2016 Super Bowl Survey Infographic

Editor’s Note: The findings described below are based on a survey conducted by Penn Schoen Berland in partnership with Burson-Marsteller and Fan Experience from January 14th-18th, 2016. The survey was conducted online among a national sample of N=1000 people who plan to watch the Super Bowl this year and who watched the Super Bowl last year.

2016 Super Bowl Survey Infographic from Burson-Marsteller

Lessons That Sports Marketers, And Everyone, Should Have Learned From The 2020 Super Bowl As We Approach The 2021 Game

Arthur Solomon

As usual, there are many lessons for sports marketers and their communications arms to consider after a Super Bowl — the National Football League’s really big overly-hyped, overly-expensive advertising and publicity gimmick and overly-hyped football game. But the 2020 game added a new tutorial that I call the “Robert Burns Effect.”

Burns, as I’m sure everyone in the communications business knows, because they all majored in English, instead of easy PR, marketing or advertising courses, (sarcasm intended), is the legendary Scottish poet famous for his “To a Mouse,” which contains the lines, “The best-laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley.” (All you PR majors who never took a lit course know what the translation to English is because it’s famous. Right?)

Several days prior to last year’s Super Bowl, the tragic death of Kobe Bryant provided important lessons that sports marketers, ad agencies and PR practitioners should always remember: Like the mouse in the Burns poem that failed to find shelter from the December winds, one unexpected event can cause disarray among sports marketing plans. 

Feared of being labeled insensitive because of Bryant’s death, some marketers hurriedly announced changes to their Super Bowl promotions. Ad Age reported that some Super Bowl advertisers paused their marketing efforts in the wake of Bryant’s 

death. Several brands, including Procter & Gamble’s Olay held back making public its Super Bowl creative. Planters, whose Super Bowl campaign centered on the death of its spokescharacter Mr. Peanut, also said it was pausing all campaign activities following the news, reported. Jeanine Poggi, Ad Age’s senior editor, on January 27 (2020). In addition, on January 30, Nat Ives reported in his CMO TODAY Wall Street Journal column that marketers had to make cuts and edits in their commercials.

Another lesson deals with using sports stars as endorsers. After the initial shock of Bryant’s tragic death, and stories portraying him as the greatest thing since the National Football League was founded, (yes, I know he was a basketball player but this is a football column) the media delved into Bryant’s past, and revived facts about him that basketball junkies and sports marketers would rather not read – his attitude toward others and, more important, a sexual assault charge, even though he seemed to be a changed person, giving back, as he aged.

The Bryant coverage was not unusual. It is now standard practice of most print journalists to tell the entire story about a sports star and not cover up their blemishes, as was the practice years ago when I was a sports writer. But, alas, coming clean about an athlete’s unsportsmanlike conduct is likely not to be heard from game day TV or radio commentators, especially game analysts who knew or played with the tarnished athletes. As Michael Powell wrote in his January 28, (2020) New York Times column, referring to Bryant being accused of sexually assaulting a young women in 2003, “Relatively few in the news media or basketball did themselves proud, and you are left to wonder if Bryant would have survived in a #MeToo age of awareness.” And a January 30 Wall Street Journal article said, “Bryant’s case never went to trial, but ended with him apologizing to his accuser “for my behavior that night.” Bryant had said the encounter was consensual, but his apology and subsequent silence about the details of the case left lingering questions about what happened. (The criminal case was dropped in 2005, when he settled with the woman.)

In his CMO TODAY Wall Street Journal column on January 29, Nat Ives led with, “Good morning. Americans are not looking forward to the presidential campaign ads coming to the Super Bowl on Sunday. President Trump and Michael Bloomberg are each planning minute-long commercials during the game, but 63% of Americans call the Super Bowl an inappropriate platform for political ads, according to a poll by Morning Consult for CMO Today. It’s not a partisan issue, either: Republicans aren’t interested in seeing the president’s ad during the game, and Democrats would rather not see Mr. Bloomberg’s. They may be a good idea anyway, given the extra attention that viewers pay to Super Bowl ads, marketing professor Aimee Drolet told me. Even if folks are annoyed at the time, their memory will be enhanced and they are more likely to retrieve the arguments these ads make, she said. The irritation fades quicker than their memory.”

If there was any doubt which of the two political commercials would receive greater news coverage it was decided a few days prior to the game, when it was announced that the Bloomberg ad would take on gun control.

Prior to the 2020 game, Ad Age reported on several aspects regarding the efficacy of Super Bowl commercials that marketers should consider. The most important one was to have an after-the-game program, meaning that the cost of a $5.6-million 30 second commercial, not including production and talent fees, which can add several additional millions to the price, is not enough to do its job, and even after the additional spending it might not bring the results marketers wanted.

Disproving That Any Publicity Is Good Publicity

There were four “big hit” articles about the Super Bowl, to use a term loved by TV football game announcers, that I saw prior to the coin toss of the 2020 game, two in the January 31 New York Times; another in its February 2 edition; the other in the February 1 Wall Street Journal:

The Times: One, in the business section, was headlined “These Brands have Better Uses for Money Than a Super Bowl Ad.” A few key points: Commercials messages lost in the clutter of other ads; the exposure gained by advertising during the game is not worth the cost, and marketers can learn a lot more information about consumers who click on online ads than by those who watch them on TV. 

The second story was a full page article titled, “It’s Flawed. It’s Ugly. It’s Beautiful.” It had three of the Times’ culture journalists opining why 100 million people still watch the game. Early in the print discussion, it was pointed out that people watch the game despite its ugly side – brain diseases caused by repeated head hits, not only by concussions, which the NFL tried to cover up, the domestic abuse problems by some players and racial aspects associated with the NFL.

The third Times’ article was a continuation of its “football’s hold on America” series. It chronicled how three Miami Dolphin players from their undefeated1972 team – Earl Morrall, Bob Kuechenberg and Bill Stanfill had chronic traumatic encephalopathy. (C.T. E.), the degenerative brain disease associated with repeated head trauma. It said that another Dolphin star, Nick Buoniconti, who died in July, 2019, and suffered from dementia, wanted his brain donated to Boston University’s C.T.E. center, the leading research facility into chronic traumatic encephalopathy degenerative brain disease linked to repeated hits to the head. The article also told how other members of the team developed other health problems at a younger age than the general population, according to a 2011 study published in the American Neurological Association‘s Annals of Neurology.

Wall Street Journal: The Journal article, under the headline,The Cloud Hanging Over the Super Bowl,” said, “Amid all the escapism, it will be interesting to see how much reality seeps into the proceedings. There’s plenty of it. The Chiefs have faced domestic violence issues the past couple years, including a case involving one of their most crucial stars, receiver Tyreek Hill. And of course, the last time the 49ers were in the Super Bowl, in 2013, Colin Kaepernick was the quarterback. A good bet would be an over/under on how many times he is mentioned on Sunday. I’ll take the under. (That marketers continue to shrug off stories like these that are published by the hundreds each year underscores their true nature – as long as their product sells, or they think it sells from sports associations, anything goes. Some of these same marketers are “proud sponsors” of international sporting events, like the Olympics, that are awarded to totalitarian governments and used as propaganda tools.) 

Also, The New York Times, which year-round publishes articles regarding the negative health aspects from playing tackle football, with most of the articles in the paper appearing as the Super Bowl becomes closer, didn’t wait that long in 2020. On February 15, a lengthy column by Michael Powell told the story of a young college football player who killed himself because he feared he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.), which scientists who examined his brain confirmed. After looking up the symptoms of C.T.E. the 21-yeatr-old shot himself.

And a full page article on August 26, detailed that former Black players sued the NFL for discriminating against them when deciding the amount of money an individual receives from the 2013concussion settlement case.

A lengthy Washington Post Magazine article on September 20, 2020, by Patrick Hruby said, “Scientists believe that repetitive brain trauma — not just concussions, but also less severe subconcussive blows like the hits football linemen absorb on every snap — is a precondition for CTE. Last year, Boston University researchers found that for football players, both the risk of developing the disease and its severity increase with the number of years playing the sport; athletes whose youth-to-pro careers lasted more than 14.5 years were 10 times as likely to have CTE as those who played fewer.” The article also reported that the NFL, which now admits damage to brains can occur from hits to the head, for many years denied that it was so.

As the date of the 2021 Super Bowl drew closer, so did the news articles regarding the health dangers to players.

A New York Times story on January 19, chronicled the story of two NFL quarterbacks knocked out of their divisional playoff games with concussion-like symptoms, with one broadcast analyst asking why are the rules against head-to-head contact not being enforced in the playoff games. The article also said, “Many concussions, though, go unreported, either because doctors and neurologists at the game failed to spot them or because the players masked their symptoms.”

The NFL has forever attempted to put a good face on its problems, ranging from originally denying that hits to the head would cause brain damage to finding reasons to excuse players for their anti-social behavior and breaking Covid-19 rules. There’s a Yiddish word “chutzpah,” one of whose meanings is gall, and that’s what I think of the NFL inviting Covid-19 workers as guests to the 2021 Super Bowl, given its history of denying the health hazards of the game. Question: Could the fact that only a limited number of paying fans will be permitted to attend the game have anything to do with the NFL’s decision?(Reminds me of the joke about the youngster that kills his parents and then pleads for mercy because he is an orphan.)

Circumventing The Big Price Tag

Mega events – sports and none sports – are an easy target for cleaver ambush marketers and on, January 31, Ad Age reported that, “PETA seems to be up to its old tricks again. The organization was trending earlier today after it posted a tweet saying Fox banned its ad featuring animals taking a knee while the National Anthem plays to show solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. It’s a move PETA has made countless times around the Super Bowl: the organization creates an ad that has no chance of being shown on broadcast TV and then getting irate when it gets rejected.” 

More Important Than The Winning Team

The most important part of a Super Bowl to the publics that really matter, the advertising community, TV networks and sport marketers (without whom the Big Game would be just another Small Game), is the reaction to the commercials by ad industry pundits; definitely more important than the game’s winner.

Jeanine Poggi, Ad Age’s senior editor, said, “This year (2020) failed to produce very many commercial standouts. The desire to not provoke controversy and steer clear of anything divisive, resulted in bland ads that utilized recycled material and quite literally borrowed from each other.” (Personal Observation: Bland Super Bowl ads are the norm rather than the exception.)

No review of the Super Bowl would be complete without opining on the reaction of the sports/marketing/advertising writers, because without their pre-game hype journalism, the Super Bowl wouldn’t be super. 

Instead of just writing about their own impressions of the commercials, the ad/marketing writers reported the public’s reaction to individual 2020 ads. Ridiculous. The game was watched by more than 102-million viewers, so any report on viewers’ reactions reminds me of the 2016 polling that assured everyone of a Hillary Clinton victory.

But anyway, the following is what the self-anointed ad connoisseurs said about the popularity and effectiveness of the TV commercials: Ad Meter said the most popular ad was the Jeep commercial; You Tube said it was the Amazon ad; Twitter’s Brand Bowl crowned Google’s ad as the most popular; Salesforce said that President Trump’s commercial received 75.6 percent positive reactions, but Ad Meter voters ranked the same ad last. Ipsos said the Doritos commercials had the most emotional effect, based on measuring the reactions of 40 people out of an audience of more than 102-million viewers; however, a similar measurement by Unruly said the most effective ad was one by Google. (Is a puzzlement?as Yul Brynner said in Broadway’s “The King and I”)

Alexandra Barasch an assistant professor at the New York University Stern School of Business, said, “…with so little agreement over how to measure effectiveness and impact, every one can find someway to claim success and advance their own interests.” Other marketing pros have often said that the results from a Super Bowl ad did not justify the cost of a commercial.

Writer’s Note: — The information in the above two paragraphs was taken from a February 6, 2020, New York Times article by Tiffany Hsu. 

The N.F.L. Hype Allies

The sports writing community in 2020 did what too many of their craft still do. While covering up for athletes’ misdeeds are mostly a thing of the past, hero-worshiping stories are still too common, as is pack journalism. The sameness of the torrent of after the game stories could have been predicted before the first writer punched in a letter on a keyboard: “A new dynasty is born;” “Patrick Mahomes is the new face of the NFL;”and “Nice Guy Andy Reid finally wins a Super Bowl.” The PR staffs of the NFL and teams couldn’t have written them better. (The gods of journalism must be thankful for the New York Times’ coverage of the N.F.L., whose reports include the warts of the game.) Coincidentally, the same day the above stories appeared the Times published the obituary of Willie Woods, the Hall of Fame defensive back with the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s, who died the day after the Super Bowl. The article mentioned that he was diagnosed with dementia in 2006 and had undergone four major football-related operations.

Extra Points

The 2020 half-time show, featuring Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, was most likely an anathema to the person who did the most to insert politics into sports, the twice impeached former President Trump. Its creative included symbolisms that only a liberal could like: Two Latin super stars featured in America’s game, young backup singers performing behind metal bars that suggested the plight of the Dreamers, or maybe the children held in cages at the Southern border, and Lopez draped in an American flag costume that reversed to a Puerto Rican flag. As usual, more viewers –103-million – watched the halftime performance than the game. Not even Mahomes’ thrilling fourth quarter performance that catapulted Kansas City to a victory could match the moves of Shakira and J.Lo.

So now that the NFL has allowed a team to relocate in Las Vegas (after decades of saying the city is off limits), and has permitted some team owners to invest in betting companies, cynics might say that the league’s new motto should be, “Flexibility is our name.” Or maybe the league should dish its shield and replace it with $$$ symbols, adorned with gold lettering saying, “Bet Responsibly, But Bet And Don’t Forget To Drink.” Because in its February 10-18, 2020, issue, the SportsBusiness Journal reported that the NFL is searching for a candidate for the new position of “vice president of sports betting.” (Suggestion: Limit the search to senior executives at Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Ameritrade, etc.) On January 28, 2021, it reported, “The American Gaming Association (AGA) estimates that 26 million Americans will bet on Super Bowl LIV, up 15% from last year…, while about 5 million will place a bet on an online or mobile platform. The rest of the 26 million will bet with a bookie, in a pool or casually with family and friends.” And on February 2, The New York Times reported, “Online gambling sites are offering can’t-lose propositions, giving away easy money to attract new customers to a nascent multibillion-dollar industry. These come-ons should reach a peak just ahead of the Super Bowl.”

At one time sports was positioned as bringing out the best in the American character and its performers, and the league commissioner’s as protectors of that ideal, which was always a fairy tale promoted with the help of sports writers as everyone associated with the business of sports knows (as are the Halls of Fame). But because of relaxed betting rules, sports has contributed to a fast corrosion of American culture in a way that is now damaging to the well-being of people who don’t know a linebacker from a balk.

If there was one major take-a-way that sports marketers should learn from the 2020 Super Bowl, it’s that participating in it is as likely to result in negative publicity as it is to gain positive coverage. But it doesn’t matter. Because, unlike people associated with the advertising and PR agencies, the networks and the NFL, the game and the $5-million plus commercials will be forgotten in a few days by people who have a life to live, and the marketers will have to devise other strategies to get consumers to care.

Of course, there were other important takeaways during 2020 directly related to the Big Game that marketers should have considered before automatically writing a check to advertise on the upcoming 2021 Super Bowl. They include the public’s reactions to the unhealthy aspects of the game, the politics that are now ingrained in the game’s DNA because of President Trump using it as a political football and most important, how the public will react to “fun” or “solemn” commercials, because by the time the game is played this year on February 7 nearly 500,000 Americans will have died in the U.S. from the coronavirius. Because of these and perhaps economic concerns, some past Super Bowl advertisers are sitting out this year’s game. They include SodaStream, Sabra, and Avocados from Mexico, Pepsi, Coca-Cola and Hyundai, to mention a few that have decided to take a pass. 

Budweiser, instead of running a drink and have fun commercial, in an attempt to be considered a “good corporate citizen,” will provide the funds to help raise awareness of the benefits of getting the coronavirus vaccine. But don’t be fooled. 

They’ll still be advertising their other products, including one for Bud Light and Michelob Ultra. A January 26 Wall Street Journal article about the decision included the following “The corporate spot, a first for Anheuser-Busch during the Super Bowl, will include Budweiser and other company brands. We cannot talk about AB without Budweiser, said Marcel Marcondes, U.S. chief marketing officer at Anheuser-Busch, adding that the spot may even include Clydesdales.” (Sort of like, what are you going to believe, what we want you to believe or what you see?)

Obviously, the Bud announcement was an attempt to obtain good publicity from a crisis that has thus far killed nearly 500,000 Americans. Unlike, Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg and Dolly Parton, who didn’t make a big deal about their contributions to help fight the coronavirus pandemic, Bud decided to toast itself publicly for its decision. Joining Bud in this obvious crass publicity ploy was the NFL,(no surprise there), which all of a sudden discovered poetry by inviting Amanda Gorman, the young poet who gained sudden fame at President Joe Biden’s inauguration with her reading of “The Hill We Climb.” At the over-hyped football game, Miss Gorman will recite a new poem before the official coin toss recognizing an educator, a nurse, and a veteran for helping their communities during the coronavirus pandemic.  Obviously, Bud and the NFL don’t agree with another poet, Alexander Pope who wrote Do good by stealth, and blush to find it fame.” in his An Essay on Man.”

Several days before the game, another Wall Street Journal advertising story, on January 27, mentioned that some companies are resorting to ambush marketing to create a Super Bowl tie-in, rather than spend the increasingly higher costs of nationally advertising on the game telecast. Two companies that were mentioned were GlaxoSmithKline PLC and Boston Beer. (Despite the complaints of “official sponsors” of all mega sports events, ambush marketing efforts often receive the most free media coverage because of their cleverness. Ambush marketing has been around for a long time and is increasingly being used to circumvent the sky-high costs of becoming “official.”)

Unlike the missing brands sponsorships, one issue that will remain will be the political affects on the NFL that were super glued on the league by the former president. Even though he is gone from office, ex President Trump and NFL football are still joined at the hip. In his closing days of office, the twice impeached president sought to gain some favorable publicity but was thwarted when New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick announced that he is declining the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

While the winner of the February 7 game and the efficacies of the commercials are not known as of this writing, one thing is certain: 

People will be watching for racial justice protests by athletes in the upcoming Super Bowl and in future NFL games. And not even the NFL shield can prevent those protests from receiving major media coverage. Example: A Sports of The Times column on page one of the January 25 New York Times urged fans and football players not to forget Colin Kaepernick’s willingness to destroy his career by protesting  racism by keeling during the national anthem., This season, many teams stayed off-the field during the playing of the anthem.

As I write this on February 2, thus far in my two “must reads,” The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and on TV newscasts, there has been less Super Bowl coverage than in the past. That’s good, in my opinion. A sporting event should not dominate news coverage, especially this one that is a vehicle for TV commercials, even though I’m looking forward to seeing Dolly Parton make her Super Bowl debut in one. 

Oh, before I forget. There was a football game last year. Kansas City defeated Miami, as if that matters to the marketers, the networks and the NFL. The score is unimportant, unless you bet the spread.

And there is also a game scheduled be played on February 7 this year between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The winner might be important to fans not associated with the marketing of the Big Game.

The Unspoken PR Tenet: Bad News Is Good News for Our Business By Arthur SolomonAbout the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com or artsolomon4pr@optimum.net.


Lessons Learned From The 2017 Super Bowl

Arthur Solomon - The Not So New PR Crises EnablersArthur Solomon, Public Relations Consultant

There are few certain occurrences that sports fans can look forward to. One that takes place early in every new year is the Super Bowl, the National Football League’s season’s finale of American’s most violent life threatening, life shortening, commercial-laden TV sporting extravaganza.

The next Super Bowl will be number LII. It will be held at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb 4, 2018. The teams will be the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles. But to the National Football League brass, sports marketers and TV network executives the score of the game is not the most important element of the mega event. Much more important are the success of TV commercials, the conduct of the players and TV ratings. And so it will be this year and forever as long as there is a Super Bowl

As always, the lead-up to last year’s game of carnage between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons actually provided some lessons that could benefit all Americans, regardless of their interest in the sport. One of the most important lessons learned was to be wary of a sales pitch accompanied by numbers and charts provided by a merchant trying to sell you something, because as people in our business know, statistics do not necessarily tell the entire story.

(Editor’s Note) Unless otherwise indicated, all dates below are from 2017 occurrences.)

On Jan. 26, The NFL’s annual report regarding injuries proved that numbers provided by a merchant can be misleading. The NFL said that there were 11.3 percent less concussions in 2016 than in the previous season. But as Michael Powell wrote in his Jan. 27 New York Times column, it’s true that there were less concussions but “…that’s because concussions the previous year reached a five-year high of 183…” His column also detailed how other serious injuries continue to remain high in the NFL. And Matthew Futterman reported in the Wall Street Journal that the stats show that playing football in the NFL “remains a dangerous endeavor.”

While it has been obvious for decades that the NFL’s vaunted shield doesn’t protect players from injuries on the field, an important PR lesson learned for marketers spending millions of dollars for the right to say that they are official sponsors of the NFL is that the shield is equally ineffective against ambush marketing efforts of savvy non-sponsors.

Heinz brands might have had the most successful ambush marketing effort in the lead-up to the Super Bowl, when USA TODAY, on Jan. 27, highlighted a story about Heinz giving employees the day off after the game. It should be a national holiday, said Heinz in a humorously worded petition, because 16 million people don’t show up for work the day after the game.

The analysis by journalists regarding the NFL injury report, which showed how misleading statistics can be, and the Heinz ambush marketing ploy might have been the two most important lessons learned from last year’s Super Bowl. But there were many others.

Here are a few:

Media coverage to the lead-up of the Super Bowl always brings into the spotlight the serious consequences associated with football.

•On Jan. 15, the NYT ran a full page story detailing results to a player’s brain after a hit.
•On January 19,the NYT reported that Mark Gastineau, the New York Jets pass rusher in the 1980s, said that he believes various brain problems he now has was caused by playing football.
•Last year’s Super Bowl also proved that despite what the IOC claims, politics and sports do mix:

An important lesson learned by the NFL and its sponsors is that the days when they could control players from opining on subjects, that the NFL and sponsors would rather they not, went the way of the ridiculous deflated football brouhaha. Comments by players regarding politics and social issues are now a permanent part of Super Bowl week.

•Martellus Bennett, the New England Patriots’ tight end, was probably the most forthright of any player, saying if the Patriots won the Super Bowl he most likely would not go to the White House if invited, “Because I don’t support the person in it.”

Bennett’s remark probably couldn’t have made Robert Kraft, the Patriots owner, happy considering his friendship with Donald Trump. We know it made the NFL unhappy because, the Times reported, it was omitted from the official NFL transcript.

•New England’s Devin McCourty also said he wouldn’t go to the White House because of Trump’s prejudices, as did teammate Dont’a Hightower (although he didn’t mention politics).
•The NFL. Players Association said that it was opposed to temporarily banning refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim- countries.
•Shahid Khan, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who is a Muslim, spoke out against Trump’s ban, even though he voted for him.

Another lesson learned is that political and sports journalists have much in common: Political media helped elect Trump by playing up the uniqueness of his calling in uninvited to TV programs and by treating his every tweet as a major proclamation while largely not exploring his actual policy statements for almost two years before the election.

Sports reporters still, too often, glorify players, coaches, managers, team owners and execs. It is most evident in football coverage during the lead-up to the Super Bowl.

Three prime examples of the above from last year:

•A USA TODAY feature on Jan. 29 concerning a Bill Belichick press conference. The non-news story was how the New England Patriots coach conducted himself during the presser.
•A Jan. 30 column in The Record of North Jersey detailing a” heartwarming” story of how proud Phil Simms is to have two sons with NFL connections.
•A USA TODAY feature on Jan. 31 about how twin NFL brothers avoid watching each other’s games.

The stories were reminiscent of those that Hollywood fan magazines used to feature in the days before TV.( Members of the Public Relations Society of America must be envious and wish they were as proficient in gaining major media coverage for their clients when pitching none news fluff.)

But all the PR-like media coverage that passes for serious journalism during Super Bowl week couldn’t conceal the problems facing the NFL, as detailed in a page one WSJ Feb. 1 story. The article said that the league is searching for ways to combat a decline in TV audiences and that officials say a better product is necessary. And a NYT’s story on Feb. 2 emphasized how the NFL tries to stay clear of political issues, even though the Super Bowl “is infused with national politics like never before.”

Of course, marketers and their ad agencies talked up the success of their commercials, as they do every year, even though the cost and effectiveness of Super Bowl TV ads costing millions of dollars has been questioned for the past several years. So was the 2017 cost – about $5-million for a: 30 TV commercial and about a million dollars more to promote the ads.

On Jan. 29, the NYT reported that Mary Scott, a president at UEG, a sports and entertainment marketing agency, recommended that clients spend an amount equal to at least 25 percent of the cost on promotions related to their Super Bowl ads because, “ Even though the spots have incredible viewership — as much as the game itself — you never know.” In the same story, Berta De Pablos-Barbier, vice president of marketing for Mars Chocolate, said, “Television advertising continues to be an important part, but on its own it’s not enough anymore.” An Advertising Age article on Feb. 1 pointed out other opportunities that might be more prudent than spending $166,667 a second on a Super Bowl ad.

(While not directly related to the Super Bowl, three stories toward the end of the 2017 raised red flags for sports marketing execs. The October 30-November 5 issue of SportsBusiness Journal, the bible of the industry, headlined an article, “Study shows drop in fans receptive to sponsors.” And the NYT and WSJ, on December 12, both mentioned declining NFL TV viewership in a story about a mobile streaming deal with Verizon.)

Politics may also have influenced some TV commercials.

USA TODAY, on Feb. 1, ran a story, saying that the political climate affected TV commercials. It highlighted an ad from 84 Lumber that welcomed all good employees. But the original ad was turned down by Fox because it included a border wall and Hispanic actors, which was too controversial for the broadcaster, according to the ad agency.

Perhaps the most interesting Super Bowl ad was Budweiser’s “Born The Hard Way,” which chronicled the “story of our founder’s ambitious journey to America in pursuit of his dream: to brew the King of Beers.” Interesting only because many thought the ad took a swipe at Trump’s anti immigration policy.

Other commercials that were deemed to have political messages were Coca-Cola’s, Airbnb and Audi. For the last few years, I’ve asked a Super Bowl party host of about 20-plus people if watching the TV commercials is still an important part of the gathering. Each year the answer is, “No,”. Nevertheless, one sure bet is that all of the TV sponsors will say publicly how happy they are with the results of the ads and promotions. (As an individual who has worked on many national and international mega sports marketing campaigns, I can assure you that what clients say publicly is not always what the say privately.)

The most intelligent comment I heard about the Super Bowl was from WFAN-AM, N.Y.’s Mike Francesa, who once said that he doesn’t get to the football news until after he’s finished watching the early morning political programs, “because that’s more important.” (In my opinion, Francesa, who recently retired from his daily show, ran the most intelligent of all sports talk programs because he never thought that hits, runs, errors or TDs and three pointers were always the most important element of his program. He would delve into issues like the Penn State sexual abuse scandal, the NFL trying to discredit concussion studies and other subjects that deserved to lead broadcast and print reports.)

For political junkies the most interesting aspect of this year’s Super Bowl will not be the commercials or the game. It will be how the president is received. Your corner bookie will probably take bets on whether there will be football players protesting during the national anthem or if Trump will agree to a half-time interview, as other presidents have. (Note: Since I don’t bet on sports events, all my wagering consists on the ups and downs of stocks and all my bookies have legal status, making book on the New York, American and Nasdaq exchanges.)

During my 35 years managing or playing key roles in national and international sports and none sports PR accounts, which included traveling the world as a media advisor to high-ranking foreign government officials, I have worked on, read and listened to countless hours of commentary regarding the Super Bowl, Olympics and Major League Baseball’s most prestigious events and give the following advice to sports fanatics: Relax. Don’t take the outcome of the events so seriously. The leagues, teams, players and sponsors look at these events as a part of doing business. So should you.

About the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He now is a contributor to public relations and sports business publications, consults on public relations projects and was on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr@juno.com

Website Crashes Could Put Super Bowl Ad Investments at Risk

David Jones - featuredBy David Jones, Dynatrace

It’s that time again. February hits and the country is buzzing with the smell of wings, cold beers and of course, great American football. So too are brands who have invested big bucks in getting their story out to the 100 million viewers tuning in for not only the biggest football game, but the biggest brand event of the year.

In fact, according to reports from Adweek a 30-second spot is running brands a bill of around $5 million — a substantial investment for such brief airtime. And while many will gauge the success of the ads by their creativity, there will be an unspoken, hidden component as to whether these ads were truly successful for the businesses advertising during the Big Game. That hidden component will be entirely based on the success of each advertiser’s ability to handle the digital demand generated from the ads, and deliver a strong digital experience throughout the event.

Website Crashes Could Put Super Bowl Ad Investments at RiskWe already know that a mere half second website slowdown can reduce a brand’s conversions by 10 percent. To keep current and prospective customers satisfied during high-traffic events like the Super Bowl — and to avoid the ever-common social media rant that happens when people experience problems with websites and apps– advertisers need to make sure they do not squander their third-and-goal position by having their digital properties fumble at the goal line due to their inability to support the onslaught of website traffic.

Advertisers you can expect to see on Sunday represent some of the most well-known brands, and the $5 million cost of entry for an ad is only the tip of the iceberg for the costs associated with creating and maintaining the brand’s relationship and reputation with consumers. The brands in question are investing a lot of money, so there is a lot at risk. Having a website crash after the event can damage a brand and potentially waste well-intended advertising dollars.

While any number of elements can result in a poor digital experience on a website or mobile, the most difficult element will be managing the complexity of the advertiser’s digital channels. Web and mobile channels have been becoming increasingly complex, and anything along the digital delivery chain can become a point of failure that causes the entire digital experience to get sacked before crossing into the end zone.

With all the hype and investment for this one single event, all eyes will be on the game and the ads this Sunday. There’s no room for failure, and advertisers have to get it right. If brands prove digitally prepared, they too could be taking home the hardware.


About the Author: David Jones is the Director of Sales Engineering and APM Evangelism for Dynatrace

Super Bowl 2017: Get Social Off the Sidelines

Editor’s Note:  This is the second in a five part series where we discuss the brand stories tied to participation in big event marketing.  Click here to read Part I.

Super Bowl 2017 Advertising - Only the Strategic Will SurviveBy Brian Cristiano, Founder & CEO, BOLD Worldwide

The fractured media landscape has been a pain point for brand marketers for the past few years — and now it’s also become a problem trying to reach sports fans. Marketers are finally starting to ask the right questions: If people aren’t tuning into live television advertisements anymore, how can I reach them? How can I can engage with fans in real time? What’s the secret to blending broadcast with digital? The solution for all these questions is clear: social media integration.

“But second-screen marketing dropped in 2016,” you say? Well, last year 83 percent of Super Bowl viewers used a second screen during the game. Even though social use was down from a record-breaking 2015, taking a look back at other hallmark sporting moments this past year indicates that social media integration is going to be more crucial than ever.

So what platforms stand to win big for Super Bowl LI? I’m putting my money on Twitter. Whatever Twitter’s other problems are as a company, the platform is perfectly positioned for live events because it allows users to interact with brands and peers in real time. Even if Thursday Night Football viewing on Twitter hasn’t blown anyone away, Twitter still has the conversation — it’s the go-to environment for trash-talking and camaraderie.

Not all platforms are as primed for live event engagement as Twitter, especially for brands. Snapchat, for one, won’t be winning any trophies for true brand engagement during the game. Despite its enormous growth since last year’s Super Bowl, Snapchat is a closed-off platform that doesn’t allow for conversation outside of your existing friends. Nothing “goes viral” on Snapchat the way it does on Twitter. Brands still have the opportunity to create great content for Snapchat, but I expect the bulk of engagement to come from Twitter and Facebook, so Snapchat content has to be part of a greater cross-channel campaign.

With that said, Snapchat still managed to make a huge splash last year with a brand (Gatorade) that was a perfect fit for the night. So, this year the platform is reportedly offering $5 million packages and other ad offerings. While I expect to see continued growth from Snapchat, unless you’re Gatorade, I truly don’t see the value in paying $5 million, unless it’s supporting a broadcast ad. Those who can afford $5 million in ads might as well spring for a fully integrated option for a few million more. Combining broadcast with a Snapchat package will give brands the impact worth their money, but trying Snapchat without broadcast will result in a lost message and lost money.

There is more opportunity than ever for brands to connect with fans, but to “win” it’s going to take an integrated approach with a clearly defined reason for fans to engage. If companies simply try to place media against the Super Bowl on social, they will only be disruptive. Brands need to become part of the conversation to come out on top. In the end, that conversation will be on Twitter – the platform was designed for this night.


About the Author: Sports fan, marketing expert, entrepreneur, competitive cyclist, husband, rescue dog dad. As Founder and CEO of BOLD Worldwide, Brian Cristiano helps sports brands like Polar, R&A Cycles, the New York Mets, Pepsico, and Feetures find their voice in a notoriously crowded space. Brian is exhilarated by the constantly evolving sports marketing scene and pours that enthusiasm into each episode of his daily podcast, the Sports Marketing Huddle, a show for the forward-looking sports marketing pro. He has a deep understanding of how social, video, emerging technology, and live activations contribute to sports, fitness, and lifestyle brands. This knowledge and awareness enable the team at BOLD deliver innovative results for clients, while Brian’s passion for sports marketing drives him and his team to consistently create cutting-edge content light years ahead of competition. 


Supercharge Your Marketing With PR

Mark CopansBy Mark Copans, Partner and Director of Marketing & Production, Hand in Hand Marketing

I am a marketer. My job is to help businesses communicate who they are, what they do, and what makes them different to their target audience. I know my team is good at what we do and I’m confident that it will increase your business. But traditional marketing is not the only way to get your word out. Reaching out to the media—getting some good PR—is another great marketing tool.

To make this happen, you should consider enlisting the services of a PR professional. Small businesses rarely think about PR for themselves. They often feel that it is out of reach financially—something reserved only for larger organizations with deeper pockets. Keep an open mind, though, because I can tell you from experience that PR works!

For the smaller businesses—those who don’t have millions to spend on Super Bowl ads—you’re certainly keeping a close eye on your budget. The temptation can be to try do-it-yourself PR, but that can prove to be a fruitless effort if you don’t know what you’re doing. A good local PR expert knows who to contact, how to best reach them, and with what information. They will “pitch” your news to the media that would be most likely to pick up the story. There may also be several angles to your news and they will know which angle to pursue with each individual outlet. Also consider that the quality of the writing will matter. A PR person won’t just help distribute your news, but can also help you write the press release. If you hire the right person who knows your market, they can turn you into somewhat of a local celebrity.

Our friend and colleague, Filomena Fanelli of Impact PR & Communications likes to say, “If you don’t tell your story, someone else will.” So the next time you have a story to tell, consider getting some help. It can be a great investment in your business. After all, if you just launched your company, hired someone new, or got a new piece of equipment that will help you do a better job for your clients, don’t you want to let as many people know as possible?

About the Author: At Hand in Hand Marketing, Mark Copans works with small businesses to provide everything from broad strokes–like marketing plans–to visual branding, such as logos and websites, and promotional items, apparel, trade show displays, and printing. Mark holds a Bachelors in Advertising Specialties and now uses his experiences working with major international brands to help smaller organizations go to market in the most effective way possible.

Executive Briefing 2.10.16 – Crisis Communications for Olympic Gold; Top Brands & Ads at Super Bowl 50; Cam Newton, Crisis Communications 101

CommPRO-Executive-BriefingIn today’s Executive Briefing we take a look at how you should Prepare, Share, Update and Engage: A Crisis Communications Strategy for Olympic Gold with D. Nikki Wheeler,  Senior Director, Media Relations, Level 3 Communications.  Also included, we study, What Were The Top Brands & Ads at Super Bowl 50?

As we begin 2016 and start our sixth year of publishing CommPRO, I’d like to take a moment to thank our loyal readers and partners for their continued support. We hope our new readers enjoy CommPRO and welcome your feedback and suggestions so we continue to provide a unique and relevant service. You can reach me at: fay@commpro.biz.

Click here to view today’s post.

Brands Score Marketing Wins By Breaking World Records At The Super Bowl

The Broncos weren’t the only winners over Super Bowl weekend. Who won the Super Bowl ad pre-game show? Doug Simon, President & CEO of  D S Simon Media, provides insights into the celebrity spots that were most shared before the game featuring Drake, Ryan Reynolds, Alec Baldwin and Chris Martin of Coldplay for T-Mobile, Hyundai, Amazon and Pepsi.

Other big winners who weren’t on the field? NFL players Antonio Brown of the Steelers, Colts Punter Pat McAfee and former Seahawks long snapper Nate Boyer all set Guinness World Record records that were broadcast on NFL Network. Attempting to set a Guinness World Record is a fantastic way to get exposure for your client and the opportunity has just gotten better.

D S Simon Media and Guinness World Records have partnered on a joint marketing initiative to maximize media coverage of record breaking attempts.

You can learn more about this (link to our release page) and check out the Super Bowl record attempts (link to GWR page). We’d love to help make this a record-breaking year for you.

Themes Coming Out of #SuperBowl50 Advertising

JimJosephHeadshotBy Jim Joseph, Chief Integrated Marketing Officer and President of the Americas, Cohn & Wolfe

I held my annual Twitter party #SuperBowlExp during the Super Bowl again this year…not to sweat out the game but to comment on all of the brand activity. We collectively rate the advertising and evaluate the marketing, and then take breaks when the game is actually in play!

Most years there is a universal theme or two that shines through, but I have to say that this year was much more of a mixed buffet. Nothing in particular stood out.

But my Twitter Party goers were vocal nonetheless. Here are a few takeaways:

Longing for Nostalgia. Throughout the entire game, people were asking what happened to the Clydesdales? They are a beloved Super Bowl tradition and there was just but a small peek. The Super Bowl is about tradition…and people were longing for it. Which is why the Halftime Show montage resonated so well, as did the commercials featuring classic music from David Bowie and Queen.

It’s Tough to be Funny. The humor wasn’t so funny this year, or certainly not in comparison to prior years. The Doritos spots didn’t disappoint nor did the Heinz dogs. But outside of the dogs, there wasn’t a lot to laugh about. People are looking for some entertainment and they are hoping to ROTFLMAO. It wasn’t really there this year.

Technology is Changing Our Financials. Brands like PayPal, SoFi, Rocket Mortgage, and even Esurance showed modern ways to pay, borrow, and protect. All online, very fascinating and all about new/modern money.

Context is Everything. No offense to anyone in the healthcare industry, and by the way I am in the healthcare industry too, but I’m not sure that the Super Bowl is the right venue for discussing health issues. People are just not in the right mindset. Folks in my Twitter party were immediately dismissing the multiple placements. I think there’s a time and a place for such personal and serious topics, IMHO.

My personal favorite was the little ditty from Pantene, showing football players doing their daughters hair. Brought a huge smile to my face. Dad-Do indeed!

But without a shadow of a doubt, the night belonged to Lady Gaga who set a new standard for singing the National Anthem. We have not gotten goose bumps like that since, well, Whitney Houston.

WOW.  What were your favorites? What’s your experience?  JIM

About the Author: Marketing is a spectator sport and Jim Joseph is one of the industry’s most engaging, enthralling, and entertaining commentators. As the Chief Integrated Marketing Officer and President of the Americas for Cohn & Wolfe, Jim brings over twenty-five years of consumer marketing leadership, bold management prowess, and a fine head of hair to the agency. Jim’s an award-winning author of The Experience Effect series; an adjunct instructor at New York University; and a member of the Board of Directors for the number one branding school in the country, The Brandcenter at VCU.  

What Were The Top Brands & Ads at Super Bowl 50?

In the United States, the Super Bowl is considered the biggest single-evening TV event. With so many people tuning into the Super Bowl, companies have the perfect opportunity to spread brand awareness through TV commercials. But snagging a spot costs a pretty penny. Companies spent a whopping $167,000 per second for this year’s game. So how much reaction did that investment actually generate on social media?

Using Cision Global Insights, we tracked the brands with the greatest share of voice across six product categories: auto, beer, movies, soda, snacks and web/tech.

Do you know where your brand stands against the competition? Cision provides the insights that will keep your brand ahead of the game.



Executive Briefing 2.9.16 – #SuperBowl50 Advertising Themes; A Tale of Underwhelming QBs and Ad Spots

CommPRO-Executive-BriefingIn today’s Executive Briefing we take a look at Themes Coming Out of #SuperBowl50 Advertising from Jim Joseph, Chief Integrated Marketing Officer and President of the Americas, Cohn & Wolfe.  Also included is a look at QB Peyton Manning: This Bud’s For Me! with Peter Himler, Founding Principal, Flatiron Communications, LLC@peterhimler

As we begin 2016 and start our sixth year of publishing CommPRO, I’d like to take a moment to thank our loyal readers and partners for their continued support. We hope our new readers enjoy CommPRO and welcome your feedback and suggestions so we continue to provide a unique and relevant service. You can reach me at: fay@commpro.biz.

Click here to view today’s post.

CommPROs Take a Deep Dive into #SuperBowl50

By Nicole Giovia, CommPRO.biz

Big Game Advertising & MarketingThis year’s #SuperBowl50 was not without interesting stories both on and off the field.  From a game that went differently than most thought it would, to a star-studded half-time show, to a seemingly lackluster array of ads, Super Bowl 50 was full of surprises.

Throughout the week, members of the CommPRO community are sharing their insight and expertise regarding the marketing and advertising highs and lows of the Big Game.  We encourage you to share your views in the comments section below.

Themes Coming Out of #SuperBowl50 Advertising

By Jim Joseph, Chief Integrated Marketing Officer and President of the Americas, Cohn & Wolfe

I held my annual Twitter party #SuperBowlExp during the Super Bowl again this year…not to sweat out the game but to comment on all of the brand activity. We collectively rate the advertising and evaluate the marketing, and then take breaks when the game is actually in play!

#SuperBowl50 Ads: What Worked and What Didn’t

By Bill Cochran, AAF Dallas Member & Creative Director, Richards Group

Here’s what worked at #SuperBowl50…

QB Peyton Manning: This Bud’s For Me!

By Peter Himler, Founding Principal, Flatiron Communications, LLC, @peterhimler

As branded sports sponsorship goes, there is no more powerful spotlight than an overt plug during the Super Bowl telecast. And Sunday night, the plugged brand’s marketing team no doubt convulsed with tears of joy when the game’s winning quarterback Peyton Manning delivered it organically to an audience of more than a billion viewers.

Pre-Game Campaigns Can Help Score Touchdowns for Marketers

For the Strategic Video Communications Channel

You don’t need a five million dollar commercial budget to create Super Bowl buzz. Smart marketers need to leverage the pre-game buzz of the game to amplify their campaign’s message. There is no better starting point than the spokesperson you pick and how their authenticity cuts through all the media clutter.

The Big Game: Is Good Really the Enemy of Great?

By Mark DiMassimo, CEO, DiMassimo Goldstein

They say good is the enemy of great. I’m not sure it is. The absolute best spots of Super Bowl 50 Sunday night were insanely great, like the Choir of Super Bowl babies.

The Big Game: A Tale of Underwhelming QBs and Ad Spots

By Shalee Hanson, Marketing  & Business Development Coordinator, PadillaCRT

Super Bowl 50, a tale of two defenses. If you weren’t watching to see Peyton Manning’s last rodeo, or Cam Newton’s dance moves, and you weren’t a fan of either team, you were likely there to watch what we refer to in the communications industry as the Ad Bowl.

5 Strategies Guaranteed to Make 2016 the Best Year Ever

Leslie-Grossman-featured-newBy Leslie Grossman, Chair, Vistage International

How was 2015 for you?  Great year?  Could have been better?  No matter whether you want more or less of what you got last year, here are 5 strategies that can lead to great results if you practice them relentlessly.   No need for New Year’s Resolutions, when you move into action on 5  Strategies Guaranteed to Make 2016 the Best Year Everthese. The key is to have someone hold you accountable.

  1.  Identify Your Four (4) Goals for 2016. Choose two personal goals which will make you a happier person. The other two goals are business goals, which when achieved will positively impact your career or your enterprise. Follow Dr. Ron Smith’s ABCs of goal setting – make them AchievableBelievable, and Commit yourself to work on them.
  1.  Find your Purpose.Why are you on this planet? According to Shawn Murphy of The Switch and Shift Change Playbook, your purpose is “the perfect intersection between ‘what you love doing’, ‘what you are great at’, ‘what the world needs’ and ‘what you are paid for’. Your purpose gets you up in the morning and keeps you working late…and it helps you achieve sustainable economic success.”
  1. Build your Entourage of Trusted Advisors. Most of us spend a lot of time on social media. Commit to reduce your time online and spend more time meeting face-to-face with influencers.  Join or create a group of peers who are respected and successful.  (Yes, it can be a Vistage CEO or Trusted Advisor group, like those I chair or ‘do it yourself’. Just do it.) Leaders are not successful alone or living in the virtual world. They have real-life trusted advisors and collaborators around them.  Make it your first priority to support trusted advisors with thoughtful insights, your own experiences, introductions and collaborations. Don’t expect anything in return. After giving generously, it’s your turn to ask for support.  If you don’t get anything from the group, it may be because you haven’t made specific requests or haven’t proven yourself ‘trust-worthy’ Trusted relationships are a critical component of achieving your goals.
  1.  Think and Feel Abundance. Live your life with an abundant mentality, not a scarcity mindset, regardless of your financial situation.  Create a personal culture of curiosity, generosity and caring about others.  It’s clear from the experiences of successful people, that what ever we put out to the universe is what we get back.  If you focus on not having enough, that’s what comes back. When you focus on gratitude for what you have, you get more of what you want.  With an abundance mindset we see opportunities and new chances, rather than fear, anxiety and desperation.  Watch the new film, JOY, to see both in action. You’ve heard it before, but probably didn’t do it: Write down 1 or 2 things you’re grateful for every night before you go to sleep.  Sweet dreams. Expect the best!
  1. Listen More and Talk Less. We are a nation of talkers – talk shows, politicians, pundits, professors and know-it alls.  The most under-used communication skill is listening. The easiest way to become a good listener is to put your natural curiosity to work. Learn to ask great questions to your customers and your team. Questioning will help you discover what your customers want from your company. Show you care by asking your employees questions instead of telling them how to do it better. You may be surprised when they become more engaged and more productive. Use questioning to keep millennials working effectively and staying longer. Your team will perform better, because when you listen you are a better leader.  Remember without a great coach, even the most skilled players won’t win the Super Bowl.

About the Author:  Leslie Grossman, author of “LINK OUT: How to Turn Your Network into a Chain of Lasting Connections” (Wiley), is a Vistage International Chair in New York City.  She was CEO of Communications/Marketing Action and Women’s Leadership Exchange and is a leadership and business development strategist, speaker and coach at Leslie Grossman Leadership.   Leslie can be reached at leslie@lesliegrossmanleadership.com. 

Can Your Agency Afford Inaction? – A Virtual Executive Roundtable

Free Virtual Event

A Communications Week Event

On-Demand Video


Can Your Agency Afford Inaction?


Revenue expansion, organic growth … We all say we achieve it to some level, but does your agency make it a priority? Have you ever calculated the Cost of Inaction and impact to your P&L?

CommPRO in partnership with Pemberton are bringing together agency leaders for a virtual discussion on the significance of organic growth and creating more personnel-assets than personnel-liabilities, significantly growing accounts, and your business.

Our special guest host is Bill Nielsen, Chairman of the Advisory Board at the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Relations, and a true “PR Master,” as well as J. Mark Riggs, CEO & Founder, Pemberton, who will facilitate a conversation about the extraordinary opportunities for the business of the agency and the philosophies that have generated millions of dollars for agencies, worldwide. It’s time for the agency industry to realize its true value, mitigate attrition and empower staff to generate revenue from existing clients.  You’ll hear from industry leaders at Golin, Finn Partners, IPG DXTRA, RacePoint Global, rbb, Peppercomm, Evins| PR+, Lambert & Co., PRecise Communications, Mission + Cause, and others….

Please join us for a rich discussion long overdue..

Our executive roundtable guests:

  • Christine Barney, APR, CEO & Managing Partner, rbb Communications
  • Steve Cody, Founder/CEO, Peppercomm
  • Fred Cook, Chairman Emeritus of Golin and Director of the Annenberg Center for Public Relations at University of Southern California
  • Alexis Davis Smith, President and CEO, PRecise Communications, Co-Founder, The Change Agencies
  • Matthew Evins, Chairman & Co-Founder, Evins | PR+
  • Peter Finn, Founding Partner, Finn Partners
  • Brad MacAfee, Founder & CEO, Mission + Cause
  • Michelle Olson, APR, Managing Partner, Lambert & Co.
  • Andy Polansky, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at IPG DXTRA
  • Larry Weber, Chairman & CEO, Racepoint Global



J. Mark Riggs, CEO & Founder, Pemberton which is a consultancy collaborating with professional services firms to expand revenue, lead account management maturation and develop change management strategies resulting in measurable Sustained, Strategic Growth.




Special Guest

Bill Nielsen, a public relations and corporate communications authority, is currently a consultant to management of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations.

He retired as corporate vice president of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) in December 2004, after serving l7 years with the company, where he was the chief public relations and corporate communications officer. He joined J&J in 1988, following l8 years as a public relations agency consultant with Carl Byoir & Associates and Hill and Knowlton. In addition to executive roles in agency management, he specialized in corporate communications and crisis management in such industries as consumer finance, insurance, defense, biotech, and airlines.

Nielsen was elected to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Board of Trustees in January 2011. He also serves as Chairman of the Board of Advisors to the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communications at Penn State University.

Nielsen served two terms as president of the Arthur W. Page Society and was inducted into that organization’s Hall of Fame in September 2003. He served on its board of trustees for 17 years and continues as chair of the Society’s Honors Committee. He also chaired the boards of The Seminar and the Institute for Public Relations and continues as an emeritus director. He is a member of The Wisemen and the Public Relations Society of America.

In addition to his consulting work, Nielsen is a frequent guest lecturer at public relations and corporate communications graduate programs at universities across the country. He was inducted into the PRWeek Hall of Fame in December 2014, and was honored by The Plank Center with its Milestones in Mentoring Legacy award in 2017.

Following graduation from Oregon State University, Nielsen served in the U.S. Air Force as a public information officer in Washington, D.C., and Japan. He and his wife, Doris, reside in Maryland, where they are both active in community affairs.


Christine Barney, APR, CEO & Managing Partner, rbb Communications

Christine M. Barney is CEO and managing partner of rbb Communications. rbb is a triple threat repeatedly recognized as champions in the field of PR, Digital/Marketing and Creative Services.  In 2020 alone, rbb was among Top Five Global Creative Agencies of the Year, the PRovoke US Small Agency of the Year, named to the Forbes Top PR Firms and took home campaign honors in every competition entered.  rbb is a certified women-owned business with a diverse team across a broad spectrum of crafts including healthcare, consumer services/products, luxury lifestyle, B2B/professional services, real estate and travel.

Barney is the author of “The Breakout Brand ™ Strategy: An Evolutionary Approach to Creating Customer Passion” and her firm, headquartered in Miami, with a presence in Los Angeles and New York is known as the Champion of Breakout Brands ™.

Barney’s innovative management style and “employee-driven workplace” philosophy makes the firm a repeated winner in “best place to work” rankings.  She is active in her home state having served as founding chair of the South Florida Business Council, past chair of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, a board member of the Orange Bowl Committee, board member of the Beacon Council, member of the International Women’s Forum, Leadership Florida, 2020 Florida Influencers Series and the Florida 500.

She is a member of The Page Society and is accredited by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) where she received the 2016 Bill Adams PRSA Lifetime Achievement Award. She is a married mother of three and new grandmother.


Steve CodySteve Cody, Founder/CEO, Peppercomm

I’m a comedian, climber and dog lover, but not necessarily in that order.

I am also the founder and CEO of Peppercomm, a fully-integrated strategic communications firm headquartered in NYC, with offices located in San Francisco and London. In that role I’m responsible for everything from implementing strategy and counseling clients to leading business development and bringing new products and services to market. In short, I do everything but clean windows.

My biggest passion is helping others. I derive immense satisfaction from mentoring students, guest lecturing at the universities who are brave enough to invite me to speak, and helping fellow mid-life marketing communications professionals who have lost their way in life. There may be hope for us yet.

I am the current chairman of the Institute for Public Relations, a longtime member of the Arthur W. Page Society, a member of the advisory councils of the College of Charleston and the University of Florida, and was named one of Northeastern University’s 100 most successful alumni. I have also co-authored “What’s keeping your customers up at night? which was published by McGraw-Hill in 2003 and has put thousands of readers to sleep over the years.

I’m proud to say that I’ve used my love of stand-up comedy to raise more than $100,000 for countless charities. I’m just as proud to see Chris and Catharine, my two children, grow up to become successful professionals. I’m confident the family tradition will continue with my grandson, Adrian Joseph “A.J.” Cody. May he outperform us all.

A sense of humor means:

A person has the resiliency to deal with the realities of the modern world while maintaining his energy, drive, enthusiasm and smile. Life’s far too short. Loosen up.


Fred Cook, Chairman Emeritus of Golin and Director of the Annenberg Center for Public Relations at University of Southern California

Fred Cook has worked at Golin for over 30 years. He started as an account supervisor in the Los Angeles office and moved to Chicago 15 years ago to become Golin’s third CEO. Fred credits the company culture for his long tenure with the firm.

During his time with Golin, Cook has had the privilege to work with a variety of high-profile CEOs, including Herb Kelleher, Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs. He has also managed a wide scope of crises for his clients, including airline crashes, product recalls, and sexual harassment.

Fred is proud of the firm’s accomplishments, but he is even more excited about the future. The world is experiencing profound changes in demographics, globalization, multiculturalism and technology which are impacting the way people communicate with each other. To stay ahead of their changes, five years ago, Golin completely redesigned the agency by adopting a proprietary business model called g4, to deliver deeper insights, bigger ideas and broader engagement to their clients. Since that time, Golin has been named ‘Agency of the Year’ more than a dozen times.

In 2014, Cook published “Improvise – Unconventional Career Advice from an Unlikely CEO,” which shares the wisdom he gained as a cabin boy on a Norwegian tanker, doorman at a 5-star hotel and chauffeur for drunks. In 2015, after speaking on college campuses around the world, Fred accepted an additional position with the University of Southern California as the Director of the USC Center for Public Relations at the Annenberg School whose mission is to shape the future of public relations and those who will lead it – through research, education and thought leadership.


Alexis Davis Smith, President and CEO, PRecise Communications, Co-Founder, The Change Agencies

Building on nearly 30 years of experience and reputation as a trusted communications strategist, Alexis Davis Smith is a leader in Atlanta’s public relations industry and a national voice for multicultural marketing. She is responsible for creating breakthrough and strategic communications programs for major consumer brands.

Alexis has provided public relations counsel for leading global companies such as Coca-Cola, Toyota and Pfizer. For Coca-Cola, she has directed nearly 100 PR programs including the launch of the innovative Coca-Cola Fridge Pack and the award-winning Coca-Cola Pay It Forward program. Her work with the world’s No. 1 automaker, Toyota, has enhanced its brand reputation among multicultural audiences via media relations, experiential marketing, community and philanthropic activities and strategic partnerships.

Alexis maximizes her influence and position to help make a difference in the community. As a result of her recommendations, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store established a scholarship for history students at Spelman College, which continues to assist deserving young people today. In addition, Toyota has donated $20,000 the National Trust for Historic Preservation to help save endangered sites representing important moments and icons in Black history.

Prior to establishing PRecise Communications in 2000, Alexis was an account supervisor at Ketchum, a top 10 global public relations firm, where she traveled the world supporting several key consumer accounts. In 1998, she co-founded the agency’s African American Markets Group, the first-ever in-house ethnic marketing team created by an international PR agency. Her work since that time has established her as a nationally recognized multicultural communications expert.

That expertise earned her the position of one of the six co-founders of The Change Agencies (TCA). TCA is the PR industry’s first national collective of firms to offer inclusive communications services to represent, engage and connect with African American, Asian American, Latinx and LGBTQ communities. The group was launched in the summer of 2019 with the objective of changing how marketing communications professionals reach diverse audiences.

Alexis has received a number of industry awards including a Silver Anvil, “the Oscar of PR” from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and seven Phoenix Awards from PRSA of Georgia. She is immediate past president of the Black Public Relations Society of Atlanta and a board of director for HOPE Atlanta. The Atlanta Business League has recognized Alexis as one of Atlanta’s leading female entrepreneurs and a top 100 black women of influence. She served on its board for two terms. She is also on the executive committee for PRSA’s Counselors Academy section.

Alexis considers herself an advocate for multicultural consumers, helping companies recognize and tap into the viability and business opportunities ethnic groups offer. Her opinion has been featured in the popular industry trades, PR Week and O’Dwyers as well as Vanity Fair. She has also appeared on a number of PR and entrepreneurship-focused podcasts. Black Enterprise profiled her professional journey in a 2017 online article. In addition, she has served as a speaker at various local and industry events including the 2015 Insurers Public Relations Council Fall Meeting, 2015 Public Relations Society of America International Conference, 2013 Black Public Relations Society National Conference and 2018 PRSA Counselors Academy Spring Conference.

A Philadelphia, Penn. native and proud graduate of Florida A&M University, Alexis has a passion for women and giving back to the next generation of public relations professionals and entrepreneurs.


Matthew Evins, Chairman & Co-Founder, Evins | PR+

Mathew Evins is the Chairman and Founder of Evins Communications, which has received consistent acclaim for its integrated branding, marketing, and communications programs for legacy, luxury and prestige brands. In addition to the firm’s specialist expertise in travel and hospitality, Evins Communications encompasses four group practices: Digital Content & Integration; Food, Spirits & Wine; Lifestyle and Travel & Hospitality.

Since its inception in 1987, Evins Communications has been consistently recognized for its brand strategies, business insights and creative programming, having made a consequential contribution to the development and growth of numerous icon and innovator brands and businesses, including American Express Centurion and Platinum, Bergdorf Goodman, Cakebread Cellars, Colgin Cellars, Departures Magazine, Exclusive Resorts, Hotels & Resorts of Halekulani, Inspirato, Jet Linx Aviation, Leica Camera, LVMH Watch & Jewelry, Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Marquis Jet, Neiman Marcus, Park Hyatt, Preferred Hotels & Resorts, Rosewood Hotel & Resorts, The Knickerbocker Hotel, The Lanesborough, Uniworld River Cruises, Valentino, Vera Wang, Vitamin Water and Wheels Up, amongst many others.

Prior to founding Evins Communications, Mr. Evins previously served as CEO of Pain Therapeutics Corporation, as CEO of Cardiff Consultants, a business and financial strategic consultancy and as a Vice President of Vector Petroleum Corporation. While an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, from which he received a B.A. degree, Mr. Evins created and co-published “The Talisman Report,” which became the world’s leading investment advisory newsletter for the three years of its publication. While attending the University of Pennsylvania, and for more than six years beforehand, Mr. Evins served on the staff of Cornell Medical Center, initially as a Surgical Research Associate in the Cardiovascular Research Laboratory and, subsequently, as Associate Director of the Rogosin Organ Retrieval & Preservation Laboratory.

Mr. Evins is one of the most respected authorities and thought leaders in luxury and luxury hospitality, has lectured at the Cornell Hotel School and NYU’s Graduate School of Business, and has authored numerous articles on luxury and luxury hospitality for such publications as Elite Traveler and HOTELS Magazine. Mr. Evins currently serves on the boards of The International Luxury Hotel Association, Luxury Travel Exchange International, ULTRA Luxury Exchange and the International Hotel Investment Forum. He is also a cofounding board member, Secretary, Treasurer and a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of the Global Virus Network, a non-profit 501(c)(3) coalition comprised of 57 Centers of Excellence in 33 countries worldwide, working collaboratively to prepare for, defend against and provide an integrated first research response to, existing, emerging and unidentified viruses that pose a clear and present threat to public health, such as COVID-19.



Brad MacAfee, Founder & CEO, Mission + Cause

Brad is the strategist and pioneer of people-first transformation. He builds profitable, socially-responsible brands to maximize positive impact on the world. At MAC Talent, he is committed to immersing himself in the client perspective for each search.

As the former CEO of Porter Novelli, Brad has a long history of hiring and retaining the best people in the industry. His passion is attracting, growing and retaining talent, and has been involved in the hiring of hundreds of executives in both agency and corporate environments.Brad has received a long list of awards for which he credits the talented practitioners who always seem to surround him. From PR Week Best Purpose Agency to PR News Best CSR Agency, from PR Week Best Place to Work to CR Magazine CEO of the Year, Brad is no stranger to accolades and recognition for his bold and transparent approach.

Driving purpose and growth, Brad looks for talent that delivers greatness through empathy, imagination and engagement. They are the qualities that drive him personally and make him a trustworthy partner. 

An early champion of diversity and inclusion, Brad embeds diversity principles and practices into all leadership, talent, business and philanthropic initiatives to foster creativity and inclusivity. It’s a founding tenet of Mission + Cause, and one that he credits with broadening his worldview and critical thought foundation.

Brad holds numerous board roles, including Board President of the Global Impact Relations Network, Executive Committee Member & Former President of the Board of Trustees of the University of Georgia Grady College, Board of Trust Member of the LAGRANT Foundation and additional roles with Junior Achievement of Georgia, PR Council, Center for the Visually Impaired, and Jack & Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation.

Brad grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and relocated to Atlanta after graduating from Indiana University. He and his wife, Nicole, and their two daughters share their time between Atlanta and New York City. 


Michelle Olson, APRMichelle Olson, APR, Managing Partner, Lambert & Co.

MichelleOlson, APR,is the managing director and head of the Phoenix office for Lambert, a Michigan-based public relations firm with offices in three states. The nationally-recognized firm works with clients ranging from global brands to emerging leaders in a variety of industries including automotive and mobility, consumer, education, financial and business, food and beverage and healthcare and biotech. With more than 30 years in public relations and integrated marketing, Michelle has served clients across the U.S. and internationally, and has significant experience in corporate communications and issues management across industries. She is a notable business leader and entrepreneur, having founded and led her own company prior to its acquisition in 2014.

Michelle’s work for clients involved in the U.S. opioid crisis has drawn attention from top tier media across the country and has received recognition from industry trade associations. She routinely integrates content marketing, social media, brand journalism and other online initiatives into public relations strategies, reaching audiences efficiently and quickly to impact change. She currently leads non-traditional communications strategy for two distinct projects for Bell – its bid to win a Future Vertical Lift contract from the U.S. Army and its entry into the future of mobility through a VTOL air taxi and an Autonomous Pod Transport (APT).

In 2018 Michelle was named one of Arizona’s Most Influential Women in Business by BizAZ Magazine and her firm ranked #3 largest PR firm in Arizona by the Phoenix Business Journal. She is a past chair of Arizona Forward, a 50-year old statewide advocacy organization convening dialogue on sustainability and quality of life issues. Michelle is a member of the Urban Land Institute (and a founding board member of its Women in Leadership subset), Experience Scottsdale, the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce and Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. She has served as a judge for the prestigious Environmental Excellence Awards, the ATHENA Awards (recognizing outstanding women leaders) and the IMPACT Awards (recognizing Arizona’s most impactful companies).

Nationally, Michelle was recently elected to be chair-elect of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), a 21,000-member trade organization for which she has served as a leader at the chapter and regional levels as well. She was honored with the PERCY Award for her career achievements in Arizona in 2003 and previously chaired Counselors Academy, PRSA’s national section for agency owners and leaders. She currently serves as an advisor to the organization’s 10,000-member student body, PRSSA, mentoring its national committee and assisting at its governing assembly and leadership rally.

Michelle launched her career in Minneapolis but has made her mark in Arizona for 27 years, building relationships with business leaders, government staff and officials, influencers and media throughout the state. She is an avid mentor to students and young people interested in public relations as a career choice and a frequent guest lecturer at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.


Andy Polansky, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at IPG DXTRA

Andy Polansky is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of IPG DXTRA, a collective of 27 of Interpublic Group’s (IPG) specialty marketing firms across a variety of areas, including public
relations, sports and entertainment marketing, experiential, brand consulting, digital marketing and healthcare communications. Global brands within the group include Weber Shandwick,
Golin, Octagon, Jack Morton, Current Global, DeVries Global, Rogers & Cowan PMK, and FutureBrand.

Andy also serves as Executive Chairman of Weber Shandwick, after serving as its CEO from 2012-2019. A leader in the public relations and marketing services industries, Andy has delivered
outstanding results for hundreds of companies around the globe. Under his direction as Weber Shandwick CEO, the agency was named to the prestigious Ad Age Agency A-List several times
and was named to Ad Age’s Best Places to Work list in 2019. Weber Shandwick was also PR Week’s Global Agency of the Year four years in a row (2015-2018) and PRovoke Media’s
(formerly the Holmes Report) Global Agency of the Year in 2014, 2015 and 2017. In addition, PRovoke Media recognized Weber Shandwick as its Agency of the Decade.

Andy sits on the Board of Directors for The Ad Council, which uses the power of communications to tackle the most pressing issues facing the country. He has served on a number of other Boards as well, including for the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) Health Group, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit independent provider of home health, hospice, and community-based care.

Andy has a passion for engaging with students and young professionals as they plan their careers. He has lectured at colleges and universities across the country and currently serves on the University of Florida Public Relations Department Advisory Council and as an adviser to Syracuse University’s Newhouse PR Practitioners Group.

In December 2019, Andy was inducted into the PR Week Hall of Fame. He also was honored with the John W. Hill Award, which recognizes professional achievement in public relations, from the New York Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. In addition, he received the Alexander Hamilton Award from the Institute for Public Relations (IPR), the organization’s highest award for lifetime achievement.

Andy received The Holmes Report’s Individual Achievement Award in 2016 and has been a fixture on PR Week’s Power List for many years. He also has been named PR Week’s Global Professional of the Year (Agency) and has received the prestigious Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations’ Milestones in Mentoring Award in recognition of his people-centric

Andy started his career as a journalist, working as a municipal reporter for the Bucks County Courier Times in Levittown, PA, a business and feature writer for the Princeton Packet in
Princeton, NJ, and a sportswriter at The Trentonian in Trenton, NJ. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) and sits on the TCNJ Foundation Board of Directors.


Larry Weber, Chairman & CEO, Racepoint Global

Larry is a globally known expert on public relations and marketing services, founder of several successful public relations and interactive marketing agencies and author of six forward-thinking marketing books. Recognized as a thought leader on the convergence of technology, the Web, and communications, Larry has helped both enterprise and emerging companies become powerhouse brands; his client experience includes ARM, AT&T, Boston Scientific, Coca-Cola, General Electric, General Motors, IBM, John Deere, Kaiser Permanente, Microsoft, PTC, Panasonic, the Pittsburgh Steelers, SAP, and Verizon Wireless.

Larry has nearly 40 years of experience as CEO of both mid- and large-scale companies. He is co-founder and chairman of the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange (MITX), the largest interactive advocacy organization in the world. Additionally, he sits on the Board of Directors for Pegasystems, Inc. (PEGA) in Cambridge, Mass. and Macromill Group (TYO:3730) in Japan. In January 2019, Larry released his latest book, Authentic Marketing: How to Capture Hearts and Minds Through the Power of Purpose, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Authentic Marketing discusses the need for all companies to have a corporate purpose in order to capture the hearts and minds of today’s audiences.

Athlete Stumbles and Plunging Ratings for Olympics Gets NBC Fired up to Talk with Advertisers

Brian Wallace, Founder & President, NowSourcing

NBCUniversal hopes that its broadcast of the Tokyo Olympics will provide American viewers with a spectacular sports spectacle they can enjoy at their leisure. As more people view the Games at their own time, advertisers are beginning to get frustrated.

According to sources familiar with negotiations between NBC, sponsors and advertisers, traditional TV viewing has dropped significantly for the Summer Games. Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from the team competition early last Tuesday morning has caused anxiety among advertiser executives. It was also not helping that her exit occurred within hours of Naomi Osaka’s expulsion from the tennis medal competition.

2016 Rio OlympicsNBC’s Olympics beat rival programs every night, but early ratings for NBCU’s TV broadcasts aren’t what NBC, their agency, or their clients expected, according to one media buying executive. The buyer pointed out that there were not enough must-follow stories for athletes early in the competition, streaming was unavailable in the morning and the lack of fans attending the Games because of the coronavirus pandemic. These factors contributed to a decline in viewing. The executive stated that early viewership trends were “disappointing”.

Nielsen reports that Friday’s opening ceremonies attracted 17 million viewers. This is a 36% decrease from the audience for the 2016 opening ceremony of the Summer Games in Rio. Although viewership has increased for every primetime broadcast, advertisers are still concerned by the magnitude of the declines following the Rio Olympics. They are believed to have invested more than $1.2 billion in this sports extravaganza.

It’s not surprising that NBCU has entered into negotiations with several media agencies to “make goods,” which is a form of ad inventory that sponsors receive when a program fails its original viewership guarantee. Ad buyers have asked NBCU to sell unsold Olympic inventory to clients, pointing out that very few regular-season TV events can draw the same consumer impressions as the Olympics. According to NBCU, the company believes that it has included enough make-goods into its modeling of Olympics sales to give advertisers the impressions they promised.

It is not a new topic to have advertisers and NBCU discuss the Olympics. The number of viewers who stream video has increased steadily as more people switch to streaming. This includes traditional TV events such as the broadcasts of original episodes of “This Is Us” and “Young Sheldon”, or the annual telecasts of the Oscars and Super Bowl. NBCU holds commercial inventory in reserve to cover ratings shortfalls. Advertisers can, depending on how much money they have spent and the terms and conditions of their agreement, press for the most ad time possible. NBCU made approximately $250 million profit in Rio 2016 by meeting advertiser promises and granting sponsors additional commercial time.

Some advertisers have reason to be optimistic. NBCU’s digital platforms have seen an increase in streaming activity. Viewers have watched 735 million minutes of Tokyo Olympics content through Sunday — 24% more than the time frame for Rio Olympics 2016 and 41% higher than the 2018 Pyeong Chang winter games.

NBCUniversal executives have advised advertisers to look at the long-term, noting that there could be more Games that will see star athletes emerge. They also point out that the results will take longer to achieve.

NBCU doesn’t just want to show how many people saw the Olympic ads, but it is focusing on the connection they make to those who watch them. Last Monday, NBCU released stats that focus less on mass reach and more on the attention and recall that Olympic commercials generate from the audience. According to a source familiar with NBCU’s operations, commercials that are run elsewhere won’t produce similar results.

NBCU will continue to hear from sponsors until the Olympic telecasts gain more traction.

Brian WallaceAbout the Author: Brian Wallace is the Founder and President of NowSourcing, an industry leading infographic design agency in Louisville, KY and Cincinnati, OH which works with companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500s. Brian runs #LinkedInLocal events, hosts the Next Action Podcast, and has been named a Google Small Business Adviser for 2016-present. Follow Brian Wallace on LinkedIn as well as Twitter.

Play Ball??? 2020 Changed How Sports Was Played. Should It Change Sports Marketing Public Relations Programs In 2021 And After?

Arthur Solomon

For baseball fans, “wait ‘till next year” will begin on April 1 (no fooling), when the first Major League game is scheduled to be played. For basketball fans, “wait ‘till next year” began on December 22, 2020, when the National Basketball Association began its current (2020-2021) season. For National Football League fans, 2020 did not end, no matter what the calendar says, until after the February 7, 2021 Super Bowl was history and “wait ‘till next year” will begin on September 9, when the first NFL game of 2021-2022 season is contested. For National Hockey League fans, “wait ‘till next year” began on January 13, 2021. For countless other professional and collegiate sports, the beginning of “wait ‘till next year” will rely on their schedules, not the Gregorian calendar most people use.

Of course, because Covid-19 will still be spreading havoc in 2021, betting the farm that all of the above start dates are set in stone is as ridiculous as thinking that your friendly financial advisor can really predict the future of a stock. 

But one thing is certain. The dreadful year 2020 has changed the life of sports and nonsports fans. Their lives will never be the same and neither will sports.

Sports in 2020 will be remembered as the year of change – for players, leagues, and how the rules of games were altered because of the coronavirus. But will it also change sports marketing approaches? In my opinion, it should.

For most people, there were three major stories that involved sports in the year of Covid-19.

  • The coronavirus pandemic, and
  • The presidential election, and 
  • The on-going protests spurred by the killing of Black men by police gone wrong.

    1 Covid-19 demonstrated that sports moguls only gave lip service to the health of their athletes. Despite professional and college games being shifted to other venues, canceled or postponed, and despite athletes falling ill with the disease, the owners and their TV network counterparts continued to push for a “complete” season. Only the International Olympic Committee, after insisting that Tokyo 2020, their summer games, would be held as scheduled, gave in to reality and postponed the games to this summer after some countries said that they would not send a team to Tokyo in the middle of a deadly pandemic.

    2 Viewership of sports on TV declined. Industry pundits said it was because of the interest in the presidential election. (If that’s true that’s good for America.)

    3 Along with the machinations of an autocratic, pathological, presidential liar, racial justice protests made following sports to many people seem insignificant.

    The year 2020 also produced a quote that New York Mets fans loved and raised the eyebrows of cynics. It was when Steve Cohen, one of whose hedge funds pleaded guilty to securities fraud charges in 2013, purchased the team for a reported $2.4 billion, and said he’s doing it for the fans.

    Even though surveys show that for most Americans what happens in the sports world is of minor interest or no concern, for a certain segment of our society what happens in the sports world is paramount. For them the list above is incomplete. Sports fanatics, sports marketers, TV network brass, pro and college football fans, workers who make their living because of sports-associated businesses, and the various leagues that set the rules for their sports might think the most important story of the year was the work stoppage by pro athletes, who sat out games to protest racial injustice and police brutality. That happening also might have attracted the attention of people who don’t know the difference between a dunk and a wide receiver. But will it translate into new fans? I wouldn’t bet a plug nickel that it will. 

    Events in 2020  have convinced me more than ever that my decades of saying using current  athletes as brand spokespeople is not a good idea because their actions can upset consumers, current and potential, and drag unwilling companies into the political scene.

    It’s not that I think that athletes don’t have the right to speak out. I believe they do.

    It’s not that I disagree with their taking a stand by refusing to play as a protest against police brutality against Black men. 

    It not that I think what the players did was absolutely wrong. Everyone has a right to protest peacefully or go on strike, as these athletes did. In fact, I admire those who did. (But President Trump, as expected, didn’t approve the right of peaceful protests and condemned the players for their actions, the leagues for permitting the work-stoppage without punishing the players, and team owners, in some instances, for vocally supporting the players.) 

    People who don’t live or die by the sports scene might think that Black athletes speaking out about racial injustice is relatively new, beginning when Colin Kaepernick took a knee on a football field in 2016. 

    Nothing could be further than the truth. Some examples:

    • In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in MLB when he was promoted to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Years later, he admitted that he didn’t sing the national anthem.
    • In 1968, American track stars John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists in what they said was a protest against racism and injustice on the medal stand of the Olympics in Mexico City. They were banned from Olympic participation and vilified by newspaper columnist Brent Musburger, who called them “black-skinned storm troopers.” Today, the two track stars are considered civil rights heroes.
    • In 1969, St. Louis Cardinals’ all-star centerfielder Curt Flood initiated the path that now gives baseball players free agency, instead of being forced to play for one team indefinitely.
    • But perhaps, it was Cassius Clay, who in 1964 provided the loudest Black athlete voice against racial injustice (at that  time) by changing his name to Muhammad Ali, saying his former name was his “slave name.,” 
    • In 2016, the “modern” day athlete’s racial protests movement was ignited by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, when he knelt during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner.

    Robinson’s, Ali’s and Kaepernick’s actions will always be remembered and written about. Indeed, they are mentioned more than the Carlos, Smith, and Flood’s protests. But in 2020, a relatively unheralded basketball player, except to followers of the NBA, George Hill of the Milwaukee Bucks, convinced teammates to protest racial injustice by not playing a game, leading to boycotts and rescheduling of games that permeated across the sports world.

    Because of Robinson’s joining the then Brooklyn Dodgers, baseball was changed for ever. Because of Hill’s action, all sports were changed forever.

    (I always thought that Jackie Robinson breaking the baseball color line was the most important action by an athlete in professional sports. Now Hill’s action is as least as paramount.)

    Before the 2020 games’ boycotts, protests by athletes were relatively quiet and coverage of their actions didn’t’ have a long shelve life. In fact, the majority of younger sports fans today, and even many, if not most, professional athletes probably don’t know much about them except that they end up in the occasional sports column, the exception being Major League Baseball’s Jackie Robinson Day, celebrated annually.

    Also, those protests occurred in an era when few athletes spoke publicly about racial injustice. Not now. It’s not unusual to hear an athlete speak about racial and political issues. But the protests of 2020 were truly unique. Instead of a few individual players making a stand, the protests became a movement encompassing hundreds of athletes from various sports refusing to play in an already coronavirus truncated season.

    And during the National Football League season, protests against racial injustice by the players were ubiquitous. Shamefully, in its September 10 season opening telecast between the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs, NBC did not show that the Texans were not on the field during the National Anthem, as a news organization should, even though Cris Collinsworth, a former Cincinnati Bengals player who was one of the announcers said, “I feel like I have to start off by saying I stand behind these players 100%, 100%. What they’re trying to do is bring positive change in this country that frankly is long, long overdue. Let’s just get that out of the way and go call a football game,” he said. (For those readers not familiar with pro football, Collinsworth is not Black.)

    In contrast to NBC’s’ censoring  of the Houston team not being on the field during the Star Spangled Banner, ESPN EVP Stephanie Druley said, “We will cover social justice movements, actions, as they happen.”

    It was not a surprise that players from the National Basketball Association, Women’s National Basketball Association and the National Football League would support the walkout: Their rosters are dominated by Black athletes. What probably shocked sports marketers and MLB officials were that many teams in the league joined the movement even though less than 10% of the players are African-Americans. 

    And a Washington Post poll, published on the opening day of the NFL season, said that 56 percent of Americans approve of athletes kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial inequality; only 42 percent say it is not appropriate. The poll also showed that despite the anti-athlete protest stands of President Trump and conservative politicians and pundits, a 62 percent majority say professional athletes should use their platforms to express their views on national issues, including over 8 in 10 Black Americans and 7 in 10 adults under age 50.

    That presents a problem for sport marketers that want to keep their brands from being caught up in the politics of the situation, fearful that joining the protests or keeping quiet about them, will alienate consumers, pro or con.

    But even prior to the players’ short work-stoppage, many current star athletes were speaking out about racial injustice and getting involved in politics. Basketball star LeBron James and other athletes formed “More Than A Vote,” an organization to promote and protect African-American voting rights. Stephen Curry, the Golden State Warriors star, appeared in a video supporting Joe Biden at the Democratic Convention.  The entire Women’s National Basketball Association’s Atlanta Dream team, and others in the league, endorsed the opponent of then GOP Senator Kelly Loeffler, an owner of the Atlanta team who was defeated for r-election, because of her remarks criticizing Black Lives Matter, and the entire league had to shut down when teams refused to play. Also, many players and coaches from teams of different sports spoke out publicly against the racial inequalities and police brutality. When historians write about sports during the pandemic year of 2020, the big sports story will not be about which teams won or lost or which athlete was the best performer. They’ll write about the uprising by athletes of all sports that will change how sports are looked at forever. 

    Aside from losing revenue from a few games, a worrisome concern of the protests to owners of teams is that the work stoppage also might be the forefront of a more aggressive approach by athletes in dealings with management. It demonstrated that when the players are united that they hold the decisive hand. The athlete protests of 2020 vindicates what I have been preaching for many years to sports marketers: using a current athlete as a brand publicity hawker can be dangerous. Here’s why:

    • Prowess on the sports fields cannot prevent past or present misbehavior from being reported on.
    • Why chance having a company or its product represented by athletes who have misbehaved when there are so many other options.
    • Some athletes represent so many products that consumers and the media don’t take their endorsements seriously.
    • During interviews, reporters will concentrate on the athlete’s achievements, often not even mentioning the product being hawked. (Example: I would never suggest an athlete like LeBron James, because an interview most certainly would be dominated by his racial activism; or Brooklyn Dodger pitcher Ralph Branca, because an interview would probably be centered on his famous pitch to Bobby Thomson that won the pennant for the New York Giants in 1951  or any athlete who is renowned for one famous occurrence)
    • Most of the time after an athlete is interviewed, a story will say something like, “So and So is a spokesperson for the XYZ Company,” and then delve into things sports. Some PR people think that’s a good placement. I don’t. Unless the story contains some client talking points, I consider it a strike out.
    • Unlike the past, when sports stars weren’t making so much money, it was easy to make certain that they would not say anything controversial. Today, it’s impossible to keep athletes from expressing opinions and/or becoming activists in cultural and political causes, occasionally dragging their unhappy sponsoring brands into the story.
    • Current athletes probably have been written about many times regarding their play on the field, making it highly unlikely that a journalist for general news outlets would do a story just because of a product endorsement deal.  These types of stories usually end up in trade pubs.

    As a PR practitioner who has used many athletes as publicity spokespersons, I believe that in certain circumstances using an athlete makes sense, as long as they are not current ones.

    So here’s some alternative thinking about using athletes for public relations purposes, one that sportswriters said I was instrumental in popularizing as a  publicity tool for national sports marketing campaigns, while at Burson-Marsteller in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, when managing the media  thrust for Gillette’s sponsorship of the All-Star Game fan baseball election for eight years. 

    Despite raised eyebrows from some colleagues and the client (who told me, “If you want to take this route we’ll give you enough rope to hang yourself”) I decided to build the publicity around ballplayers whose playing days had past, the rule being that they had All-Star Games credentials.

    Some of the athletes urging fans to vote in the All-Star Game elections were: Lefty Gomez, Ted Williams, Bob Feller, Sparky Anderson, Ernie Banks and Ralph Kiner. I used many retired Olympians for Olympic-related programs, but Bob Mathias, was my go to guy – easy to work with, well-liked by the media and reliable.

    My decision to use these athletes was based on my newspapering day’s experience, before I transitioned to PR, my discussions with reporters and assignment editors/producers and by my knowledge as a former journalist of what the media expected from a PR practitioner.

    My thought process went as follows:

    Current star athletes are interviewed by reporters frequently, so let’s give the media something different to encourage the client plug; let’s also make certain the athlete is a natural fit for the program; talking points should make the Gillette message fundamental to the  All-Star Game fan election; ask media contacts about the newsworthiness/interest of spokesperson candidates prior to using them; immediately eliminated from consideration were athletes who were not media-friendly or were “bad” interviews. Also, let’s factor in the business desk as an integral facet of the publicity campaign for Gillette executives and, when possible, previous advertising campaigns.

    While personally I support and admire athletes who are not afraid to speak about racial injustice, police brutality and other political matters, as a PR practitioner my allegiance is to protect the client on any account I agree to work on. (That doesn’t mean working on accounts whose motives you disagree with. During my career I have refused certain assignments because they went against my beliefs.) 

    For many clients that means keeping them clear of controversial situations by selecting athletes who were silent about non-sports issues. However, for the bold client, aligning itself with athletes who speak out certainly makes sense from a moral perspective. And it certainly would result in on-going publicity.

    But for client’s that want to stay clear of current athletes talking politics, my advice is to use athletes away from the front line of the daily media an consider retired athletes, or better still look for other ways to promote products, because as certain as morning follows night, sports and politics are now forever entwined.

    Grantland Rice, a great sports writer wrote, “For when the One Great Scorer comes, To mark against your name, He writes – not that you won or lost But HOW you played the Game.” 

    In 2020 the rules of the game changed. In my opinion for the better. And so should the rules regarding sports marketing. It might not happen this year, but if players keep taking political stands, it certainly will in future years.

    The Unspoken PR Tenet: Bad News Is Good News for Our Business By Arthur SolomonAbout the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com or artsolomon4pr@optimum.net.


    The Handling Of The Coronavirus Pandemic Provides A Lesson On How Not To Make A PR Crisis Worse For All Types Of Crises

    Arthur Solomon, Public Relations Consultant

    As someone whose first PR job was with a political agency, where I learned on-the-job lessons not taught in communication’s schools about how to deal with the media and approach problems that changed on a daily basis, I have long said that paying attention to the happenings on the political scene provides a tuition-free Master’s Class in public relations.

    Among the most important lessons, years before PR crises specialists advised clients to tell the truth (but not necessarily the whole truth and nothing but most of the truth) political PR operatives knew that trying to hide the truth often leads to making a situation worse. Google how President Nixon attempted to conceal the truth during the Watergate scandal. More recently, President Clinton was impeached for lying under oath about his affair with Monica Lewinski. And President Trump was impeached for soliciting foreign interference to help his 2020 re-election and then instructing his colleagues to ignore subpoenas for documents and testimony, obstructing the inquiry. Obviously, not coming clean made these individuals’ problems worse. Telling the truth might have resulted in a mere slap on the hand.

    The Handling Of The Coronavirus Pandemic Provides A Lesson On How Not To Make A PR Crisis Worse For All Types Of CrisesAll three examples had a similar theme which applies to individuals and many entities in a crises situation: Trying to deny and then hide the problem only leads to drip-by-drip negative media coverage.

    Some attempts to hide the truth during a PR crisis can result in negative media coverage for decades. Prime examples are the National Football League denying the science showing that repeated concussions can lead to life changing health problems and even death, and Big Tobacco denying that smoking can cause serious health problems.

    Each year during the football season, and especially prior to the Super Bowl, the NFL receives negative media coverage regarding their concussion problems. A better strategy by the NFL would have been to admit to the problem when it was first reported and say they are looking for ways to alleviate it by cooperating with health experts. At least that would have provided the league with some positive overage.

    In 2002, Dr. Bennet Omalu discovered the link between football-related brain injury and dementia when examining chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the brain of Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame Center Mike Webster. In 2009, the NFL said there might be a problem. But it wasn’t until 2016 that the NFL officially acknowledged that there was a concussion connection with CTE. (A New York Times article on March 14, 2016, reported, “In perhaps its clearest admission that football can cause degenerative brain disease, the N.F.L.’s top health and safety official admitted Monday that there was a link between the sport and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease found in dozens of retired players).

    Similarly, Big Tobacco saying that there was no evidence that smoking causes health problems has cast the smoke makers as a business that should not be trusted, even though many years have past since their denials of a problem. (On April 15, 1994 the New York Times reported, “The top executives of the seven largest American tobacco companies testified in Congress today that they did not believe that cigarettes were addictive, but that they would rather their own children did not smoke.”)

    Today, the same original sin of trying to hide the truth when their PR crises first developed  have made Boeing and Wells Fargo targets for negative press coverage because the companies first denied that there was a problem, attempted to hide it and then lied about it. All failed, in their attempts to camouflage their problems, as did President Trump in originally denying that the U.S. had a devastating coronavirus problem.

    In a “what was done, what should have been done” format, here’s how Trump turned a situation not of his making into a major PR crisis for himself.

    The “what was done, what should have been done” “answers apply to all PR crises. They are not a comprehensive PR crisis plan. It’s a primer on how important it is to answer questions truthfully during a crisis because history shows that not answering honestly will make a crisis worse.


    What was said: When the news about the coronavirus first broke in January, President Trump assured people “We have it totally under control.”

    What should have been said: We are doing our best to prevent the virus from coming to the U.S.

    Reason Why: A client should never make a declarative statement unless the facts of a situation are under control. Declarative remarks indicate that something is definite. In the coronavirus situation it was far from definite that the virus would not travel to the U.S.


    What was said: The president, like high executives at Boeing and Wells Fargo, originally denied that there was a problem.

    What should have been said: At the present time, we are having all our experts look into the matter so we can address any problem that we find.

    Reason Why: Statements like the above provide cover for clients by admitting that there might be a problem. It prevents them from being labeled untruthful.


    What was said: President Trump, as did execs at Boeing and Wells Fargo, said that any problem would be easily solved and short lived.

    What should have been said: It appears that it will take a little longer than we expected to fix the problem and will provide additional information in a timely manner.

    Reason Why: Statements like the one above would give the impression that President Trump, Wells Fargo and Boeing execs were not attempting to cover-up bad news.


    What was said: President Trump, like execs at Boeing and Wells Fargo, blamed others people and entities for their problems.

    What should have been said: While it’s our problem, it is not entirely our fault and we are leaving no stone unturned to correct the problem.

    Reason Why: Claiming that the problem was caused by others is never a good idea; it invites responses from those accused, resulting in additional coverage of the crisis.


    What was said: President Trump, execs at Boeing and Wells Fargo, continually said that they had the problem under control, which was not the case.

    What should have been said; We are cooperating with the best minds in the health field, government agencies and private sectors to find a fast solution to the problem.

    Reason Why: Because that’s the way problems are solved.


    What was said: President Trump, Boeing and Wells Fargo execs, bashed the media for over blowing the problem.

    What should have been said: Certain elements of the media are being unfair to us and are misreporting what is happening and what we said.

    ReasonWhy: That’s a statement that no one can deny. There is exaggeration in reporting by both the right and left wings of the media.


    What was said: Probably the biggest mistake in the coronavirus situation was when President Trump claimed the virus was a “Democratic hoax.”

    What should have been said: This is a time for politics to be put aside, not to make political points.

    Reason why: It would have positioned the president as acting in the best interests of the country instead of playing politics.

    The lessons I learned during my time at the political PR firm are more important today than ever when dealing with media during a PR crisis. They were:

    • Treat reporters respectfully. Unlike some opinion columnists, beat reporters are not the enemy.
    • Always assume that everything you tell a reporter is “on the record” and nothing is ever “off the record.”
    • Never provide misleading information.
    • Always be truthful.

    Importantly, the change in the manner that journalism is practiced today makes it more essential than ever for PR people to adhere to the points above.
    Here’s why:

    • Unlike when I first entered the PR business, it’s more difficult today than ever to create close relationships with reporters and columnists because so many of them never go to the office. They file their stories using their computers.
    • Unlike years ago, when reporters would write one story a day, usually when they returned from their assignment to their office, today’s journalists are always on deadline. In addition to writing their main story, they have to report for their publications’ web sites and often twitter feeds. Thus, they don’t  have as much time as in the past for “get to know you” lunches, which could lead to close relationships. The way to forge a relationship with a reporter today is by pitching strong stories that work for the reporter and the client. Client-centric stories are not welcome by journalists and should be avoided.
    • Media analysis is now in vogue. How stories are covered, how they are reported and what they say is now checked carefully. Thus, the days of having a reporter pal do you a favor is largely gone.
    • Major newspapers publish corrections every day. If a correction is published because of faulty information provided by a PR person trust will be lost.

      Statements by Boeing and Wells Fargo executives have proved to be untrue many times as new details regarding their PR crises were uncovered by the media and government regulators. Regaining the trust of the media will not be easy.

      In the coronavirus situation, statements by President Trump have changed so frequently that they are fact checked immediately. Many of the president’s comments are not accepted as factual because most of the science-based health experts disagree with many of his remarks. His past record of speaking untruths has come back to bite him.

      There are important lessons to be learned that usually occur during every major and lengthy PR crisis:

      Lesson # 1

      • As the crisis continues, statements from the beleaguered entities or individuals become more dangerous to Jane and Joe Public. In Boeing’s case, the CEO kept assuring that the 737 MAX was safe and it was pilot error that caused the two crashes. Those statements were proved to be untrue, and
      • In the coronavirus situation, remarks from President Trump actually led to the death of an individual because the president hyped the use of medications even though they have not yet been approved effective against the virus. (A man in Arizona died on March 23 after consuming a form of chloroquine, a medication touted by Mr. Trump during his daily pressers.)

      Lesson # 2

      This is the most important lesson regarding how not to make a PR crisis worse for all types of crises:

      • Everything a person says during a crisis will be fact checked for truthfulness, remember that, and
      • PR people should learn from the action of the president, the NFL, Big Tobacco, Boeing and Wells Fargo that not telling the truth will make PR crises worse.

      The Unspoken PR Tenet: Bad News Is Good News for Our Business By Arthur SolomonAbout the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com or artsolomon4pr@optimum.net.


      The Bucs Have a Lingering PR Problem

      Ronn Torossian, CEO, 5WPR

      Fresh off their star turn in HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” the Tampa Bay Buccaneers entered the 2017 NFL season with high hopes and great expectations. At quarterback, they had what GM Jason Licht called “the best leader I’ve ever been around” under center, a star receiver tandem and an improved defense in a city that won a Super Bowl on the backs of one of the best D’s in NFL history. Then, calamity. Underwhelming does not begin to cover the 5-11 season that saw the Bucs miss the playoffs, again, and see the rest of their Division tear it up with marquee quarterbacks and stout defense. 

      Coming into off-season workouts, the Bucs made some big moves. A good draft and the signing of two Super Bowl winners along the D-line inspired fans to begin hoping again. Then the news dropped: franchise quarterback Jameis Winston would miss the first three games of the season. Suspended due to allegations of groping a female Uber driver back in 2016. Winston denies the allegations. Just as he denied the allegations of rape made against him at Florida State. And therein lies the heart of the PR problem. Allegations do not confirm, guilt. People can allege all kinds of things. Sure, Winston settled with the rape accuser, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s guilty. Not with any certainty. But it does create doubt. And, with Winston, there’s more history of “bad” behavior.  

      Winston also made headlines when the millionaire quarterback stole crab legs from a local grocery store. A weird, almost farcical story that had everyone asking, “Why?”. Then there was the scene of Winston standing on a picnic table in the middle of his college campus yelling “lewd” comments. It doesn’t matter that he was just another college kid caught up in a stupid, meme “game.” Because Winston wasn’t just any other college kid. He was the Heisman-winning quarterback of a top NCAA powerhouse program. He missed half of a game of the 2014 NCAA season for that incident. Then there was the time he was caught shooting BB guns at an apartment complex, causing thousands in property damage. 

      Despite the red flags, the Bucs drafted Winston with their first pick, and almost immediately made him the face of the franchise. Homegrown FSU fans rejoiced, and longsuffering Bucs fans saw Winston’s talent and leadership ability as their ticket to the glory days. But that hasn’t materialized. One disappointing season after another, Winston has been erratic, trading signs of brilliance with terrible decision-making, on and off the field. Whether Winston is guilty of either the rape or the groping, one thing is certain, the smoke in Tampa is becoming thick. Local sports writers, and more than a few Bucs fans, are calling for Winston to be cut. He will be on the sidelines for the Bucs for the toughest three games of the season anyway, they argue. 

      This is a PR problem the Bucs thought they had handled. They worked the “Winston’s history” story with kid gloves when he joined the team, massaging fans’ misgivings. But Winston hasn’t held up his side. He continues to create distracting and doubt-increasing headlines. Sooner, rather than later, the Bucs will be forced to address the source of the problem.

      The Bucs Have a Lingering PR ProblemAbout the Author: Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a PR firm.

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