It took Lebron James four years to slash the signature message of his next NBA career move to three words – from “This fall, I’m going to take my talents to South Beach” to “I’m coming home.” But more than brevity, Lebron showed in his latest “Decision,” which he announced as a first-person, “as-told-to” exclusive to Sports Illustrated, that perhaps he’s learned the value of control. And at Prosek, that’s what we regularly discuss with our corporate PR clients – controlled content can still have enormous value.
If you recall, LeBron’s first “Decision” in 2010 to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers was a circus. Weeks of rumor and intrigue culminated in a live, one-hour TV “event” broadcast on ESPN. The backlash was immediate. Critics piled on LeBron as a publicity hound and a traitor. For all of LeBron’s prior media experience, even the best communicators wouldn’t try to fill an hour with one substantive sentence. The “Decision” as a PR strategy was a disaster.
Fast forward to 2014 and LeBron was again the subject of immense speculation. But this time, there would be no circus – just LeBron’s words told to one reporter and published in one outlet. SI had used this first-person technique before, when Jason Collins publicly announced that he was gay in April 2013.
Ad Age, Deadspin and The Wall Street Journal’s “CMO Today” section shared the behind-the-scenes media story of the Lebron scoop: reporter Lee Jenkins stitched the article together from an interview he did with LeBron the night before publication; his editors didn’t know LeBron’s destination until Jenkins turned in the story; and fearful of any leaks, the publication didn’t build any advertising package around it.