[co-author: Natalie Cuadros]
On July 11, NBA fans and sports enthusiasts alike were flooded with news reports announcing the return of LeBron James to the Cleveland Cavaliers. James began his incredibly successful NBA career as a Cav in 2003. After James left for the Miami Heat in 2010, the perception was that James had betrayed the Cleveland fans and the community. When decision time came around again, James knew that the “news” of his comeback had to be about more than basketball – a lesson that professional services companies need to always consider when publicizing developments and crafting overall image strategies.
In stark contrast to his 2010 ESPN special, “The Decision,” when he announced that he was “taking [his] talents to South Beach,” James this time chose to publish a carefully crafted “homecoming” essay on Sports Illustrated. The piece emphasized his connection to the Cleveland community and his personal relationship with northeast Ohio:
But this is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.
James, no doubt with the help of a seasoned public relations team serving as assistant wordsmiths, reached fans on a personal level by emphasizing his commitment to the community (including mention of the LeBron James Family Foundation). The piece shows his awareness that his physical presence on the court remains vital to raise visibility for his volunteer efforts and helps to provide the community with a central figure to rally behind.
The lesson here is that professional services companies can significantly raise their profiles in the communities in which they are based, and where their employees reside, by taking the time to call attention to the many good deeds they perform on a regular basis. Charitable donations, “fun-runs,” Habitat for Humanity and many more civic and charitable endeavors all make great fodder for organizational websites and “Community Focus” sections of local newspapers and business journals. Snapping a few photos of volunteers, runners and company signage helps increase chances of exposure.
By increasing awareness of community efforts, professional services companies can also become eligible for philanthropy-based awards – a significant and frequent nomination category for business journals. Being active and engaged also helps shape a personable identity for clients, and shows a commitment to not only an industry, but to the community as a whole.
Emulating LeBron James on the court is next to impossible. (His extensive chalk-blowing routine is generally frowned upon in the workplace.) However, embracing his 2014 community relations-savviness is a worthwhile and relatively easy task. Look for ways to emphasize and publicize a commitment to the community. This kind of strategic thinking is always a slam-dunk.