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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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave Van de Walle July 15, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Great post; I’m sorta beyond the whole “is he a good guy or not?” question about LeBron.

I’d also pony up to help Dan Gilbert pay his fine, too.

Jennifer July 15, 2010 at 1:00 pm

So am I. This isn’t about him. It’s about the organization…the attention they desperately need, and how instead of bitching about him we can use the noise for good. Know what I mean?

Dr. Lisa July 15, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Well said Jen. Like it or not celebrity sells and if it can help organizations doing good work then that is OK by me!

Amy Kramer July 15, 2010 at 3:21 pm

I’m in! Made my donation to Boys & Girls club, hope everyone else does too.

Patricia Perez July 15, 2010 at 3:25 pm

There are many ways individuals use their celebrity status to benefit nonprofits. Just one example, Brad & Angelina have not only made personal contributions, but even sold the rights to their baby’s 1st photo for a charitable cause. LeBron milked an opportunity for all it was worth and ultimately humiliated the Cavs in public. He reaped the rewards ($$ for B&G Clubs and non-stop media coverage) now he must deal with the awful aftertaste in the public’s mouth.

Ces July 15, 2010 at 3:42 pm

I’m glad Boys & Girls Clubs got much needed funds. But, I think LeBron’s motive was to take heat off of himself, because he knew he was grandstanding. I don’t blame him for making the move, but he knew he was going to let a lot of people down. Hence, the PR move to soften the blow.

Jennifer July 15, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Thanks for your comment Patricia. I don’t think he got much benefit from the BGCA donation. And frankly I don’t care about that. What I do care about is that the organization does much needed work in our communities (and in particular in minority communities) yet the media chose not to give them any attention while they were covering the story. That, in the hate-filled hype, BGCA was barely mentioned -even by the PR community making their assessments of the event. Hate Lebron all you want. I’m just asking you to support the organization.

Kevin July 15, 2010 at 7:01 pm

Good post; howver, if LeBron wanted to donate cash to the BGCA, that is way excellent. I am pleased that he did so, but he did not need the show to do that. Many NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, NASCAR, MLS, WWE, MMA players and participants donate money to their favorite projects or charities. Many reading and writing on this blog do, too. We don’t need an hour long show to do it. We just do it. If LeBron really wanted the show to be about the BGCA, he could have made it so. He could have talked about the kids and all the great work the BGCA organizations do. He could have diverted attention from himself by doing all this, still let the waiting world know of his life-changing decision, probably raised even more money by turning additional folks like yourself onto the BGCA, AND had a PR win in the process. Yes, it is good news that the kids are getting the money but, really, that was an attempted smoke screen to hide the real reason for the show. I am wasn’t outraged by the show. I truly didn’t care, nor did it do anything to make me want to support the BGCA anymore than I do now and that shouldn’t be the case if it were done properly…in my opinion.

Jack July 15, 2010 at 8:31 pm

I am happy that LeBron raised money for the kids. That’s great. But when you look at his income proportionally this is pathetic. Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett- they donate billions. They put their money where their mouth is.

LeBron bothers me because it feels like nothing more than a sham, a facade he uses to hide behind. Still happy that the kids got something, but wish it wasn’t tainted this way.

Jennifer July 15, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Kevin and Jack – sadly, in my experience, the media refuses to let well-meaning celebrities and athletes talk about the charitable elements. They give them the throwaway question in the end and that’s it. In this case it’s possible he could have controlled that more. I have no idea. Just like I have no idea if he was well-meaning here. I agree…should have been more focused on the charities.

Which is what I’m trying to do here. If I’ve failed please tell me what to change and I encourage you to post yourselves if you’d like to.

Jonathan July 16, 2010 at 10:43 am

Frankly, I don’t care about Lebron one way or the other; not a big basketball fan – haven’t really followed or watched the NBA in years.

Until I read this, I had no idea that there was any sort of charitable component to his “announcement show.” I didn’t watch it, and it wasn’t until I read Twitter later on that I even knew he was now on the Miami Heat.

That said, I’m sure he could have given more, but you know what? It’s still $2.5 million more than the BGCA had before his announcement. In the end, it’s all about getting funds to those who need it, right? So, let’s give him a polite golf-clap for doing something for the kids, where others may have done nothing at all.

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