Former N.B.A. star Dennis Rodman made millions as one of the best rebounders to ever play round ball. Now, following his return from North Korea this weekend Rodman and Brooklyn-based Vice Media have demonstrated that the PR world is getting increasingly flat.
Sending Rodman and a film crew to North Korea could not have come cheap. (HBO, which has a partnership with Vice Media, kicked in some budget for the trip.) But the return for Rodman and the media company has been a PR exec’s dream.
Rodman’s kibitzing with North Korean leader Kim Jong Eun while the two enjoyed an exhibition basketball quickly went global. Upon his return to the States, one started to hear “Rodman” and “ambassador” in the same breath, not to mention Rodman’s appearance on ABC’s "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos (which was rebroadcast on ABC’s corporate sibling ESPN).
The buzz about Rodman’s trip also made it to the highest level of the U.S. government, as both the White House and U.S. State Department dismissed Rodman’s message that Kim Jong Eun wants to talk to President Obama.
But, from a PR perspective, that’s hardly the point. The trip has become an international sensation and put Rodman back in the zeitgeist (however temporarily).
Vice Media’s PR move underscores that, in a shrinking universe, communicators have to think well outside of the box and focus more of their public relations efforts on unchartered territory rather than trafficking in the same old same old (and that includes social channels).
Indeed, Vice co-founder Shane Smith told The New York Times that had the media company tried to arrange the trip via normal channels it would have been “impossible” to get Rodman into North Korea, which is arguably the most isolated nation on earth.
Smith knew from previous trips to North Korea that the Kim dynasty loves basketball, the Times added. Smith played that knowledge to the hilt, with the result being that people all over the planet now know about Vice Media.
Corporate PR departments and PR agencies owned by Madison Avenue should take note. To garner attention from consumers and the media alike, you don’t need layers of marketing and communications to create buzz and get your name out there you need to be nimble and less concerned with decorum. (No one ever accused Rodman of being a Statesman.)
For PR pros, call it a jump ball.
Follow Matthew Schwartz: @mpsjourno1