myriad stakeholders, you might want to go with the most trusted media source and shoot for maximum impact.

James’ beautifully written letter, as told to SI’s Lee Jenkins, was in stark contrast to the circus-like atmosphere surrounding “The Decision” in 2010. That’s when James announced to the world, via ESPN, that he “was taking his talents to South Beach” after playing seven seasons for the Cavs.

Indeed, James’ most recent letter makes a compelling case that when you have something serious to say, less is more, and low-key is the right key.

“I’m not having a press conference or a party,” the letter says. “After this, it’s time to get to work.”

The 4x NBA MVP also demonstrates a knack for transparency, which is key for communications. The letter neutralizes any critics by saying his return to Cleveland is not about having trouble with Heat management or thinking that the team has cooled off competitively, but a burning desire to go home (and who among us can argue with that)? The story writes itself.

And by forgiving the erratic behavior of Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert following James’ departure for South Beach four years ago, James also shows a talent for putting himself in another person’s shoes—no small feat for PR pros whose job is to figure out how receptive their audiences will be to certain messages.

Finally, in a move worthy of one of his sweet sweeps to the hoop, James’ letter shows communicators how to kill two birds with one stone when it comes to effective messaging.

“I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up.”

It’s another PR lesson from James, who combines an emotional pitch with a need for the practical. What more can your constituents possibly ask for?

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

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