Case Studies in Strategic Communication

strategic communication case study

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strategic communication case study

The Case for Communications

In this multi-part series, presented in partnership with  The Communications Network , leaders from an array of foundations and nonprofits will share case studies showcasing strategic communications efforts that delivered impact, drove change, and advanced their missions. 

Each article will focus on a particular idea or issue the organization wished to move forward, and outline how it used strategic communications to create a change in attitudes, awareness, or policy. The articles will also share important lessons—such as what worked (or didn’t), and why.

The series will focus on the impact of communications, and provide compelling examples and evidence of smart, effective communications efforts for leaders in the communications field and across the social sector. #case4comm 

strategic communication case study

Advocating an End to the Death Penalty

By Annmarie Benedict & Eric Brown

The Atlantic Philanthropies and its network of partners are using advocacy and communications to end capital punishment in the United States once and for all.

strategic communication case study

Funding Research for Advocacy

By Courtney Cuff & Bobby Clark 1

How a commitment to effective messaging research helped reframe the debate around freedom to marry and win greater support.

strategic communication case study

Catching the Wave

By Chad Nelsen & Nancy Eiring 1

How a powerful communications strategy helped the Surfrider Foundation and a coalition of other organizations mobilize a local grassroots effort and save a rare natural resource.

strategic communication case study

A Chorus for Wildlife

By Carter Roberts & Steve Ertel

How World Wildlife Fund helped organize a global clarion call to stop wildlife crime.

strategic communication case study

The Power of Simple

By Lisa Benenson 1

How the Natural Resources Defense Council effectively unearthed and reframed compelling research to raise public awareness and effect policy change around food waste.

strategic communication case study

A Map to Effective Communications

By Sandra Hernández & Steven Birenbaum 1

How the California Heath Care Foundation sparked statewide change by “showing” rather than “telling” its data, making use of existing partnerships, and funding what works.

strategic communication case study

Dismantling “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

By Sean Gibbons & Aaron Belkin

How the Palm Center used long-term, strategic communications to break down a widely held belief and overturn a discriminatory Pentagon policy.

strategic communication case study

Communicating Data to Drive Change

By Patrick McCarthy & Lisa Hamilton

How the Annie E. Casey Foundation has leveraged the power of information and communication to drive public investment in children and their families.

strategic communication case study

The Power of Convening for Social Impact

By Sarah Zak Borgman 4

Bringing people together in an environment that encourages and facilitates idea exchange is one of the most powerful communications strategies for driving change.

strategic communication case study

By Sean Gibbons 7

How smart, strategic communications can help nonprofits and foundations win.

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How to Communicate Your Company’s Strategy Effectively

  • David Lancefield

strategic communication case study

Ditch the lofty purpose statements and lengthy slide decks.

For too long, communicating strategy has been an afterthought. Executives have shared long, bombastic documents or withheld critical information and expected people to just “get it.” And it hasn’t worked. Greater external uncertainty, collaboration, employee anxiety, and organizational openness demands a change of approach. The author presents five actions that will improve the clarity and quality of communication, enabling stakeholders to make a more substantive and meaningful contribution to the strategy.

Most people can’t recall the strategy of the organization they work for. Even the executives and managers responsible for strategy struggle, with one study reporting that only 28% of them could list three strategic priorities.

strategic communication case study

  • David Lancefield is a  catalyst, strategist, and coach  for leaders. He’s advised more than 40 CEOs and hundreds of executives, was a senior partner at Strategy&, and is a guest lecturer at the London Business School. Find him on LinkedIn (@davidclancefield) or at  davidlancefield.com , where you can sign up for his free “Mastering Big Moments”  workbook .

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In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Strategic Communication

Introduction, defining strategic communication.

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Strategic Communication by Kjerstin Thorson LAST REVIEWED: 25 July 2018 LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013 DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0007

Strategic communication is an umbrella term to describe the activities of disciplines including public relations, management communication, and advertising. However, strategic communication is also increasingly recognized as a developing subfield within communication. As such, it explores the capacity of all organizations—not only corporations, but also not-for-profit organizations (including advocacy and activist groups) and government—for engaging in purposeful communication. The strength of the approach is its emphasis on strategy rather than on specific tactics as well as its focus on communications understood holistically. This approach is particularly valuable given the increasing difficulty faced by organizations in differentiating among communication activities (and results) appropriately “owned” by various functional groups. Further, the increasing complexity of a global, digital society has challenged the capacity for organizations to engage in long-term strategic planning. From both scholarly and practitioner standpoints, key questions explore the extent to which professional communicators within organizations are a part of strategy formulations, the degree to which, if any, communications are aligned with organizational strategy, the effectiveness of communication strategies and campaigns, and the role of organizations and stakeholders in society. Research in strategic communication draws on diverse disciplines, including organizational communication, management, military history, mass communication, public relations, advertising, and marketing. Hallahan, et al. 2007 (see Defining Strategic Communication ) notes that “although the term strategic communication has been used in the academic literature for many years, scholars are only now in the process of coherently exploring this in terms of a unified body of knowledge” (p. 4). Works chosen for inclusion in this review are, therefore, drawn from various disciplines, with particular attention to those that attempt to synthesize or explicate links across disciplines.

Strategic communication is a term used to denote the higher-level concerns behind communicative efforts by organizations to advance organizational mission. It is, therefore, inherently multidisciplinary as work in this area draws on literature from a wide array of other subfields, including public relations, marketing, advertising, and management. This section includes works that attempt to explicate the concept of strategic communication for scholars or practitioners. Hallahan, et al. 2007 provides a definition of strategic communication and argues in favor of expanding use of the term to encompass more participatory communication practices, while Argenti, et al. 2005 focuses on explaining to interested practitioners the framework of strategic communication employed by the contributors. Steyn 2003 focuses on strategy within corporate communication in urging that stronger links be built between the “what” and the “how” of content being communicated to stakeholders. Zerfass and Huck 2007 argues in favor of extending the range of strategic communication to include processes of innovation and leadership.

Argenti, P. A., R. A. Howell, and K. A. Beck. 2005. The strategic communication imperative. MIT Sloan Management Review 46.3: 83–89.

This piece is directed at the practice of strategic communication. The authors offer best practices for managers based on interviews with CEOs and top practitioners as well as definitions of communication functions. The framework employed serves as a great introduction for undergraduate courses.

Hallahan, K., D. Holtzhausen, B. van Ruler, D. Vercic, and K. Sriramesh. 2007. Defining strategic communication. International Journal of Strategic Communication 1:3–35.

DOI: 10.1080/15531180701285244

Defines strategic communication as “the purposeful use of communication by an organization to fulfill its mission.” Identifies key concepts, including audience analysis, goal setting, and message strategy. The term strategic has been most often used in the context of management and decision-making power. The authors propose expanding its use to encompass “participatory communication practices” in which power relations are less one-sided.

Steyn, B. 2003. From strategy to corporate communication strategy: A conceptualization. Journal of Communication Management 8.2: 168–183.

DOI: 10.1108/13632540410807637

Argues for communicators to provide input to, but not take part in, corporate strategy formulation. Corporate communication strategy should be linked to corporate strategy. Suggests a route to develop corporate communication strategy—“what” should be communicated—and demonstrates how that strategy inspires strategic planning processes—“how” to communicate.

Zerfass, A., and S. Huck. 2007. Innovation, communication, and leadership: New developments in strategic communication. International Journal of Strategic Communication 1.2: 107–122.

DOI: 10.1080/15531180701298908

This article pushes the boundaries of strategic communication by theorizing innovation communication and the role of leadership communication.

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Chapter 3: Strategic Communication Ethics

11 Ethics case study

The issue of ethics is important in the strategic communication profession. Creators of content should heavily rely on a code of ethics when carrying out various tasks. Using ethical reasoning, whether you’re designing a campaign or writing a newspaper article, demonstrates basic understanding of the influence of messages on audiences. Ethical communication also helps an organization avoid dilemmas and compromising situations.

Several cases covered in the press highlight the ramifications of failure to use ethical and honest standards in communication efforts. The case study below demonstrates this.

Case study: Ryan Holiday, media manipulation, and the rise of the Tucker Max brand

Media strategist Ryan Holiday made a career of controlling the media to achieve public relations goals. A few years ago, he became a PR specialist for Tucker Max, a controversial blogger and author who garnered attention for his lewd writing and explicit discussions of his sexual adventures with countless women. Holiday played an essential role in a campaign for Max’s book I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. Pretending to be someone who hated Max’s writings, Holiday contacted influencers, bloggers, and television stations about the social controversy caused by the brand. Soon Max’s book received widespread attention from national media outlets and writers all over the blogosphere (Ariely & Melamede, 2015).

Filmmakers later created a movie based on the book. Holiday used some of the same tactics to promote the film. He emailed college organizations across the country, again pretending to be someone who was disgusted with the Tucker Max brand. He included photos of fake advertisements that were offensive to women (which Holiday himself had created), and said that the advertisements were used to promote the film (Ariely & Melamede, 2015). He told campus leaders, bloggers, and other influencers to urge people not to see the film.

Holiday was intentionally trying to create protests to generate media coverage and public awareness about the film and the Tucker Max brand in general (Ariely & Melamede, 2015). He used deceptive measures and some aspects of controversy—strong opinions on a topic, social backlash, and a hated public figure—as leverage. And he was very successful: organized groups across the country held protests against the film, furthering the widespread attention on Tucker Max. In this situation, the saying “any press is good press” worked to his advantage.

strategic communication case study

Cases such as this raise several concerns related to the field of strategic communication. Most important, the Tucker Max situation calls into question the ethics Holiday used to control the media. How far should one go to promote an organization or brand? The perception exists that strategic communication professionals, specifically those in public relations, are expert spin doctors and media manipulators; because of this, the profession’s credibility has been damaged. In order to reclaim the trustworthiness of the field, strategic communication professionals must abide by strong ethics in their decision-making processes.

The majority of strategic communication professionals promote their client or organization in an honest and straightforward manner. One case study that demonstrates this comes from a Columbus-based public relations agency, Geben Communication. In 2014, the agency helped promote a small catering business, Two Caterers. It used a targeted media relations strategy and pitched to several local publications and news stations (Geben Communication, 2016) in order to enhance brand awareness. The pitches contained factual information, and those working on the account did not use manipulative tactics to achieve their goal.

Geben Communication’s promotional effort had positive results. Local publications wrote several articles on Two Caterers, and a television station invited the small business to do a cooking demonstration for a morning segment. Furthermore, Two Caterers received accolades and recognition from small business associations and magazines.

Writing for Strategic Communication Industries Copyright © 2016 by Jasmine Roberts is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book

You’ve been hired to lead the communications department at Northern Lights Electric Cooperative. Your first assignment—put together a strategic communications plan. To start, you need to gather information. Using page 5 of your workbook , take notes on the strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities you can glean from the information below. You should be able to find 3-5 insights for each category. We will discuss findings together as a group in class.

Survey Results

Northern Lights Cooperative completes a member survey every two years. Surveys are a great resource to inform strategic planning. Not only do surveys allow you objectively see if you are moving the needle, but they can also highlight areas where you need to focus.

Transparency

Northern Lights Electric Co-op members’ ratings for “My co-op is transparent and forthright with governance information” by county.

strategic communication case study

Results show that members are satisfied with the speed outages are resolved, but not as pleased with how they are kept informed during the outage.

CEO Interview Transcript

While we are in a great position right now, I do worry about our financial future. We’ve had flat or declining electric sales for years. We are going to have to keep raising our rates if our sales don’t increase. I think that the electrification of the transportation sector is a real opportunity for us but our members don’t seem to be adopting EVs very quickly.

We’ve also been talking a lot with the board about potential future carbon regulations. Coal and natural gas make up 70% of our power supply portfolio so anything that increases the cost of carbon emissions will have a big impact on us and our members.

Leadership Interviews

Listening to gain an understanding of where leaders want to take the company is invaluable. Watch the interview with Northern Lights Cooperative CEO to see what you can learn. How can you help support the direction with your communications plan?

Employee Interview Transcript

I’ve struggled a little with feeling connected to my coworkers since we started allowing people to work from home. It just feels like we are all disconnected. Sometimes I feel like I’m out of the loop. I used to know everything that was going on, in all departments, not just Engineering. Now I feel like we often find things out after the fact.

Don’t get me wrong, Northern Lights is a great company to work for because they really invest in their employees. And, we have access to whatever resources we need to get the job done, including top of the line equipment.

In the engineering department, we work closely with a lot of members on their construction projects. I know I’m often one of their first interactions with the cooperative and I try to make it as easy as possible for them. Sometimes communication is challenging because I’m in the field a lot, so we have to play a lot of phone tag. Overall, members seem happy with the service we provide, although, I think they often have sticker shock when they realize the how much their project will cost.

Employee Interviews

Listening to employees can provide a lot of insight, too. Member services employees will be able to share a lot about member sentiment and processes that could be improved. But don’t forget to examine the communication experience inside the organization, too. Talking with employees can provide direction on how to improve internal communications.

Member Interview Transcript

I’ve been a customer of Northern Lights Electric for about 2 years. Our family moved here from the City. We just really wanted a change of pace and we love living in a community where we get to know our neighbors. It’s a great place to raise a family.

We’ve been impressed with the company so far. Everyone is really friendly and helpful. Our bill is quite a bit higher than it was at our house in the City. But, it’s a bigger house, so maybe that’s to be expected. We have only had one short outage since we moved in and you guys got it restored really fast. We appreciate the responsiveness of your staff.

While we really like living in a small town, sometimes it feels like a step back in time. And not in a good way. It’s just little things, Iike I miss being able to take care of everything online. We’re busy with work and kids and school. You know how it is. Our last utility used to have an app where we could do everything and they used text messages to let us know about things like outages. Do you guys do that?

What’s the purpose of this interview again? Sorry, I just didn’t expect my electric utility to want to sit down and chat with me. Small towns, I guess.

Member Interviews

If you’re looking for ways to improve, who better to ask than the members themselves? From learning their pain points to hearing about programs they wish you’d offer, interviewing members is a great way to inspire your plan.  Hold focus groups, schedule virtual meetings, or simply pick up the phone and make a few calls.

Social Media Review

Surveys aren’t the only place your members will share their opinions. Comments on a co-ops social media page are a treasure trove of information. If you review the page carefully, you’re likely to notice themes start to take shape. Consider if any of the themes you identify deserve a place in your strategic plan.

Environmental Scan

Savvy communicators monitor NRECA’s issue briefs as well as toolkits and research . One issue Northern Lights is monitoring is the national scrutiny on governance practices. Additional insights about governance are available in the survey results section.

strategic communication case study

S. Carolina

A newspaper ran nearly a dozen articles focused on co-op governance asking these 20 questions.

strategic communication case study

A group of energy advocates published a report card alleging electric co-op governance transparency issues.

Company Strategic Plan

Northern Lights completes a companywide strategic plan every three years. This plan contains goals that the co-op has identified as important and is working to achieve. As a communicator, you should be very familiar with this plan.  Determine how communications can help achieve these goals, and write it into your strategic communications plan.

strategic communication case study

College of Nursing

Driving change: a case study of a dnp leader in residence program in a gerontological center of excellence.

View as pdf A later version of this article appeared in Nurse Leader , Volume 21, Issue 6 , December 2023 . 

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) published the Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Practice Nursing in 2004 identifying the essential curriculum needed for preparing advanced practice nurse leaders to effectively assess organizations, identify systemic issues, and facilitate organizational changes. 1 In 2021, AACN updated the curriculum by issuing The Essentials: Core Competencies for Professional Nursing Education to guide the development of competency-based education for nursing students. 1 In addition to AACN’s competency-based approach to curriculum, in 2015 the American Organization of Nurse Leaders (AONL) released Nurse Leader Core Competencies (updated in 2023) to help provide a competency based model to follow in developing nurse leaders. 2

Despite AACN and AONL competency-based curriculum and model, it is still common for nurse leaders to be promoted to management positions based solely on their work experience or exceptional clinical skills, rather than demonstration of management and leadership competencies. 3 The importance of identifying, training, and assessing executive leaders through formal leadership development programs, within supportive organizational cultures has been discussed by national leaders. As well as the need for nurturing emerging leaders through fostering interprofessional collaboration, mentorship, and continuous development of leadership skills has been identified. 4 As Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) nurse leaders assume executive roles within healthcare organizations, they play a vital role within complex systems. Demonstration of leadership competence and participation in formal leadership development programs has become imperative for their success. However, models of competency-based executive leadership development programs can be hard to find, particularly programs outside of health care systems.

The implementation of a DNP Leader in Residence program, such as the one designed for The Barbara and Richard Csomay Center for Gerontological Excellence, addresses many of the challenges facing new DNP leaders and ensures mastery of executive leadership competencies and readiness to practice through exposure to varied experiences and close mentoring. The Csomay Center , based at The University of Iowa, was established in 2000 as one of the five original Hartford Centers of Geriatric Nursing Excellence in the country. Later funding by the Csomay family established an endowment that supports the Center's ongoing work. The current Csomay Center strategic plan and mission aims to develop future healthcare leaders while promoting optimal aging and quality of life for older adults. The Csomay Center Director created the innovative DNP Leader in Residence program to foster the growth of future nurse leaders in non-healthcare systems. The purpose of this paper is to present a case study of the development and implementation of the Leader in Residence program, followed by suggested evaluation strategies, and discussion of future innovation of leadership opportunities in non-traditional health care settings.

Development of the DNP Leader in Residence Program

The Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle has garnered substantial recognition as a valuable tool for fostering development and driving improvement initiatives. 5 The PDSA cycle can function as an independent methodology and as an integral component of broader quality enhancement approaches with notable efficacy in its ability to facilitate the rapid creation, testing, and evaluation of transformative interventions within healthcare. 6 Consequently, the PDSA cycle model was deemed fitting to guide the development and implementation of the DNP Leader in Residence Program at the Csomay Center.

PDSA Cycle: Plan

Existing resources. The DNP Health Systems: Administration/Executive Leadership Program offered by the University of Iowa is comprised of comprehensive nursing administration and leadership curriculum, led by distinguished faculty composed of national leaders in the realms of innovation, health policy, leadership, clinical education, and evidence-based practice. The curriculum is designed to cultivate the next generation of nursing executive leaders, with emphasis on personalized career planning and tailored practicum placements. The DNP Health Systems: Administration/Executive Leadership curriculum includes a range of courses focused on leadership and management with diverse topics such as policy an law, infrastructure and informatics, finance and economics, marketing and communication, quality and safety, evidence-based practice, and social determinants of health. The curriculum is complemented by an extensive practicum component and culminates in a DNP project with additional hours of practicum.

New program. The DNP Leader in Residence program at the Csomay Center is designed to encompass communication and relationship building, systems thinking, change management, transformation and innovation, knowledge of clinical principles in the community, professionalism, and business skills including financial, strategic, and human resource management. The program fully immerses students in the objectives of the DNP Health Systems: Administration/Executive Leadership curriculum and enables them to progressively demonstrate competencies outlined by AONL. The Leader in Residence program also includes career development coaching, reflective practice, and personal and professional accountability. The program is integrated throughout the entire duration of the Leader in Residence’s coursework, fulfilling the required practicum hours for both the DNP coursework and DNP project.

The DNP Leader in Residence program begins with the first semester of practicum being focused on completing an onboarding process to the Center including understanding the center's strategic plan, mission, vision, and history. Onboarding for the Leader in Residence provides access to all relevant Center information and resources and integration into the leadership team, community partnerships, and other University of Iowa College of Nursing Centers associated with the Csomay Center. During this first semester, observation and identification of the Csomay Center Director's various roles including being a leader, manager, innovator, socializer, and mentor is facilitated. In collaboration with the Center Director (a faculty position) and Center Coordinator (a staff position), specific competencies to be measured and mastered along with learning opportunities desired throughout the program are established to ensure a well-planned and thorough immersion experience.

Following the initial semester of practicum, the Leader in Residence has weekly check-ins with the Center Director and Center Coordinator to continue to identify learning opportunities and progression through executive leadership competencies to enrich the experience. The Leader in Residence also undertakes an administrative project for the Center this semester, while concurrently continuing observations of the Center Director's activities in local, regional, and national executive leadership settings. The student has ongoing participation and advancement in executive leadership roles and activities throughout the practicum, creating a well-prepared future nurse executive leader.

After completing practicum hours related to the Health Systems: Administration/Executive Leadership coursework, the Leader in Residence engages in dedicated residency hours to continue to experience domains within nursing leadership competencies like communication, professionalism, and relationship building. During residency hours, time is spent with the completion of a small quality improvement project for the Csomay Center, along with any other administrative projects identified by the Center Director and Center Coordinator. The Leader in Residence is fully integrated into the Csomay Center's Leadership Team during this phase, assisting the Center Coordinator in creating agendas and leading meetings. Additional participation includes active involvement in community engagement activities and presenting at or attending a national conference as a representative of the Csomay Center. The Leader in Residence must mentor a master’s in nursing student during the final year of the DNP Residency.

Implementation of the DNP Leader in Residence Program

PDSA Cycle: Do

Immersive experience. In this case study, the DNP Leader in Residence was fully immersed in a wide range of center activities, providing valuable opportunities to engage in administrative projects and observe executive leadership roles and skills during practicum hours spent at the Csomay Center. Throughout the program, the Leader in Residence observed and learned from multidisciplinary leaders at the national, regional, and university levels who engaged with the Center. By shadowing the Csomay Center Director, the Leader in Residence had the opportunity to observe executive leadership objectives such as fostering innovation, facilitating multidisciplinary collaboration, and nurturing meaningful relationships. The immersive experience within the center’s activities also allowed the Leader in Residence to gain a deep understanding of crucial facets such as philanthropy and community engagement. Active involvement in administrative processes such as strategic planning, budgeting, human resources management, and the development of standard operating procedures provided valuable exposure to strategies that are needed to be an effective nurse leader in the future.

Active participation. The DNP Leader in Residence also played a key role in advancing specific actions outlined in the center's strategic plan during the program including: 1) the creation of a membership structure for the Csomay Center and 2) successfully completing a state Board of Regents application for official recognition as a distinguished center. The Csomay Center sponsored membership for the Leader in Residence in the Midwest Nurse Research Society (MNRS), which opened doors to attend the annual MNRS conference and engage with regional nursing leadership, while fostering socialization, promotion of the Csomay Center and Leader in Residence program, and observation of current nursing research. Furthermore, the Leader in Residence participated in the strategic planning committee and engagement subcommittee for MNRS, collaborating directly with the MNRS president. Additional active participation by the Leader in Residence included attendance in planning sessions and completion of the annual report for GeriatricPain.org , an initiative falling under the umbrella of the Csomay Center. Finally, the Leader in Residence was involved in archiving research and curriculum for distinguished nursing leader and researcher, Dr. Kitty Buckwalter, for the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, the University of Pennsylvania Barbara Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing, and the University of Iowa library archives.

Suggested Evaluation Strategies of the DNP Leader in Residence Program

PDSA Cycle: Study

Assessment and benchmarking. To effectively assess the outcomes and success of the DNP Leader in Residence Program, a comprehensive evaluation framework should be used throughout the program. Key measures should include the collection and review of executive leadership opportunities experienced, leadership roles observed, and competencies mastered. The Leader in Residence is responsible for maintaining detailed logs of their participation in center activities and initiatives on a semester basis. These logs serve to track the progression of mastery of AONL competencies by benchmarking activities and identifying areas for future growth for the Leader in Residence.

Evaluation. In addition to assessment and benchmarking, evaluations need to be completed by Csomay Center stakeholders (leadership, staff, and community partners involved) and the individual Leader in Residence both during and upon completion of the program. Feedback from stakeholders will identify the contributions made by the Leader in Residence and provide valuable insights into their growth. Self-reflection on experiences by the individual Leader in Residence throughout the program will serve as an important measure of personal successes and identify gaps in the program. Factors such as career advancement during the program, application of curriculum objectives in the workplace, and prospects for future career progression for the Leader in Residence should be considered as additional indicators of the success of the program.

The evaluation should also encompass a thorough review of the opportunities experienced during the residency, with the aim of identifying areas for potential expansion and enrichment of the DNP Leader in Residence program. By carefully examining the logs, reflecting on the acquired executive leadership competencies, and studying stakeholder evaluations, additional experiences and opportunities can be identified to further enhance the program's efficacy. The evaluation process should be utilized to identify specific executive leadership competencies that require further immersion and exploration throughout the program.

Future Innovation of DNP Leader in Residence Programs in Non-traditional Healthcare Settings

PDSA Cycle: Act

As subsequent residents complete the program and their experiences are thoroughly evaluated, it is essential to identify new opportunities for DNP Leader in Residence programs to be implemented in other non-health care system settings. When feasible, expansion into clinical healthcare settings, including long-term care and acute care environments, should be pursued. By leveraging the insights gained from previous Leaders in Residence and their respective experiences, the program can be refined to better align with desired outcomes and competencies. These expansions will broaden the scope and impact of the program and provide a wider array of experiences and challenges for future Leaders in Residency to navigate, enriching their development as dynamic nurse executive leaders within diverse healthcare landscapes.

This case study presented a comprehensive overview of the development and implementation of the DNP Leader in Residence program developed by the Barbara and Richard Csomay Center for Gerontological Excellence. The Leader in Residence program provided a transformative experience by integrating key curriculum objectives, competency-based learning, and mentorship by esteemed nursing leaders and researchers through successful integration into the Center. With ongoing innovation and application of the PDSA cycle, the DNP Leader in Residence program presented in this case study holds immense potential to help better prepare 21 st century nurse leaders capable of driving positive change within complex healthcare systems.

Acknowledgements

         The author would like to express gratitude to the Barbara and Richard Csomay Center for Gerontological Excellence for the fostering environment to provide an immersion experience and the ongoing support for development of the DNP Leader in Residence program. This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

  • American Association of Colleges of Nursing. The essentials: core competencies for professional nursing education. https://www.aacnnursing.org/Portals/42/AcademicNursing/pdf/Essentials-2021.pdf . Accessed June 26, 2023.
  • American Organization for Nursing Leadership. Nurse leader core competencies. https://www.aonl.org/resources/nurse-leader-competencies . Accessed July 10, 2023.
  • Warshawsky, N, Cramer, E. Describing nurse manager role preparation and competency: findings from a national study. J Nurs Adm . 2019;49(5):249-255. DOI:  10.1097/NNA.0000000000000746
  • Van Diggel, C, Burgess, A, Roberts, C, Mellis, C. Leadership in healthcare education. BMC Med. Educ . 2020;20(465). doi: 10.1186/s12909-020-02288-x
  • Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Plan-do-study-act (PDSA) worksheet. https://www.ihi.org/resources/Pages/Tools/PlanDoStudyActWorksheet.aspx . Accessed July 4, 2023.
  • Taylor, M, McNicolas, C, Nicolay, C, Darzi, A, Bell, D, Reed, J. Systemic review of the application of the plan-do-study-act method to improve quality in healthcare. BMJ Quality & Safety. 2014:23:290-298. doi: 10.1136/bmjqs-2013-002703

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Social Sci LibreTexts

3.1: Ethics Case Study

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  • Page ID 25127

  • Jasmine Roberts
  • The Ohio State University

The issue of ethics is important in the strategic communication profession. Creators of content should heavily rely on a code of ethics when carrying out various tasks. Using ethical reasoning, whether you’re designing a campaign or writing a newspaper article, demonstrates basic understanding of the influence of messages on audiences. Ethical communication also helps an organization avoid dilemmas and compromising situations.

Several cases covered in the press highlight the ramifications of failure to use ethical and honest standards in communication efforts. The case study below demonstrates this.

Case study: Ryan Holiday, media manipulation, and the rise of the Tucker Max brand

Media strategist Ryan Holiday made a career of controlling the media to achieve public relations goals. A few years ago, he became a PR specialist for Tucker Max, a controversial blogger and author who garnered attention for his lewd writing and explicit discussions of his sexual adventures with countless women. Holiday played an essential role in a campaign for Max’s book I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. Pretending to be someone who hated Max’s writings, Holiday contacted influencers, bloggers, and television stations about the social controversy caused by the brand. Soon Max’s book received widespread attention from national media outlets and writers all over the blogosphere (Ariely & Melamede, 2015).

Filmmakers later created a movie based on the book. Holiday used some of the same tactics to promote the film. He emailed college organizations across the country, again pretending to be someone who was disgusted with the Tucker Max brand. He included photos of fake advertisements that were offensive to women (which Holiday himself had created), and said that the advertisements were used to promote the film (Ariely & Melamede, 2015). He told campus leaders, bloggers, and other influencers to urge people not to see the film.

Holiday was intentionally trying to create protests to generate media coverage and public awareness about the film and the Tucker Max brand in general (Ariely & Melamede, 2015). He used deceptive measures and some aspects of controversy—strong opinions on a topic, social backlash, and a hated public figure—as leverage. And he was very successful: organized groups across the country held protests against the film, furthering the widespread attention on Tucker Max. In this situation, the saying “any press is good press” worked to his advantage.

RyanHoliday.jpg

Cases such as this raise several concerns related to the field of strategic communication. Most important, the Tucker Max situation calls into question the ethics Holiday used to control the media. How far should one go to promote an organization or brand? The perception exists that strategic communication professionals, specifically those in public relations, are expert spin doctors and media manipulators; because of this, the profession’s credibility has been damaged. In order to reclaim the trustworthiness of the field, strategic communication professionals must abide by strong ethics in their decision-making processes.

The majority of strategic communication professionals promote their client or organization in an honest and straightforward manner. One case study that demonstrates this comes from a Columbus-based public relations agency, Geben Communication. In 2014, the agency helped promote a small catering business, Two Caterers. It used a targeted media relations strategy and pitched to several local publications and news stations (Geben Communication, 2016) in order to enhance brand awareness. The pitches contained factual information, and those working on the account did not use manipulative tactics to achieve their goal.

Geben Communication’s promotional effort had positive results. Local publications wrote several articles on Two Caterers, and a television station invited the small business to do a cooking demonstration for a morning segment. Furthermore, Two Caterers received accolades and recognition from small business associations and magazines.

Case Studies in Strategic Communication

An online, peer-reviewed, open access journal.

To cite this article Stansberry, K., & Strauss, J. (2016). A cavalier approach to public relations: The unconventional image restoration of LeBron James. Case Studies in Strategic Communication, 5 , article 8. Available online: http://cssc.uscannenberg.org/cases/v5/v5art8

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A Cavalier Approach to Public Relations: The Unconventional Image Restoration of LeBron James

Kathleen Stansberry Cleveland State University

Jessalynn Strauss Elon University

In a widely panned 2010 television special, LeBron James announced that he would be leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers and “taking his talents to South Beach.” Criticized by many for exhibiting what was seen as uncouth and egotistical behavior, James and his personal and professional image were severely damaged by the fallout from the spectacle and subsequent posturing. After five years, however, LeBron’s image has recovered fully, and today he has the distinction of being one of the most popular athletes in the world. Using the theoretical lens of Benoit’s Image Restoration Theory, this case study examines how James bucked established strategic communication processes to rebuild his tarnished brand.

Keywords : sports marketing; image restoration theory; personal branding; LeBron James; National Basketball Association; social media

When basketball player LeBron James announced that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers, he did so in a one-hour live broadcast on ESPN opaquely called The Decision . Horrified Cavs fans watched their hometown hero, who had grown from a kid in Akron to become a man almost universally known as the most talented active player in the NBA, announce that he was going to “take his talents to South Beach” (Abbott, 2010). The response from angry Northeast Ohio basketball fans was immediate and dramatic: people burned replicas of James’ #23 jersey in the Cleveland streets, a 10-story-tall billboard of The King that had dominated the downtown area was unceremoniously stripped away, and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert posted a scathing open letter to the team’s website calling James’ actions “narcissistic” and a “cowardly betrayal.”

While Cleveland’s reaction to James’ departure was not unexpected, the national response to The Decision was decidedly negative as well (Brown, Dickhaus, & Long, 2012). In the closing remarks during the July 14, 2010, episode of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel , the sportscaster said:

LeBron James seems to think he needs a ring to change his life and secure his legacy. Maybe he’ll get one, maybe he won’t, but it’s probable that no amount of rings will ever remove the stench he wallowed in last week. LeBron may yet find that in the court of public opinion, just as putting on a tux can’t make a guy a gentleman, winning a ring can’t make one truly a champion. (HBO, 2010)

Four years later—having won two NBA Championship rings—James announced that he would return to Cleveland and rejoin the Cavaliers. Now one of the highest-paid athletes in history, James has secured lucrative endorsement deals for such brands as Nike, Coca-Cola, Samsung, and Beats by Dre wireless headphones, and his jersey has been the NBA’s top seller for a record six years running.

This case study looks at how James, using nontraditional image communication strategies, managed to redeem a severely tarnished image en route to becoming one of the most admired athletes in the world.

“In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.” – LeBron James

In 2003, LeBron James made the decision to forego his college eligibility and enter directly into the National Basketball Association (NBA) draft out of high school. The expectations for the high school senior from St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio, were so high that he secured a lucrative sneaker endorsement deal before ever playing a game of professional basketball. When the self-described “kid from Akron” entered the NBA, his aggressive playing style and accuracy on the court made it immediately clear that he would live up to the hype.

To provide background for this case study, this section will seek to efficiently encapsulate two interwoven stories. The first, that of LeBron James, starts with the athlete’s meteoric rise to international fame as a high-schooler in the early 2000s. The second, many more years in scope, looks at the region of Northeast Ohio—specifically, the Cleveland/Akron area—paying special attention to that region’s unique relationship with its much-loved but oft-beleaguered sports teams.

LeBron James

In the summer of 2000, noted basketball commentator Dick Vitale labeled LeBron James as one of the top-five high school sophomores in the country. As LeBron continued to improve and his international profile kept rising, college coaches stopped recruiting him, knowing that his talent would propel him directly into the professional ranks. In 2003, LeBron James was drafted as the first pick in the NBA Draft. Just one day before, he had signed an endorsement contract with Nike that was valued more than $100 million.

LeBron James, who was named the 2004 NBA Rookie of the Year, played six seasons for the Cleveland Cavaliers. With his help, the team reached the NBA Finals in 2007, the first time the team had done so since 1970. His impact on the Cavaliers, and on the city of Cleveland in general, was immense. Cleveland-area sports writers Pluto and Windhorst (2015) explained:

Talk to the people selling hot dogs and T-shirts, those who own the restaurants and nightclubs around the arenas—they all will tell you LeBron has made their lives better. Not just because he gives fans reasons to cheer, but he makes people happy. The team wins, he scores, fans buy stuff—and the vendors make more money than they did before they had The Guy that forever changed this franchise. (p. 4)

After the 2009-2010 NBA season, LeBron’s contract with the Cavaliers expired and he became an unrestricted free agent. Cleveland tried to retain him on its roster, but, unsurprisingly, James was pursued by a number other teams. LeBron’s choice of a new team was highly anticipated, and he arranged to announce his next career move live on a special on the ESPN sports network.

The television event, titled The Decision , ran for 75 minutes. About 30 minutes in, LeBron famously announced he would be joining the Miami Heat, which had already signed star players Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh (see Figure 1). The special was broadcast live from the Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich, Connecticut, and raised a total of $6 million for that charity and several others, most of which came from ad revenue during the special.

Almost immediately, The Decision became the target of angry criticism. Much of this anger came from the Cleveland area, where almost 400,000 people watched the special, according to Nielsen ratings (The Nielsen Company, 2010). Nationwide, nearly 13.1 million people tuned into The Decision .

James played four seasons with the Miami Heat, during which time the team won back-to-back NBA championships in 2012 and 2013. James also won a gold medal with the U.S. Olympic Team in 2012. Although he left the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010, James continued to be active in the Akron community, growing his LeBron James Family Foundation and becoming an active voice in addressing a number of important social issues such as education and mentoring for underprivileged youth. Although the foundation’s fundraising dipped in the year that James left for Miami, within a few years it was once again flush with donations, with much of the funding coming from James himself.

In 2014, LeBron James opted out of the final year of his contract with the Miami Heat and on July 1, he became an unrestricted free agent. Ten days later, he published the essay that brought joy to Northeast Ohio; in the first-person missive titled simply, “I’m coming home,” James announced his intention to resume his position with the Cleveland Cavaliers (James & Jenkins, 2014).

Northeast Ohio

LeBron James’ rise to international stardom might have been accelerated if he had been drafted by one of the NBA’s high-profile teams in New York or Los Angeles instead of starting his professional career in Cleveland, but his talent was such that he likely would have flourished as a player anywhere. The real impact of that night in 2003, when LeBron became a Cavalier, would be on the team itself and the region of Northeast Ohio where it was located. In a region that had not seen a professional sports championship win since the Cleveland Browns won the 1964 National Football League (NFL) title, James was heralded as the savior of Cleveland.

It is telling that Wikipedia has a separate page titled “ Cleveland Sports Curse ,” with detailed sections on the city’s NBA, NFL, and Major League Baseball (MLB) teams. In 2010, sports writer Jim Folsom described 20 disappointing sports moments in the city’s history, each one more heart wrenching than the last (Folsom, 2010). Cleveland’s sports teams have had some success, but the losses have outnumbered the wins for many years in Cleveland, and the Cavaliers—along with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns and MLB’s Cleveland Indians—have been the source of many a Cleveland sports fan’s disappointment and frustration.

The greater Cleveland area, including James’ hometown of Akron, about 40 miles away from Cleveland, has had its share of hard times off the playing field(s) as well. Geographers Warf and Holly (1997) refer to Cleveland as “a fascinating example…of the manifold ways in which the periodic long-wave restructuring brought on by the changing global economy has played out within the unique context of northeastern Ohio” (p. 209). Cleveland is a classic example of a boom and bust economic story. Throughout the 1800s, Cleveland evolved as a manufacturing center and, as the railroad expanded, a hub for transporting goods. Once the first headquarters of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, Cleveland thrived as a production center for iron, steel, motors, and machinery, as well as consumer goods such as meats, clothing, and paint.

But Cleveland’s early economic success came at a price. In 1969, oil and debris from a manufacturing plant poured into Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River and caught on fire; this metaphor of the “burning river” became forever linked with Cleveland’s environmental deterioration (Adler, 2014). Cleveland’s population would deteriorate, too: 165,000 people left the metro area between 1970 and 1980, and the city itself lost a staggering 24% of its population during that time (Warf & Holly, 1997). As manufacturing jobs consolidated and shipped overseas and the Iron Belt turned into the Rust Belt, Cleveland became littered with abandoned factories and blighted housing.

Burning rivers, crumbling cities, and unemployment: This was the corner of Ohio where LeBron James grew up, and home to the fans whose spirits he had lifted as a member of the Cavaliers from 2007-2010. This was also the population that felt most keenly disappointed and betrayed by his decision to leave the Cavaliers for the Miami Heat. But Ohioans were not the only people whose opinions of James were affected by his decision. His overall popularity plummeted as the move to Miami and The Decision television special were widely criticized, threatening the value of his personal brand and the empire of endorsements that he had built during his tenure in Cleveland.

James’ decision to join the Miami Heat, an athletically strong and financially secure team, was an entirely logical step for an ambitious professional athlete seeking to advance his career. However, as Benoit (1997b) wrote, “the key question is not if the act was in fact offensive, but whether the act is believed by the relevant audience(s) to be heinous” (p. 178). After the infamous telecast of The Decision , James’ Q score, which is a measurement of familiarity and appeal, plummeted from 35 to 16. Henry Schafer, executive vice president of the Q Scores Company, told a Miami newspaper, “It was the biggest decline I’ve ever seen that was not criminally related” (Davis, 2013). The Q Scores Company reported that its surveys showed LeBron was the sixth most disliked sports personality at the time, behind Michael Vick (arrested for facilitating a dog-fighting ring), Tiger Woods (an admitted serial adulterer), Terrell Owens (accused of spitting in an opponent’s face during a football game), Chad Ochocinco (arrested for domestic battery), and Kobe Bryant (accused of sexual assault in a widely publicized case) (Rovell, 2010).

Image Restoration Theory (Benoit, 1995) outlines five categories of image repair strategies: denial, evading responsibility, reducing offensiveness, corrective action, and mortification. Denial refers to the process of denying an act occurred or denying involvement in the offensive act. Attempting to shift blame is related to the strategy of denial and can be quite effective when the accused is truly not at fault. Evading responsibility has five subcategories: provocation, defeasibility, accident, and good intentions. This strategy involves taking responsibility for an action while also pointing to extenuating circumstances to justify the offensive act.

The strategy of reducing offensiveness is among the most complex and has six subcategories: bolstering, minimization, differentiation, transcendence, attacking the accuser, and compensation. Individuals may engage in bolstering by describing positive characteristics or by discussing positive acts they have performed. Minimization is the process through which an act is reframed in order to make it seem less offensive than it originally appeared. In differentiation, a person distinguishes his or her act by comparing it to other similar but more offensive actions; in doing so, the original act may be seen as less offensive in comparison. Transcendence is the process of placing the act in a more favorable context. The strategy of attacking an accuser involves calling into question the credibility or motives of the source of the allegations. Compensation is used when the victims of a questionable act are reimbursed or otherwise compensated.

Corrective action is the process by which a person pledges to remedy a situation by either restoring it to its original state or engaging in some other activity that will prevent the situation from occurring again in the future. Finally, Benoit described the strategy of mortification , when an individual admits fault, apologizes for an action, and asks for forgiveness.

Prior research on the use of image repair by professional athletes has looked at strategies employed in press conferences (Frederick, Burch, Sanderson, & Hambrick, 2014; Sanderson, 2008), in online discourse (Sanderson, Barnes, Williamson, & Kian, 2015), and in combinations of the two (Hambrick, Frederick, & Sanderson, 2015; Schmittel & Hull, 2015; Walsh & McAllister-Spooner, 2011). While image repair strategies, when properly used, can be effective in repairing athletes’ images (e.g., Michael Phelps; see Walsh & McAllister-Spooner, 2011), they can also be detrimental if improperly implemented (e.g., Roger Clemens; see Sanderson, 2008). Using a combination of traditional and social media, exemplified in the case of cyclist Lance Armstrong, can prove especially effective in image repair for athletes (Hambrick, Frederick, & Sanderson, 2015; Sanderson, 2010). Brown and Billings (2013) found that sports fans are more likely to engage with athletes and sports teams on social media (versus traditional media) during crisis situations.

Certain strategies are more successful than others in the repair of athletes’ damaged images. For instance, third-party bolstering can be effective, but only when the third parties are credible (Glantz, 2010; Walsh & McAllister-Spooner, 2011). Strategies that attempt to evade responsibility are unlikely to be helpful in repairing the images of athletes (Glantz, 2010; Sanderson, 2008); similarly, strategies that shift blame or attempt to portray the athlete as a victim may not be effective (Frederick, Burch, Sanderson, & Hambrick, 2014; Schmittel & Hull, 2015).

Brown et al. (2012) conducted an experiment shortly after LeBron James moved from Cleveland to Miami to see what image repair strategy tactic would be most effective in improving James’ reputation. Results of the experiment showed that participants overwhelmingly responded most positively to mortification. These findings were unsurprising and supported by previous research (Benoit, 1997a; Grano, 2014; Hambrick, Frederick, & Sanderson, 2015; Walsh, & McAllister-Spooner, 2011) that showed mortification is an effective image restoration strategy, particularly for celebrities and sports personalities. The researchers had not expected the finding that the apologia strategies of both blame shifting and bolstering did nothing to improve participants’ view of the athlete and instead actually had negative effects on James’ image (Brown et. al., 2012).

But LeBron James did not employ mortification strategies during his time as a member of the Miami Heat or in the communication campaign surrounding his return to Cleveland. Often brash and consistently unapologetic, James broke many of the rules laid out by Benoit for redeeming a damaged reputation. However, once he returned to the Cavaliers, James’ popularity rebounded from the precipitous drop it took when he went to the Miami Heat.

Strategy and Tactics

Image Restoration Theory is based on two key assumptions: Communication is a goal-directed activity and maintaining a positive reputation is a primary goal of strategic communication (Benoit, 1997b). While LeBron James’ communication strategy has proven successful in rebuilding a positive reputation, his branding decisions have often run contrary to established best-practices. Early in his career, James’ communication strategy diverged from the typical path of a high-profile professional athlete. In 2005, James fired Aaron Goodwin, an established sports agent who had ushered James through his transition from high school phenomenon to professional basketball player, and started his own Akron-based marketing company.

James founded LRMR Innovative Marketing & Branding with three of his childhood friends. The company is headed by CEO Maverick Carter, who grew up with James in an underprivileged area of Akron. When LRMR was founded, Carter was just 24 years old and his experience in the world of sports marketing consisted of an 18-month stint as an intern at Nike and an unfinished sports management degree at Western Michigan University. Critics roundly panned James’ decision to place his brand in the hands of an inexperienced friend (Taddeo, 2010), and the disastrous broadcast of The Decision seemed to justify widely held concerns about James’ decision to break away from a traditional sports marketing team.

At LRMR, the phone is answered with a chipper, “Hello LRMR. We love Akron. How can I help you?” This professed love of Akron, and the deep roots LeBron James has in Northeast Ohio, are at the heart of both his damaged brand and his image restoration process. Had James announced his decision to leave the Cavaliers to pursue a championship ring with the Miami Heat in a less public manner, he likely would not have suffered such a dramatic blow to his image.

However, in 2010, Northeast Ohio was the underdog and LeBron James the hometown hero poised to save his city. During The Decision , LeBron James said that Miami would “give me the best opportunity to win and to win for multiple years, and not only just to win in the regular season or just to win five games in a row or three games in a row, I want to be able to win championships.” In doing so, he was implicitly saying that he was leaving in part because he could not win in Cleveland. In the eyes of many fans, the King of Cleveland orchestrated a public spectacle to announce that he was abandoning the loyal Rust Belt community that had nurtured him for the sunnier, trendier, and more affluent society of southern Florida.

Despite evidence that mortification would be the most effective strategy to rebuild LeBron James’ image (Brown et. al., 2012), the power athlete did not engage in apologetic behavior. In fact, during a press conference after a difficult loss to the Dallas Mavericks during the 2011 NBA finals, James hurled a clear rebuke to Cleveland fans.

All the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that. (McKee, 2015, p. 92)

Philanthropy Efforts

Named one of the 10 most charitable athletes in the world by DoSomething.org (Smollins, 2015), James has focused his philanthropic efforts largely on projects in the Cleveland/Akron area. Despite the seemingly adversarial relationship the young player had with his hometown fans, James’ influence in Northeast Ohio continued during his four-year tenure with the Miami Heat. He maintained ownership of a sprawling property in a suburb of Akron and his young sons attended school in Ohio. In 2004, he founded The LeBron James Family Foundation (LJFF) to positively affect the lives of children through educational and co-curricular activities. One of the hallmarks of the LJFF is the personal nature of the relationship between its founders and the low-income students from the Akron area who participate in LJFF programs (Mitchell, 2014).

In 2011, James launched Wheels for Education, which became the flagship project of the LJFF. Each year a new class of at-risk third graders from the Akron city school district joins the Wheels for Education program, where students receive guidance, mentorship, and extracurricular opportunities designed to engage them in educational opportunities and support them through graduation (Vardon, 2014).

When students in the Wheels for Education program transition to the sixth grade they enter the Akron I PROMISE Network (AIPN) where they remain until high school graduation. The more than 200 members of the I PROMISE program must perform well academically and engage in community building projects in Northeast Ohio. In return, they are rewarded with product donations from LeBron’s many endorsement partners, the opportunity to attend special events with superstar athletes, and personal notes of encouragement from James. James was awarded the H. Peter Burg Award in 2015 by the Akron Chamber of Commerce in 2015 for his leadership and commitment to serving Akron youth. As James stepped forward to receive the award, he was surrounded by I PROMISE program participants wearing t-shirts printed with the words “Just a Kid From Akron,” a phrase LeBron has frequently used to describe himself in press interviews and marketing pieces.

In 2015, James announced a partnership between his foundation, the University of Akron, and JPMorgan Chase to ensure that students under his mentorship will have the opportunity to earn a college degree. James stated that he plans to spend more than $41 million to provide any student in the I PROMISE program that graduates from Akron Public Schools and meets yet-to-be-determined testing, attendance, and community-service criteria with a full scholarship to the University of Akron (Vardon, 2015).

James has also been a longtime supporter of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and, through a partnership with Sprite, has been involved in the renovation and rebuilding efforts of Boys & Girls Clubs facilities across the country. After transforming a club in East Akron that James himself frequented as a child, the Boys & Girls Clubs renamed the facility the LeBron James Clubhouse.

Despite the study by Brown et al. (2012), which indicated that bolstering would likely have a negative effect on James’ image, promotion of his charitable efforts has been an effective image restoration strategy. It is possible that bolstering was effective in this case because LeBron also engaged in a form of compensation: Even when James was living and working in Miami, he concentrated his philanthropic efforts in Northeast Ohio and continued to give credit to Akron and his Northeast Ohio upbringing as a contributing factor in his professional success. Even before announcing his return to the Cavaliers, James proved through his continued identification as “just a kid from Akron” and commitment to community development work that he cared about the Cleveland/Akron community.

The Return of a Hometown Hero

James declared his free agency from the Heat at the end of June 2014 and remained silent for the first 10 days of July. Rumors swirled about his intentions, building anticipation for his announcement. In contrast to his (inter)nationally televised special The Decision in 2010, LeBron James announced his intentions to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a bylined article titled with three simple words: “I’m Coming Home” (James & Jenkins, 2014).

Sports Illustrated ’s Lee Jenkins, who co-wrote LeBron’s essay announcing his decision, broke the story on Twitter at 9 a.m. on a Friday morning linking to an open letter from James that had been posted to the magazine’s website. The release of this message was carefully coordinated across James’ social media accounts, with posts simultaneously appearing on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter shortly after Jenkins released the story. Jenkins’ tweet, along with two tweets about James’ return from sports network ESPN, were eventually retweeted more than 100,000 times. A sentiment analysis of the Twitter chatter during the five-hour period following the announcement showed that the response to James’ announcement was overwhelmingly positive. The three terms that appeared most frequently in tweets mentioning James during that time were “good luck,” “welcome home,” and “love.”

LeBron’s letter, which was dictated to Jenkins (Rosenthal, 2014), was “everything that the original Decision wasn’t” (Chase, 2014). The letter allowed LeBron to explain in-depth his decisions throughout his career and was every bit as introspective and personal as the 2010 Decision was public and theatrical. The letter opened with a clear expression of James’ connection to the greater Cleveland area saying, “Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled” (James & Jenkins, 2014).

While still a far cry from an apology, James’ letter did reference the sense of betrayal many Cavaliers fans felt when he joined the Miami Heat. In an attempt to explain his actions, James used the strategy of transcendence to position his four years in Miami as a necessary move for his professional and personal growth.

If I had to do it all over again, I’d obviously do things differently, but I’d still have left. Miami, for me, has been almost like college for other kids. These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man. I learned from a franchise that had been where I wanted to go. I will always think of Miami as my second home. Without the experiences I had there, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today. (James & Jenkins, 2014)

By comparing his four years as a member of the Miami Heat to the traditional four-year college process, James reframed his move away from Northeast Ohio by likening it to a far more acceptable experience.

The public’s response was immediate as online conversation about LeBron’s move erupted in a social media firestorm. LeBron’s 2014 letter was as widely praised as his 2010 Decision television special was criticized. Entertainment personalities, sports figures, and even James’ former teammates on the Miami Heat expressed congratulations on Twitter (Daniels, 2014; Litman, 2014; Zinser, 2014). While James’ redemption wasn’t immediate, it was definitely jump-started by a well-crafted missive and a low-key distribution that contrasted sharply with the high-profile television special of The Decision four years prior. As James and Jenkins (2014) wrote, “I’m not having a press conference or a party. After this, it’s time to get to work.”

In the year since LeBron James announced his return to Cleveland, he has ramped up his social media efforts and provides fans with an intimate view into his personal and professional activities through frequent tweets, Instagram uploads, and Facebook posts. Outside of a self-imposed social media blackout during playoff season, James publishes a steady stream of content and regularly engages with fans through online channels. James’ image management process over the last several years focused on community engagement activities and low-key messages shared through controlled distribution channels.

Throughout his professional career, LeBron James’ public relations strategies and tactics have been anything but conventional. But, inarguably, they have worked. LeBron’s decision to leave the Cavaliers for the Miami Heat in 2010 caused his popularity to plummet, according to the Q score measure of celebrity popularity (McMenamin, 2015); he did, however, retain lucrative endorsement deals in spite of this popularity drop (Rovell, 2010).

Since returning to Cleveland in summer 2014, LeBron’s popularity has risen steadily, as exhibited by Q score ratings that rose steadily from 16 (after the move to Miami) to 25 in February 2015 (Tuchman, 2015) and 29 in June 2015 (McMenamin, 2015). In October 2014, James took the top spot on Forbes list of most valuable sports brands, replacing longtime powerhouse Tiger Woods (Ozanian, 2014). Still active and arguably one of the best players in the NBA, LeBron James and his legacy are already being compared to that of legendary figures such as Michael Jordan (Hughes, 2014).

LeBron James’ public relations strategies have broken many of the rules of traditional image repair. His use of a small public relations firm founded by a high-school friend bucks the trend of using established sports agents and firms for public relations purposes. When his move to the Miami Heat, and the accompanying TV special announcing the move, angered so many sports fans in Cleveland (and elsewhere), he chose not to follow traditional image repair strategies such as mortification, responding defiantly to criticism. Although research indicated that the image restoration strategy of reducing offensiveness would be less effective than mortification and could perhaps even damage James’ reputation further (Benoit, 1997a; Brown et. al., 2012), the sports star relied on bolstering and transcendence to rebuild his sullied image.

The context of James’ situation was certainly unique. It’s unlikely that this case would have played out in the same way if James had been from a prosperous area in New York, or if he had been drafted by a traditionally successful team like the Los Angeles Lakers. Moreover, James’ actions during the move to Miami and the subsequent return to Cleveland—his unapologetic pushback against critics and his wholehearted embrace of Northeast Ohio, even during the time when he was playing for the Miami Heat—tapped into a crucial element in contemporary public relations: authenticity. If James had apologized, as traditional image repair strategy would have dictated, it may have damaged the authenticity of his persona and ultimately done more harm than good. From foregoing a college basketball experience to eschewing an established sports marketing agent for representation by a trusted friend, James’ career decisions have often diverged from the conventional path. But for a man accustomed to defying expectations, James’ unconventional choices and support of a downtrodden hometown have become vital parts of his personal brand.

Discussion Questions

  • LeBron James’ reputation took a major hit after his televised special The Decision aired on ESPN. How might James have handled the announcement that he would be joining the Miami Heat in a way that would have been less detrimental to his personal brand?
  • James is widely regarded as one of the most talented active players in the NBA. How does his talent on the basketball court affect his off-court image? Do you think he would have seen the same reputation recovery if he had not excelled professionally during his four years in Miami?
  • How has the increasing use of social media changed the way athletes build relationships with their fans?

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Brown, K. A., Dickhaus, J., & Long, M. C. (2012). LeBron James and “The Decision”: An empirical examination of image repair in sports . Journal of Sports Media, 7 (1), 149-175.

Chase, C. (2014, July 11). How LeBron James made his pitch-perfect return to Cleveland. USA Today . Retrieved August 16, 2016, from http://ftw.usatoday.com/2014/07/lebron-james-cleveland-cavaliers-letter-decision-perfect-sports-illustrated

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Litman, L. (2014, July 11). Twitter is going nuts about LeBron going home to Cleveland. USA Today . Retrieved August 16, 2016, from http://ftw.usatoday.com/2014/07/twitter-lebron-james-home-cleveland

McKee, V. (2015). The redemption of the king . Covington, KY: Clerisy Press.

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Mitchell, R. (2014, October 29). LeBron James Family Foundation: The promise. WKYC . Retrieved August 16, 2016, from http://www.wkyc.com/story/news/features/lebron-james-foundation/2014/10/27/lebron-james-foundation-never-left-akron/17837097

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Ozanian, M. (2014, October 7). The Forbes fab 40: The world’s most valuable sports brands 2014. Forbes . Retrieved August 16, 2016, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikeozanian/2014/10/07/the-forbes-fab-40-the-worlds-most-valuable-sports-brands-2014

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Sanderson, J., Barnes, K., Williamson, C., & Kian, E. T. (2015). ‘How could anyone have predicted that #AskJameis would go horribly wrong?’ Public relations, social media, and hashtag hijacking. Public Relations Review, 42 (1), 31-37.

Schmittel, A., & Hull, K. (2015). “Shit got cray cray #MYBAD”: An examination of the image-repair discourse of Richie Incognito during the Miami Dolphins’ bullying scandal. Journal of Sports Media , 10 (2), 115-137.

Smollins, M. (2015, August 13). Most charitable athletes 2015: Big names headline list of most generous sports figures. Sports World News . Retrieved August 16, 2016, from http://www.sportsworldnews.com/articles/44927/20150813/most-charitable-athletes-2015-big-names-headline-list-of-most-generous-sports-figures.htm

Taddeo, L. (2010, July 6). LeBron James: The rise of the superathlete. Esquire. Retrieved August 16, 2016, from http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a4962/lebron-james-1008

Vardon, J. (2014, October 30). Exclusive: How LeBron James and his foundation are rescuing urban school kids when they need it most. Cleveland Plain Dealer . Retrieved August 16, 2016, from http://www.cleveland.com/cavs/index.ssf/2014/10/lebron_james_changing_lives.html

Vardon, J. (2015, August 13). LeBron James, University of Akron pave way for college scholarships for inner-city children. Cleveland Plain Dealer . Retrieved August 16, 2016, from http://www.cleveland.com/cavs/index.ssf/2015/08/lebron_james_university_of_akr.html

Walsh, J., & McAllister-Spooner, S. M. (2011). Analysis of the image repair discourse in the Michael Phelps controversy. Public Relations Review, 37 , 157-162.

Zinser, L. (2014, July 11). Twitter reacts to LeBron James’s return to Cleveland. New York Times . Retrieved August 16, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/12/sports/basketball/twitter-reacts-to-lebron-jamess-return-to-cleveland.html

KATHLEEN STANSBERRY, Ph.D. , is an assistant professor of public relations and social media at Cleveland State University. Her research examines the development of influence within health-based online communities and looks at ways public relations practitioners can effectively engage publics using social media. Email: k.stansberry[at]csuohio.edu.

JESSALYNN STRAUSS, Ph.D. , is an assistant professor in the School of Communications at Elon University. Her research interests include public relations, corporate social responsibility, nonprofit organizations, the casino gaming industry, and the history and culture of Las Vegas. Email: jstrauss2[at]elon.edu.

Editorial history Received September 11, 2015 Revised January 22, 2016 Accepted January 25, 2016 Published August 16, 2016 Handled by guest editor N. T. J. Tindall; no conflicts of interes t

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