What Agencies Can Learn From the LeBron Carnival

The Integrated Marketing Plan Deployed Was Brilliant -- and Should Be Familiar to You

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Marc Brownstein
Marc Brownstein
So "the decision" has been made, and now the country can get back to normal. Lebron's free agency created unprecedented buzz in the summer. It was some hype, eh?

And I think there were as many fans buying into the LeBron/Wade/Bosh hype as those railing against it. But for marketers, you had to admire it: professional basketball, which has been struggling in recent years, dominated content on ESPN for two weeks straight; there was significant coverage on multiple media platforms; a one-hour show devoted to LeBron's announcement, with a charity tie-in (an attempt to head-off public backlash); and an emotional public outburst, courtesy of Cleveland Cavaliers' owners, Dan Gilbert.

Like it or not, it was a textbook example of how agencies like ours can generate excitement for a troubled brand as well as high-profile individuals.

So what did we learn as agency professionals? I believe there are a few take-aways from the Summer of LeBron:

  • PR was a powerful marketing tactic. Lebron's camp likely leaked rumors from 'sources' for weeks in the month of June. There was a cozy partnership with ESPN and LeBron's camp, so much that ESPN seemed like the LeBron James Channel for the last couple of weeks. Buzz from this free agency period was unprecedented -- even pushed the World Cup off the top sports headlines (in the U.S.). In a world where marketers are seeking effective tactics, public relations stood out as a wildly successful one. Even for media training -- consider how LeBron hit all of the key points when he made his announcement.

  • Social Media channels were on fire with chats, rumors and all kinds of passionate dialogue about what will be/could be/should have been. In an ESPN poll on the day of the announcement, it was ironic how most of the country predicted that LeBron would be going to Miami before he made his decision. I suspect it leaked, someone Tweeted about it, then it tipped from there. A lot of CEOs ask me how Facebook and Twitter drive revenue. When you can drive a large population to your Facebook page, for example, and provide timely information/offers/product introductions about your brand, you will ring up meaningful dollars via social media. I think the Lebron/Wade/Bosh example demonstrated how social media can be extraordinary in its scale and influence.

  • I'm not sure Dan Gilbert had the best advice (or even sought it) when he fired off his stream-of-conscious tirade against LeBron. I understand how frustrated Gilbert was, but surely he would have benefitted from some media training/crisis training, and likely paused to regain his composure before writing on his team's website.

  • The advertisers who signed up for the one-hour special gained tremendous exposure. And they were opportunistic -- especially Vitamin Water and University of Phoenix. The latter gave $500,000 and several scholarships to the Boy & Girls Club of America, in a clever, cause-related sponsorship. When was the last time anyone thought of University of Phoenix? Ten million more people are aware of them now, in a positive way.
Small agencies are particularly adept at capitalizing on events like this and making things happen quickly. At this point, I'm kind of burned out from anything regarding the NBA free agency, and in an era where it's so hard to break through the clutter, how amazing is that? The agility and nimbleness of what we bring to clients was on display last week, and we would be wise to continue to seek opportunities to make our clients famous, by utilizing the tools available to us in smart ways.
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