Lebron: PR Genius or PR Disaster? Who Cares? I choose Team BGCA, and you should too

by Jennifer Vides on July 15, 2010

in Blog Posts,My Soapbox (AKA My Blog)

Update/Disclosure: In November I joined the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica as its director of development. I love my job – and I’m blessed to now be working on this cause in an official manner. When I wrote this post I was in no way speaking to BGCA or any of the local clubs about employment. I wrote it because what I wrote below was my personal opinion… and I felt passionately about that opinion. These opinions are mine – and not those of my employer.

Over the last week I’ve observed the furor over Lebron James’ announcement on national television that he planned to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and play for the Miami Heat.  NBA fans, sports writers and the country at large watched and scrutinized  “The Decision” – the one-plus hour TV and radio show on ESPN that Lebron used as a platform to announce his team selection. The overwhelming sentiment:  Lebron (and his ego) worked his status in the NBA for all it’s worth for the sake of publicity.

To this day the criticism and scrutiny continue, with bitter name-calling and predictions of bad fortune coming from the same fans and media outlets who would have been singing a very different tune had Lebron chosen their team. Add to that the rush from the public relations community to provide commentary on whether or not Lebron has ruined his reputation – and the reputation of the Miami Heat –  in the process.

I’m horrified. Because very few media outlets or PR professionals have considered this fact:

Lebron arranged for all of the proceeds from advertising sold during ‘The Decision” to be donated to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America  – to the tune of up to $2.5 million.  Further, these funds will benefit clubs in Cleveland, New York and Chicago- as well as Miami. Kudos, too to the show’s sponsor – The University of Phoenix – which made a generous donation of advertising time and scholarships to the BGCA.

Here’s one of the few stories I found on this subject: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0709/Put-off-by-the-LeBron-James-spectacle-Here-s-a-redeeming-virtue

I’m not joking when I say “the few.” Seriously? Where’s the outrage?

I’m not saying Lebron’s intentions with the show were pure as the driven snow. Honestly, I have no idea, am past caring, and plenty of my colleagues have already weighed in with their thoughtful opinions on the PR implications of his decisions. But I will say this: love him or hate him, Lebron James did a good thing for the kids who depend on the Boys & Girls Clubs of America to keep them safe when they have nowhere to go, and to give them inspiration where they have none. Love him or hate him, Lebron James raised nearly $2.5 million which will go a long way towards helping the Boys & Girls Clubs of America to help kids – even in the cities where he chose not to play.

Go on and say it: attaching a charity to a brand or a personality is a great way to get publicity. Yep – it’s in the PR playbook on page 11, but as every PR person out there knows it’s difficult to get media attention for charitable programs. In this case, the media outlets largely chose to ignore the charitable element and focus on the drama because it sells. This is particularly appalling because Lebron raised up to $2.5 million in ONE DAY. $2.5 million during one one-hour event.

Today I made a donation to the BGCA in the amount of $100.00, and I did it in support of Lebron and the statement he is making about the important role BGCA plays in our communities.

I now challenge supporters of Lebron and the Miami Heat to do the same – to potentially collectively match the funds that Lebron raised. To take the attention away from the drama and point it towards the good that came from that night, and support the millions of children and families BGCA has tirelessly served for more than 100 years. Their mission: To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens. Please read more here: http://www.bgca.org/whoweare/mission.asp

On to the people who don’t like Lebron. How about you show him up? Can you collectively raise more money for the BGCA than he did? Use the power of your voices of dissent for good?  Surely you can raise $2.5 million, too?

And to my colleagues in PR: you know how to get this done. Pick a side if you choose to and point your supporters to the BGCA to make a donation, too. In your hearts you want to use your tremendous skills and loud voices for good.

It took me 15 seconds to make the TAX DEDUCTIBLE donation here:  https://secure2.convio.net/bgca/site/Donation2?df_id=1180&1180.donation=form1

Now, before you all call foul: I’m a casual Miami Heat fan. I love Dwyane Wade (and Shaq too), and I’m glad the city of Miami has the potential to have a powerhouse NBA team. Also, several years ago I provided PRO BONO PR counsel to the BGCA through an agency where I worked. I fell in love with the organization then and believe strongly in their mission today.   HOWEVER, I have written this post and issued this challenge on my own accord and without the authorization of the BGCA, Lebron James or the Miami Heat.

I’ve done this because I think it’s the right thing to do.  And you know it is, too.

Lebron fans and Lebron naysayers…can we unite as Team BGCA? Can we raise another $2.5 million? Another $5 million?

I think it’s possible.  Let’s do it.

And because I want to know what you think, if you’ve made a donation, please drop me a comment.

I thank all of you in advance for your support.

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