What do Tim Cook and LeBron James have in common?

Let’s say you’re a CEO and you wish to promote your company, your personal brand or, more altruistically, a cause. What do you do?

In years past, communicators would advise a number of options. One traditional approach: make a donation, issue a media release and call a press conference. Then ask your communication professionals to follow up with calls to reporters to attract further attention. If you were lucky, controversial or both, you got media coverage.

But that communications strategy is so “yesterday.” Today, you have more options. Write a blog post. Record and post a video. Or you can take the path Apple CEO Tim Cook and LeBron James both recently traversed with great skill to accomplish their objectives. First, leverage media relationships to write and publish your own article. Then follow up with ongoing media coverage and additional media content.

First, consider Cook’s announcement. When he decided to tell the world that he was gay, he did so in a way that was clear and impactful. He controlled every word of his message in the only way possible. He wrote the article himself. And he chose the media outlet from which to launch his message. 

Tim Cook Speaks Up” appeared on on Oct. 30 and then in print in Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Over the years, he has worked with Bloomberg journalists, and when he wanted to take a stand for gay rights, he called an editor he knew and requested a meeting. Cook’s article appeared soon thereafter, triggering headlines around the world and numerous follow-up articles concerning gay business leaders, gay rights and the value of diversity in the workplace.

A few months earlier, LeBron James transformed his image via a masterfully crafted letter on Sports Illustrated’s website,, in which he announced his return to his native state.

I’m Coming Home,” as told to Lee Jenkins, was widely read and acclaimed for its message embracing the value of home and exploring the world and the importance of family. To capture his sentiments in prose, LeBron reached out to a journalist he knew. Jenkins crafted LeBron’s “personal letter,” which appealed to millions of basketball fans and Northeast Ohioans alike.

Where Cook allowed his article to trigger additional public debate, LeBron pressed his points and collaborated with Nike to produce a video that hit once again on his hometown and community themes.   

The shoe company’s “Together” commercial features LeBron, his Cavaliers teammates and seemingly thousands of Northeast Ohio residents, all working toward the same goal of winning. In a column on the letter and the commercial, USA Today columnist Chris Chase applauded the combination.

“LeBron’s letter helped transform him from mercenary into conquering hero,” Chase wrote. “This commercial finishes the job.”

I’d call that an effective transformation of brand and a powerful demonstration of thought leadership.

Most of us don’t have the microphone that comes with leading one of the most admired companies in the world or being the best basketball player on the planet. But with the proper strategy, determination, messages and media relationships, business executives at all levels can demonstrate leadership and support their company or cause.

I can’t promise a championship or a national debate. Then again, LeBron’s not making any promises either!

If you have any questions or comments on these issues, please feel free to send an email or give me a call. We are always glad to share our thoughts and hear the views of others as we all learn together. I can be reached at or 216.241.2145.

Image Source: Getty Images News

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