A Six-Time NBA MVP Explains Why the Winning Formula Must Include PR

A Six-Time NBA MVP Explains Why the Winning Formula Must Include PR

 In PR Strategy, Stakeholder Engagement

My work in healthcare public relations has influenced how I read news—I’m always analyzing media trends, guessing which stories were placed by PR people and reading articles looking for pre-determined key messages. My passion for analyzing news and the media often overlaps with my hunger for following Boston’s professional sports teams. I start to analyze the interview styles of players, coaches and “league sources.”

Sports have always had a strong influence in my life. Playing basketball late into summer nights with my older brother instilled grit in me (I lost our one-on-one battles 90 percent of the time). Being captain of my college soccer team during a painful losing season taught me how to motivate a team under challenging circumstances. And early in my career, a mentor noted how the lessons you learn playing sports are frequently translatable to business. The advice has helped frame the way I think about many business situations.

So it was with great interest when Harvard Business Review profiled Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for their “Life’s Work” column in the January-February 2012 issue and linked my two areas of interests. Kareem discusses the major career challenge he faced—not securing a head coaching job after retiring as a player—and pinpoints one main reason for not reaching this goal.

As a player, he was 100 percent focused on being at the top of his game; talking to the media and being accessible to fans were not relevant to winning. As the article notes, Kareem developed a reputation for “being focused but not very personable.”

He didn’t fully understand the power of public relations earlier in his career. He speaks the words of a PR person’s dreams: “I had no one to explain the value of public relations to me.”

And then the words of a reporter’s dreams: “A lot of the people in the media are good people, and by being more accessible, you get to find that out.”

Anyone who works in PR can tell you that one of the most rewarding aspects of the job is working directly with senior leaders at high-performing companies and non-profits. We get an up-close view of how executives lead their teams and handle challenges, often under the most celebrated or challenging circumstances, when everyone is watching and the media is asking good, hard questions. And while it’s cliché to say every leader wants to win and the majority are very competitive, it’s a thread that runs through the most successful executives.

But not every leader understands that while winning is the number one priority, public relations is often a close runner-up. Having a strong working relationship with the media can have a profound, positive impact on companies, non-profits and sports figures. It’s a message that is beginning to gain momentum: according to a recent PRSA study, 97 percent of executives surveyed indicated it was important for CEOs to have a well-developed understanding of the role of corporate reputation management.

My dream is that Patriot Head Coach Bill Belichick, the NFL’s renowned curmudgeon who makes headlines for actually smiling, is reading this as he prepares to lead his team on the world’s biggest stage.

Bill, consider some advice from Kareem: winning is the most important thing, but it wouldn’t hurt to have an appreciation for the power of public relations.