The NBA Classroom for Public Relations

Rick Teitloff, Intern, Shank Public Relations Counselors


Last night I felt the air being sucked out of Indianapolis as the Miami Heat put a beat down on the Indianapolis Pacers to the tune of 99-76 in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals. The city was noticeably quieter. My Twitter and Facebook feeds were filled with optimistic messages like, “until next season Pacers. Proud of you!”

 Even in losing, the rebuilt Pacers provided some great lessons for public relations.

1. Even the best of us can make big mistakes – own up to them and move on    

Roy Hibbert is a young up-and-comer in the NBA. He also made the biggest headlines after game six by using a gay slur and profanity at the post-game press conference. He even taunted the League with an, “I don’t care if I get fined.” And fine him they did. This mistake cost him $75,000. That’s a decent chunk of change even for someone who made $13.67 million this year.

To his credit, Hibbert owned up to his mistake. The following day he issued a statement apologizing for his inflammatory remarks and reached out to former NBA center Jason Collins via Twitter. Collins is the first male to come out as gay in a major US sport.

Lesson to take away: Chances are that at some point in your career you’re going to make a mistake. In public relations our mistakes are often seen by many people – one bad comment can go a long way. The important thing is how you respond to those mistakes. The best way to handle them is, like Hibbert, to admit your fault, sincerely apologize and put that sincerity into action.

2. You can put together a great campaign and not get the desired results – learn from it!

The Pacers exceeded expectations this season. If you asked people at the beginning of the season if the Pacers would be in the Eastern Conference Finals, most people would have laughed.

But the Pacers found their stride and played well. Better than expected. They knew they were good and their goal was an NBA championship. They put together a beautiful campaign, but they didn’t attain that ultimate goal.

There are positive takeaways. They and the coach had a plan. The Pacers took huge steps in the right direction. After the game, analysts weren’t talking about how bad they got beat, they were talking about how bright the future is for the young team.

Lesson to take away: There will be times when you do some seriously great work that will not immediately get the desired end result. In public relations you can put together a marvelous community relations program and still lose the vote or have a great pitch to an important potential client and not get the account. The key to these situations is to learn from them. Look at what you did right. Examine where you can improve. Then look forward and apply these lessons to your future work.

3. Leadership and development is key

The Pacers entered this season as a young and inexperienced team. Enter Coach Frank Vogel. In only his third year as head coach, Vogel had these Pacers playing sound, fundamental basketball. He took the team back to the basics: defense and rebounding.

After mastering the fundamentals, Vogel allowed his more talented players to shine. He let Paul George loose in the NBA Playoffs, which took the play of the Pacers to another level and allowed them to make it to game seven of the conference finals.

Lesson to take away: I compare this Pacers team to the vast number of young public relations professionals and interns. We are a talented pool of people. We no doubt have the jobs we do because we have talent. But without leadership and development, those talents can go to waste. Here’s my gameplan:

  • Be curious, pick the brains of the people at your workplace and ask questions.
  • If you finish a project ask for more work – there’s always more work!
  • Ask to sit in on meetings.
  • Seek out knowledge, do research about the profession and learn even when you’re not at work or in class.

In my high school weight room we had a great motivational phrase written on the wall; “hard work beats talent that doesn’t work hard.” Plain and simple: listen, learn, work hard, succeed!


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