Public relations lessons from Linsanity

Along with the world of public relations, basketball is also a passion in life. In this blog I will look to merge the two by highlighting the public relations lessons from a new basketball star: Jeremy Lin.

Quick background for those not aware of the Jeremy Lin story (if you do know, skip this paragraph). February 4th was looking like another loss for an overachieving team – the New York Knicks. A team with high-paid superstars had been under-performing throughout the year and they were struggling on their own home-court to keep pace with a weak opponent, the New Jersey Nets. Plagued by injuries and looking for a spark, coach Mike D’Antoni put an unheralded point court guard on the floor by the name of Jeremy Lin. Nobody wanted this guy – he was cut by two different teams, had played for Harvard (known for many things, but not athletics) and even had a stint in the developmental league earlier in the year. That night he had slept on the sofa of a teammate as he didn’t really have a place of his own to live. On top of that, he is Taiwanese American, and the reality is that you just don’t see many Asian players in the NBA, especially a 6 foot 3 inch guard. Well, against all these odds Lin entered the game and rallied his team to victory. Since then Lin has been a starter, the Knicks have been winning and are now considered one of the better teams in the league.

Suddenly the New York Knicks are the talk of town – and for that matter the world.  While many of us in the world of communications and PR won’t ever have the fortune to make millions because of our jumpshots and passes on the court, there are some healthy reminders about communications and PR that the Jeremy Lin story offers.

1. Think global: In the United States, the NFL and MLB are more popular than the NBA. Frankly, I don’t think the NBA does or should care. Among major US sports, basketball dominates globally and the Jeremy Lin story only builds on this.  The Taipei Times is reguarly featuring Lin’s latest performance on its web site home page, there are stories of Lin boosting sport lottery sales in Taiwan, he has more than 2 million followers on Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter), Nike is looking to cash in on Lin’s sudden fame in China and Asian television stations are lining up to show his games. There are millions upon millions of new fans of the Knicks and the NBA around the world. Which is a healthy reminder for business communicators / marketers to think outside their own backyards. What stories can you tell / sell about your organization that have global relevance? How can you connect with international markets? Can any of your stories be tinkered to show relevance to global markets?

2. The human touch: Throughout my career in public relations in the sports, business and academic worlds, I have encountered many colleagues who shared with me what they deemed amazing stories about their own work. Frequently these stories would be of interest to just that person and maybe his / her immediate family. The Jeremy Lin story has generated so much interest because of the “human touch”. It is the ultimate underdog story. From a business communications standpoint, what stories can we share with our respective audiences that stir such emotion? What feel good stories can we communicate to the outside world?

3. Spokeperson: Listening to Jeremy Lin do an interview is a breath of fresh air in the sports world. Too many athletes today not only use incorrect English, but also use air time to promote themselves. Always deferring credit to teammates, coaches, his family and his faith, Lin speaks like a Harvard graduate. When he had a few bad games, he took personal responsibility. He sounds authentic, which has only added to his lure and likeability. Are key spokespeople adding to the likeability of our organizations? Are they well spoken, on message, crediting others and authentic about any mishaps?

4. Seize opportunities: Lin could have quit – all odds were against him. Sometimes in the PR world, we truly do have great stories to communicate, though frequently it is difficult in a crowded marketplace to find the right outlet. After some rejections and lack of response, it is easy to want throw in the towel and move on to the next story. Lin’s story demonstrates the importance of persevering.

5. Smile: It is ironic to see so many highly paid athletes playing sports that they grew up loving, but yet seem so annoyed doing it. Sure there is lots of pressure in big-time sports, but it seems like too many athletes in general have lost their love for the game. Lin has been the opposite of this stereotype. Watching his games, many announcers have commented on his love for the game, his smile and his appreciation to have the opportunity to play. Regardless of our careers, once we get in the grind of every day life it is easy to stop enjoying what we do. There is a cost to this. A smile, positive attitude and the appearance that we enjoy our jobs goes a long way to impacting our different stakeholders! So in conclusion, don’t forget to smile. And encourage our colleagues and those public faces of our organizations to do the same 🙂

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About Kevin Anselmo

Kevin Anselmo is the Founder and Principal of Experiential Communications, a consultancy focused on education. He helps brands within academia - whether individual or corporate - communicate with stakeholders. He also teaches communications and public relations workshops to different individuals and groups and just launched an online media training program for academics. Previously, Kevin was Director of Public Relations for Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and prior to that managed the media relations for IMD Business School in Switzerland. In addition, he was an adjunct communications professor at Nyack College in New York. Currently based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Kevin lived and worked in Switzerland for eight years and in Germany for two years. He has led public relations initiatives in various countries around the world.
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