PR in Sports: Lebron’s Letter in Sports Illustrated

As someone who doesn’t usually follow professional basketball, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do this post justice. However, one thing in which I am confident is how public relations is used to effectively market individuals and businesses. NBA superstar and international sports icon Lebron James recently wrote an eloquent letter about his choice to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers that had PR professionals shaking their heads in awe.

In 2010, Lebron announced he’d be leaving Cleveland after seven seasons with the Cavs in a highly publicized ESPN interview. His major decision – which infuriated many – was broadcasted through an incredibly effective, trusted sports outlet. Everyone knew about the choice. I wasn’t even in the country at this point, much less a basketball fan, and I knew that Lebron was joining the Miami Heat.

Last Friday, James announced that he was coming back to Cleveland through a very personal, professional letter he released as told to Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins. In the letter, he addressed his heart for Ohio, his decision in originally choosing Miami, as well as his choice to return to the Cavs. The letter is straight-to-the-point, low-key, and tells the audience exactly what they need to hear.

And, this letter was released through one of the most trusted print media sources for sports’ news. This reminds us: when you have crucial information to distribute -particularly when it affects numerous stakeholders – you should head towards packing a wallop with an incredibly reliable source.

This method of releasing information is very unlike the PR strategies of today. The letter is starkly different from James’ announcement in 2010 – no millions watching, no bombardment of questions, no chaotic circus of media frenzy.

Lebron’s letter was probably the smartest PR choice for his announcement. His letter addresses that he takes the move seriously, and plans to work hard in his new position. “I’m not having a press conference or a party,” the letter says. “After this, it’s time to get to work.”

The letter also demonstrates the athlete’s willingness to be transparent in the communication of his decision. He anticipated the arguments that his departure was based on tension with teammates, to which he responds: “I’m doing this essay because I want an opportunity to explain myself uninterrupted. I don’t want anyone thinking: He and Erik Spoelstra didn’t get along. … He and Riles didn’t get along. … The Heat couldn’t put the right team together. That’s absolutely not true.”

Finally, James grabs us with pathos. According to the letter, his return to the Cavaliers goes beyond his desire to play basketball. Instead, the choice focuses on what he calls his “responsibility to lead” – his desire to help shape the community into what he believes the future may hold.

Lebron combines factual information with an emotionally charged appeal. His choice to submit his decision via letter not only boosted the traffic to the Sports Illustrated site, but also allowed him to shape his words and opinions without the pressure of a media circus.

The lessons?

1. Give your audience what they want.

2. Be practical.

3. Be transparent.

4. Be strategic in your message.

Perhaps you too will garner over 35,000 Facebook shares.

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