1. Don’t over-communicate. Just because people want to know what you’re up to doesn’t mean you have to satisfy them. Keep them guessing. They won’t go away in the meantime.
2. Extend the time period when all you’re doing is seriously analyzing the situation. It’s a “process.” Did anybody count the number of times LeBron used the phrase, “the process,” or “this process,” as in, “This process has been everything I thought it would be,” or
“I took this process very seriously.” Aside from building suspense, which is just good strategy for any product, it also made his eventual action seem well-considered, thoughtful, responsible, and certainly not all about the money. BP bumbled immediately into first under-estimating and then simply mangling its analysis of the situation. They would have been better served by engaging in a LeBronian “process.” Tony Hayward could have said, “There are a number of solutions to this thing, but I’ll be honest with you, we’ve never encountered this kind of crisis before, it’s very complicated, and we’re not going to jump to conclusions before we go through the right process.”
3. Which brings us to another important thing that LeBron got right and Hayward did not. For the most part, I believe that LeBron, like all world-class athletes, defaulted to the first person plural, utilizing “we” instead of “I” when discussing his decision. “We” had engaged in the process. There was a lot of “we” throughout the staged event. Contrast this to Tony Hayward, who was all about HIS life, often abandoning his proper role as a faceless bureaucrat and investing his appearances with way too much individuality. LeBron never departed from his anointed role as a professional athlete behaving pretty much as required and expected.
4. Never communicate through unstructured channels. LeBron certainly realized that a real group of sports reporters and cold, critical bloggers and journalists would eat him for lunch as soon as he announced his decision. So he gave the exclusive interview to ESPN, which managed it like a video event — part national election, complete with colored map, and part marketing circus, with snazzy graphics, logos, sound packages, and a long run-up to the event itself, which didn’t even come on until 9:22 PM.
5. When you do finally decide to communicate, study the playbook. LeBron was obviously coached by some kind of professionals on what his message track was and how best to communicate it, what affect to adopt, etc. For instance, to offset notions from disgruntled sentimentalists that he should remain in Cleveland, he invoked the wisdom of his mother. Nobody’s going to attack a guy’s mother. Tony Hayward should have talked more about his mother and less about getting his life back. Then people would have thought, “Hey, the guy has a mother. He can’t be all bad, even if he IS screwing up the Gulf.”
6. Apologize briefly, then move on to the positives. LeBron seemed genuinely sorry for the people of Cleveland, who will clearly be committing mass seppuku after this. He thanked the City, the Cavaliers, his teammates, sort of weirdly invoking all that HE had done for THEM, if I was hearing that correctly, but at any rate, he moved smoothly from that sad stuff into a mention that a man has to do right by his family, which is one big, positive for Americans, and then invoked perhaps the most important American value: the desire to Win. Family + Winning = Something We Understand. Hayward, from his post as a snotty Brit, used neither of these strong tools to convey his messages. Imagine if he pitch had been, “I’m moving my family down here to Pensacola until this is solved. We’re going to beat this thing and win.” Much better, right?
7. Get a warm-and-fuzzy sponsor. LeBron’s event looked pretty much like a crass, over-commercialized and industrial-strength product of the sports/media hype machine. It was obviously timed and scripted by professionals who do this for a living, whether the event is an election, a beauty pageant, or a reality program. But behind LeBron was a big flag with the logo of the Boys & Girls Club, a very worthwhile organization that in some way expressed the notion of ‘I don’t really care about a beneficiary of this hoopla.’ You can’t be critical of anything associated with the Boys & Girls Club! BP should immediately give a billion dollars to the World Wildlife Federation or some similar organization that helps birds, shrimp, and other creatures who are the victims of its horrendous errors. The WWF logo should be on every BP communication. Commercials should be shot featuring Mr. Hayward fondling a pelican who has been cleansed by the power of his money.
8. When you’ve run out of things to say, disappear. I imagine LeBron will do that now and let his playing time speak for him from this time forth. I think a decision of that nature has been made for Mr. Hayward already.