Last week it was an honor to again be part of the Sports PR Summit, now with five years under its belt and led by Brian Berger. The event has grown in stature and information every year and the learnings again this past week were plentiful. We will to make an attempt to chronicle the best of those thoughts in a few posts, leading off with what was shared by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
It is certainly not easy at the top, but Silver has found a way to mix the need for authoritarian consensus building with a clarity and honesty that is coveted and rare in leadership. Most importantly, every time I have heard him speak publicly, from conferences to the funeral of Basketball Hall of Fame announcer John Andariese, he takes the time to give you something that is applicable to the day to day, and more importantly, something which makes you think. Silver makes it clear that he loves to learn, and with that, he is always teaching those around him something as well.
Some of the key tidbits from this past week at The Player’s Tribune
“Sometimes I enjoy talking to telemarketers.” While this brought the most responses and certainly the most laughs, the value of the line should not be lost. The NBA Commissioner is well aware of the value of the sell and overcoming objections, and no people are probably better at handling rejections than the annoying callers we all get on a daily basis. Hard to think of another top leader who would use an endless script from someone they don’t know as a teachable moment.
“It’s easy to live in an echo chamber. Discomfort in disagreeing is acceptable and ok.” and “To be decisive does not mean your decision was not made without doubt.” Sometimes we forget that with all going on in our own little bubbles, thinking about things that make us uncomfortable, or challenge us, can actually help us grow as people and as professionals. A great element of leadership is listening and learning from divergent voices. Introspection and the value of asking questions in the decision process works so much better than an authoritarian view. While it is true that the elite leaders speak with clarity and conviction, they are at their best when their decisions are made of consensus vs. in a vacuum.
“Communication is a learned skill. It’s not something that is always intuitive.” Often times during his talk, Silver looked right at or referenced NBA PR head Mike Bass, who was seated in the front row. It was and is rare that someone engaged in such a public conversation would speak directly to one person; it is actually a tool used by actors to get comfortable in a role, but rarely is it used in a dialogue in business. The value that Silver puts on effective communication across the league should never go unnoticed; and the trust and faith he has in his communications people is sometimes rare and infinitely invaluable. It always seems to pay dividends big and small, and learning from the past and those around him makes it easier to tell the story and deliver news.
“You can no longer rely just on the traditional media outlets to get your story told.” This may seem obvious, but in reality it is not. There have been numerous conversations with elite teams, leagues and organizations who still question “digital” or “social” media when it comes to access, yet old, smaller “traditional” media, many with shrinking followings, get passes with little ROI for those doing the credentialing. In many cases it’s easier to just go with the flow vs. seeking out new outlets and helping cultivate young people, from smaller outlets to those who may only be involved in the influencer space. The NBA under Silver has come to embrace and understand, and monitor, all forms of media, and has a better understanding than most of the value and the return on giving all a fair shake when it comes to access. Now some teams may not feel that way, and are limited because of space, but those who are looking beyond the traditional are those ones who will grow engagement not just locally, but globally. Storytelling in all forms is not just important, it’s essential.
“Fans are sophisticated. They realize (content) is filtered even through social media.” Another key topic that came up was where the line goes when the social space is used as a marketing tool vs an information tool, and how that is split up and valued at different levels. Silver talked at length about the 24/7 monitoring that goes on, and how teams will sometimes push the line in terms of edginess, and the league is always looking to see where the line falls almost daily. However one thing came across as key. Content on all levels needs to be authentic and interesting to casual and diehard fans alike. Sugar coating and promo only programs don’t’ work, and really run counter to what the fan wants, which is a little extra every day, and a fair shake when things aren’t going well. Avoiding white noise, and knowing how much is enough, is a fluid process that the NBA as a league is working on hand in hand with their team and league partners. If it is disingenuous for one, it hurts all in the process, and the poorly worded spreads like wildfire.
This is not to say that the leaders of other leagues lack clarity, decisiveness or vision. Quite the contrary for the most part. However Silver’s style, his thoughtfulness, his openness and his ability to continue to listen and learn while balancing a business of massive personalities is always a marvel. He is always on his game, and thinks and delivers to the audience so that all feel like they have gained insight, and more than a little knowledge, into what leadership is like at the top of a multibillion dollar business.