July 20, 2015
Recently Forbes listed the highest paid athletes in the world. CNN took a look at the list and dubbed golfer Tiger Woods the “Most Overpaid Athlete on the Planet.” Tough title to bear … especially if it’s earned. But is performance in the game as important as name value, or is brand opportunity a more equitable measure of pay scale?
The CNN piece came on the heels of a particularly disappointing round of play on Thursday at the British Open. Tiger’s day was an unmitigated disaster that put him in danger of missing the cut in the contest altogether. While some are saying everyone has bad days, others are calling Nike fools for continuing to contribute to Woods’ approximately $50 million annual income.
The doomsayers may not be wrong. Woods only won $600,000 last season, a pittance compared to his days at the top of golf. Then he went and missed the cut at the US Open. As his performance stalls, many other golfers have stepped up to steal the spotlight.
Still, those doomsayers may also be wrong. Star power and brand value are calculated based on more than wins. The would-be News Kings of Golf have failed to capture the imagination of the fan base the way Tiger did at his prime. Even the guys who constantly vied against Tiger at his best have failed to excite the crowds. And that, more than anything else, matters when it comes to branding. That’s why a long-retired Michael Jordan is still scoring endorsement deals. Why Shaq is still a draw, too. People aren’t looking for athletes, they are looking for heroes.
Tiger, despite his failures and lackluster performance on the links, still offers name recognition and star power. While this dynamic is more often seen in women’s sports, the guys are hardly immune. Just ask Tom Brady. Even in his off years, the New England QB remains in the spotlight. Meanwhile, other Super Bowl winning QBs with less photogenic faces languish in relative anonymity.
That brings us back to Tiger. Woods is not just a player, he is a symbol. He broke as many perceived racial barriers as he did expectations. He rocketed to the top of a sport where people his age, who looked like him, were not supposed to become superstars. That success will always be a part of the Tiger mythos.
In his wake, a new cohort of younger players have won big contests, but they have failed to win the crowd. Sure, they all have a relative handful of faithful fans … but players – and brands – need something more, an “it” factor of some kind to make it from big to huge. Tiger has that, in more ways than one. At least, he did … and his fans remember.
July 17, 2015
Recent events have Ronn Torossian wondering if maybe Jimbo Fisher may want to sit his team down and tell them what they should already know: “Don’t hit women.” Honestly, you would think they would know that by now. And, maybe they do … all of them, that is, except (former) FSU freshman QB De’Andre Johnson.
You’ve likely seen the video by now. Johnson walks up to the bar, he’s 19. He gets into a verbal altercation with a young woman seated at the bar. She raises a fist and attempts to strike Johnson. He cold cocks her with the hand that may never throw a pass in Division 1 college football. Such is the state of public relations and instant penalties in college football.
The incident, which was of course caught on videotape, took place on June 24. The next day every media outlet had it playing on nonstop loop. By that afternoon, Fisher had announced Johnson’s “indefinite suspension” and dismissed the QB from the team. Now Johnson is being charged with battery.
Johnson’s attorneys have released a statement saying Johnson has apologized and is deeply embarrassed. Then they doubled down and alleged the woman had shouted racial slurs at Johnson during the altercation. In some cases that might matter, but when a football player is caught on tape punching a coed in the face, folks don’t much care what she said to provoke that reaction.
It’s a lesson athletes need to learn. Times have changed. You may have gotten accustomed to a Free Everything Pass in high school, but those days are gone once you get to a top tier college. There is far too much money involved and attention attracted for the programs to tolerate these sorts of shenanigans anymore. Sure, players used to get away with this sort of thing. Those days are over, and everyone involved in college sports would do well to advise their players of this at any given opportunity. One mistake could mean their career.
July 10, 2015
Richard Branson is without a doubt one of the most successful men on the planet. But he was not always a household name. Believe it or not, there was a time when Mr. Branson was just another guy with a few ideas trying to build a team and business to bring those ideas to fruition.
And, believe it or not, all of his success began because he was stuck between a rock and a hard place – his very first client and his very first record deal.
Here’s the story:
Branson had set up the first successful Virgin record store in London. The business was paying for itself, but he was hardly Mr. Music Mogul yet. Branson wanted to branch out into music production, so he “scraped together some money” and purchased a rundown country house for the production office. He subsequently converted the neglected squash court into the recording studio, which he dubbed “The Manor.”
Shortly after that, an engineer in his employ called and said he knew of an “incredible instrumental demo tape” Branson just had to hear. The artist was a young musician called Mike Oldfield, who did not sing, but played all the instruments on every track himself. Branson thought he was a genius.
Offering to represent Oldfield, Branson took the tape to Mercury Records. The powers that be there were suitably impressed. They offered Mike and Richard distribution and promotion IF Mike would be willing to add vocals to the instrumental tracks.
Richard was ecstatic. This would be his first official record deal … then Mike said ‘no.’ He didn’t want vocals messing up his music. Mercury told Branson thanks but no thanks and sent them all back to square one. That was when Richard Branson made the decision about which folks could say “and the rest is history.”
Branson decided to create a record company, brought Mike in to live at the Manor for a week to properly record his album, which would become “Tubular Bells.” That was the very first release on the aptly named “Virgin Records.”
Of course, we know now that Virgin Records would go on to massive international fame and fortune, signing acts as luminous as Janet Jackson, Peter Gabriel, David Bowie, Phil Collins and Queen.
But it all began with a “no” and the willingness of Branson to take a huge risk on an entirely unknown artist who refused the very first thing a major label asked from him. It’s impossible to know what may have happened if either Branson or Oldfield had caved to the easy money … but their choice and the success that followed is a lesson for anyone with the guts to follow their own path.
July 6, 2015
In an interview with NBC’s Today Show, superstar comedian Tracy Morgan thanked Walmart, the company whose truck slammed into his vehicle more than a year ago, severely injuring Morgan and killing his friend, James McNair. The horrible accident made national news, and many people were surprised by Morgan’s response.
Morgan said Walmart “stepped up to the plate in a tremendous way,” indicating they never sought to dodge or shift responsibility for the tragedy that claimed the life of Morgan’s good friend, McNair. Further still, Morgan said the company had taken full responsibility for the accident and had already settled with McNair’s family.
“I’m just happy they looked out for Jimmy Mac’s family. He can rest in peace now,” Morgan said. During the interview, Morgan made one concession that seemed to indicate the issue could have gone a very different way. “In the beginning there was a misunderstanding, but that got squared away. They came through in the clutch.”
Many pundits declared that the “misunderstanding” was likely an attempt by Walmart or their attorneys to sidestep blame or culpability in the accident, though neither Morgan nor Walmart will confirm or deny this. In fact, much the opposite. According to Morgan, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon and his attorney Benedict Morelli spoke directly to Morgan to offer their personal apologies and condolences.
Some critics are speculating that, had the victims in this case not included at least one national marquee name, the “misunderstanding” may have continued to court. That sort of cross-talk might make for some entertaining afternoon drive radio, but it’s not germane to the PR lesson at hand.
The lesson here is that message control is key to an optimal outcome. Both Morgan and Walmart wanted this situation to be dealt with quickly and fairly. Walmart wanted its name out of the headlines, and Morgan wanted his friend’s family cared for in the best – and quickest – way possible. Any ugliness in the press would have hamstrung both of those goals, divergent as they might seem.
Another integral factor to the quick resolution? The facts of the case, as presented, were absolutely damning for Walmart. The at-fault driver had reportedly been traveling more than 20 mph over the posted limit … and he had been up for at least 24 hours. The more those numbers were repeated in the media, the more speculation, accusation and confrontation would damage Walmart’s PR brand.
Understanding all of these dynamics before a PR crisis explodes can go a long way toward a Best Possible Outcome.
July 1, 2015
PBS has reported it will “postpone” the next season of “Finding Your Roots” after allegations surfaced that actor Ben Affleck manipulated showrunners to hide uncomfortable realities about his ancestors. According to a statement released by PBS’s New York station WNET, the series’ co-producers ‘violated PBS standards by failing to shield the creative and editorial process from improper influence. And by failing to inform PBS or WNET of Mr. Affleck’s efforts to affect program content.”
So, public relations crisis prevention from all sides has turned into an episode of the Three Stooges. Everyone is trying to dodge the pie in the face while simultaneously getting poked in the eye. And, as with most failed backside-covering efforts, the whole is tangibly worse than the sum of its parts.
According to the story, back in April 2014, Affleck asked showrunners to edit out facts about his family’s history of slave ownership. The parties involved acquiesced, and the show ran in October 2014 as “Episode 204”. While it’s unclear why the issue was even an issue – millions of Americans have slave-owning ancestors. Terrible to contemplate, certainly, but not a fact that people today should feel compelled to cover up. That could have been the narrative from the Affleck camp. Instead, in trying to cover up something shameful, they made yesterday’s atrocity today’s deceit. Suddenly, a problem more than a century old became a personal, imminent trust issue – for everyone involved.
The problem has become so intense that PBS has announced it has removed Episode 204 from its lineup. PBS will also halt production of Season 4 of the program until it is “satisfied that the editorial standards of the series have been successfully raised.”
Now they are talking about bringing in an “independent genealogist” as well as other experts to protect the soiled integrity of the show. And therein lies the problem. Nobody would have questioned the show’s integrity if they had just run the segment as recorded. Now everyone will. Suddenly, bringing in “an independent genealogist” will turn into questions about why this is happening prior to season 4 … what were the safeguards before this?
That is the most polite way that question will be asked. Others will be much less circumspect. Unfortunately for all involved, one PR error will cast a shadow of doubt over an entire series that, otherwise, provides an interesting and entertaining view into American lives and history.
June 23, 2015
The 2015 U.S. Open is bringing new surprises that golf has yet to see. The question is, can these new approaches to golf tournaments turn around the PR for this sport? It’s worth noting that the players and the premises for golf are not as thrilling as we remember when seeing Tiger Woods move up the ranks.
There may be a lack of exciting prospects to follow for the current generation. We are surely not hearing great golf stories flood the news arena. American pro golfing is now hoping to renew interest in golf with a spectacular course no professional has yet known.
This will be a U.S. Open challenge: the first of its kind. The course is, “. …not a golf course,” according to many professional golfers, however. It does, nonetheless, have challenges that could renew interest in the golf pastime when players are forced to bring their A game to make a measly par. This course choice is about making spectacular things happen as men compete on the fairways. Spectacular action is the only way to win this course and not leave the tournament beaten by the earth.
These are standing moments in golf history that will pave the direction this sport is bound to take. Where within public sentiment will that be? The world may never know. What we can see is that big moves are being made to give golf what it has never had with a U.S. Open, and many of the players involved are not too thrilled about the prospect.
The Chambers Bay course for the 2015 U.S. Open spreads out with numerous elevation changes, extremely dry grasses, fescue as the primary grass and ripples in the fairways that make golf balls shoot in every other direction than intended. Some sand bunkers are so deep they need stairwells for entrance and exit.
This will be a sight to see for sure. At this moment, the 2015 U.S. Open is to be held in Chambers Bay, Washington state. The course is situated south of Puget Sound and west of Tacoma. This tournament will bring many “first-time” situations for the U.S. Open and golf in America. The year 2015 will hold the first ever Open to be located in the Pacific Northwest.
Golfers generally feel a bit intimidated by the course selection that was built on the old site of a gravel mine. The surface of the fairway and green are said to be indistinguishable, and its stiffness will make balls jump higher and bounce more out of control. So this could be a great success or a great disaster as golf aims to improve their PR.
June 18, 2015
NPR recently reported that Apple just announced it will enter the news business. Well, the 21st Century digital aggregate version of that field in any case. iOS9 will, reportedly, be released with an app simply titled “News,” which comes equipped along with standard apps such as Calendar, Music, and Maps. The purpose of the app will be, essentially, a news aggregator. Pick your favorite sites and get all your news through a single app.
It’s an idea that’s about as new as disco, so why is Apple so excited about their version of something that’s been available for years? Because they know people will use it. They won’t be forced to, per se, but they also won’t be able to delete the app once they upgrade to iOS9. The app doesn’t have to cover new ground, it just has to be at least as user-friendly as the news aggregator app the customer is already using.
And, for those who have several apps they use to connect to the news they want, this app will prove a convenient space saver. Just like its predecessor, Newsstand, which proved to be an unwieldy failure. So, no guarantees of success here, but Apple is sticking to the plan that brought it this far. Give customers a convenient alternative they can’t get rid of and try to win them by attrition.
The message Apple is feeding the press is one of solidarity and innovation. News brands have lost power in the open market of the net, so why not figure out a way to help consumers navigate these uncharted waters? It’s an interesting approach that hopes to force publishers to filter their content through a product owned by Apple. Essentially, while providing customers a “convenient” experience, Apple is squeezing publishers in the hopes that, this time at least, they acquiesce to slapping an Apple on their delivery system.
June 16, 2015
It’s no secret that professional football and baseball reign supreme in American sports. After that, NCAA football engenders the most fan loyalty – and cash. As far as pro sports go, each year, the NBA and NHL battle it out for which professional sports league will be Number Three With a Bullet. This year, more than any in recent memory, both leagues have a chance to gain even more ground than that.
Ask any basketball or hockey fan and they will tell you one good game is all it takes to get hooked.
The fast pace, athleticism and artistry are more than enough to get past the confusing rules and unfamiliar names. See a truly epic contest or championship series and you can become a fan for life.
In most years, the NBA and NHL finals are fairly pedestrian. In many cases the two best teams have already played and only the die-hards really care who wins the “Big One.” But that’s not the case in 2015. This year, in both the NBA and NHL, the finals have been incredible.
In the NBA Golden State and Cleveland – two teams a fair-weather basketball fan may not even consider – are battling it out game after game. The Warriors are champions of “small ball,” using ball handling, strategy and shooting skill to defeat ersatz Goliaths. That role, this season, is being played by one of the most unlikely of all giants – the Cleveland Cavaliers. Lead by dynamic superstar LeBron James, the Cavs were expected to contend but generally relished the potential to be the Cinderella team. Now two overachieving franchises are putting on a basketball clinic, night after night. It’s a series that largely puts both dedicated basketball fans and potential converts on the same playing field.
Golden State v. Cleveland … really? And it’s exciting? Yes. It. Is. The series signals a turning point in the NBA where the perennial dynasties are overshadowed by teams that always seem to be having a rebuilding year. The only difference is that these teams look built to last.
In the NHL, all the networks were salivating for a Blackhawks v. Rangers series. As was most of NYC. But the brash young skaters from Tampa said no … again. When the Tampa Bay Lightning were formed, did anyone really believe they would have two Cup appearances by now … much less a strong shot at winning both series? Tampa believed. The beleaguered football town has transformed this season into Hockey Town by the Bay.
Tampa fans love their Lightning, and their team gives them great reason. Consider, four games into the Cup series and Tampa has stayed even with the Hawks, who EVERYONE believes is the better team. And they have done it without marquee player Steven Stamkos scoring anything. It has been role players and the enigmatic Triplets igniting this team against the storied Hawks. But there is a better headline buried within that story, particularly for fans on the fence or those looking to get hockey fever.
Those upstarts from the Sunshine State, should they win the cup, will have beaten four of the Original Six. They already beat three, and, like the Warriors in the NBA, the victories fly in the face of league tradition – which could very well be a perfect reason for newcomers to latch on to hockey.
Both series offer exemplary PR opportunities to be leveraged by the respective leagues. It will be interesting to see how they manage that earned goodwill in the offseason.
June 12, 2015
Annie Leibovitz is famous in her own right, but far more people know her name than can tell you why she is famous. Yet, there is no doubt that Leibovitz is famous…and that she has earned her fame. Her story is a strong example of the PR power of practicing your skill close to the flame of fame.
Most recently, Leibovitz was the figure behind the camera that produced the Caitlyn Jenner cover for Vanity Fair that lit up both traditional and social media. Even though the main conversations were about “Caitlyn,” nee “Bruce,” in nearly every conversation, report or newscast mentioning the cover, Leibovitz also had her name mentioned.
Extensive work and planning went into shoot dynamics and tactics. But most of those involved in transforming the sixtyish six-foot-two former athlete into a glamorous model fit for the cover of one of the world’s imminent fashion and culture publications remained anonymous. Not Leibovitz. When it was all said and done, it was Annie’s name next to every published photo, and on the lips of every reporter covering the story.
The lesson here is in understanding how to leverage talent, skill and personality in a way that “borrows” beams of the spotlight to create one’s own special place in the limelight. The tactic carries with it some inherent risks. If you don’t knock it out of the park for a cover as prominent as this one would be, it’s a good bet you won’t be getting any more calls. In that regard, Leibovitz once again delivered, etching her name into granite as the go-to glamor photographer ever deeper. Even her colleagues in this project went on the record calling her “iconic.”
“Iconic” is a pretty good performance review.
And that’s exactly the level your game has to be at if stealing the spotlight is part of your PR plan. We all remember Kanye West’s disastrous awards show gaffes. Yes, he stole the spotlight, but only to create legions of haters. Leibovitz, in contrast, is a case study in Getting It Right.