Three PR Lessons from the First Week of NBA Free Agency


Indicate Media loves competition, and this year’s NBA playoffs were so good, we couldn’t wait to see how the offseason began to shape up. Last week the NBA kicked off a frantic Free Agency window that, in keeping with the times, proved to be one of the more exciting in recent memory. 48 player contracts totaling $3.2 billion were signed within the first eight hours, and some of the biggest names in the NBA were on the block. For some teams, their entire identities changed overnight. Some moves made teams instantly competitive, while other moves were made to generate noise.

More than any other league in the United States, the NBA is focused on narratives and communication strategy. Public relations always plays a huge role in how teams are perceived. Crafting the right story, even if the team isn’t particularly successful, can gain media attention and relevance. As the Free Agency period has now begun to wind down, we identified three relevant PR trends that played out in the NBA that all brands can learn from.

Big Moves=Big Press

The Brooklyn Nets are the team that came away with the biggest acquisitions after the first day of free agency. In the week after acquiring allstars, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, the term “Brooklyn Nets” shot up to 100 on Google trends, a value of peak popularity and almost quadruple the previous high for the team. The moves won’t even have near-term basketball consequences, as Durant won’t join the team until 2021 after a season-ending Achilles injury, but the press alone pays for itself.

The lesson: Every new significant person or product addition should be viewed as a way to add to your brand narrative and generate hype. New CFO? In addition to issuing a standard press release; win the moment by highlighting how the new hire will enhance your company’s growth and advance the overall objectives. Then build on that momentum. We understand announcing a new hire or simple product update in and of itself isn’t shattering news but our point is to use important moments to craft your story, which ultimately drives exposure.

Be Patient

Earlier this year, LeBron James tried to force a move for 5-time all star, Anthony Davis, to join the struggling Lakers. Lebron made it obvious that the teammates around him were not up to the job of turning the franchise around. When the deal fell through, both Davis and LeBron didn’t look so great. Davis looked like he had given up on his team, the New Orleans Pelicans, and LeBron alienated his teammates – just because they couldn’t wait for the Free Agency window to open.

The lesson: Similarly, expediency in PR should never take precedence over building trust-based relationships. The P in PR could just as easily stand for patience in this scenario. Developing good relationships with media contacts takes time. It can take years to cultivate the type of rapport you want. Even after you have a good media contact, pitching itself requires patience (unless it breaking news). This gives your media contact time to properly prepare for the story and shows that you understand their beat and who they are as writers. Patience is key; don’t burn bridges trying to force moves.

Repurpose Past Success

The greatest Free Agency drama from last week was the uncertain destination of this year’s Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard. Though he ended up with the Clippers, most NBA insiders linked him with the Lakers. This is because the Lakers were relying on former stars such as Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant to help close the deal. Their influence and past success almost seduced Leonard, who reportedly came very close to signing with the dysfunctional Lakers.

The lesson: Past success should never sit quietly on the shelf; use it to continue growing your brand. According to Brittany Burger, a B2B marketing strategist, “the more content you have, the more time you need to be spending monitoring, updating, and repurposing old content instead of creating new stuff.” Stagnant content can’t stay stagnant. Use it to highlight how far your brand has come or how successful your brand has been. Like the Lakers did with Kobe, lean into past success and let it act as a brand ambassador.

Final Thoughts

The NBA is a league obsessed with narratives, and one could argue for the last three years the narrative has been boring: The Golden State Warriors were the overwhelming favorites. However, after this Free Agency period there are 8-10 teams that look like legitimate contenders. This frenetic activity drove engagement and speculation from fans and the media alike, and it is rife with PR lessons if you have the eyes to see them!