I sympathize with Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. He had a really rough night on July 10. His star player, after much ballyhoo and anticipation, announced he would be leaving for the sunnier climes of Miami. And, it must have hurt that one of the reasons he gave is that the Miami Heat supposedly have the best chance of winning the championship next year.
Gilbert had every reason to be emotional. He felt betrayed. And, he vented those emotions in a much-publicized open letter to fans on Huffington Post.
Yet, while I can understand Gilbert's frustration, I'm not sure I agree with his tactics.
The letter he wrote did not portray either him or his team in the best light. In addition to being rather badly written (note to Mr. Gilbert: putting quotation marks around a word or phrase denotes irony, not emphasis), it was not professional, in my opinion. Yes, LeBron James has left Cleveland. Yes, this is not a good thing for the team, and can be seen as a betrayal. But, this is business, after all. James is doing what he feels is best for his career, just as Gilbert makes choices that he feels are best for the bottom line of his team.
As PR professionals, we all have days when lashing out not only seems like the best option, but it also feels really, really good to do so. Maybe a journalist is trashing your client. Maybe there are some really nasty comments on your corporate Facebook page. Or, you have a company executive who wants to lash out on Twitter. As people, we have every right to what we feel about these situations—but that does not give us carte blanche to go public. It’s not good for your personal public reputation, your company’s, or your client’s.
I also think Gilbert missed an opportunity to rally fans and support for the team. Instead of going negative, his letter could have acknowledged James’ choice, expressed an appropriate level of disappointment and then gone on to push the real message that Cleveland will survive and prosper. He could have mentioned the other talented players on the team, written about promising draft picks, rattled off season ticket sales states. Anything would have been better than a letter full of over-the-top vitriol.
Were Gilbert a client, my advice would have been to have someone with some emotional distance review his letter before he made it public. They would have likely suggested a better way of getting Gilbert's point across, one that would not detract from his overall message. Sometimes a second sober look is all it takes to prevent a media misstep that will last for as long as there is an Internet to archive it.
Kevin Aschenbrenner is a vice president and media strategist with Jaffe PR (www.jaffepr.com) who regularly counsels attorneys, law firms and their clients on messaging. He can be reached at 250-294-8431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.