We mourn the passing of beloved sportscaster Craig Sager, whose enthusiasm for sports news was only matched by his penchant for a good floral print. I learned a lot from reading his obituary in the New York Times – including the fact that Craig’s father was an advertising and PR executive! Perhaps this background was what made Craig a PR person’s kind of journalist. Even as he faced a painful, public cancer battle, he appeared on air with his style and his smile intact. And his legacy is an inspiration to any PR pro, because Craig embodied how important it is to always:
- Have fun: Fighting a terminal illness is about the furthest thing from fun imaginable. But As Craig Sager accepted the Jimmy V. Perseverance Award at the July ESPYs, he said (clad in a trademark floral jacket): “Whatever I might have imagined a terminal diagnosis would do to my spirit, it summoned quite the opposite — the greatest appreciation for life itself. So I will never give up, and I will never give in.”
In PR, we can always find the challenging aspects of our job. The deadlines, the pressure, how tough it is to break through with reporters, etc. But we must try to inject fun into what we’re doing. No matter what subject matter or industry our clients are in, the clients and the key audiences are regular people like we are. Overcoming the challenges and finding the fun in what we do will make us better storytellers, better colleagues and better at client services.
- Know your sh*t: Craig S. was a dogged reporter, always hanging around sidelines and working his sources to feed intel to fellow reporters and get ahem…”the scoop…” Apparentlly, “while covering the Belmont Stakes, Mr. Sager slept in Seattle Slew’s stable the night before the thoroughbred won the Triple Crown. Before leaving to take the horse for a morning walk, Mr. Sager wrote, he scooped up a piece of Seattle Slew’s excrement and preserved it for the next 39 years as a fragment of history.”
I don’t mean “know your sh*t” quite as literally as dear Craig in that example. But no matter how junior or senior you get, doing your basic research and being as prepared as possible (knowing all the reporters’ names who cover a key beat, what they last wrote about, finding all the details of your client’s new offering so you can ask smart questions and then craft the best pitch, etc.) will always serve you well.
- Be the best version of yourself and no one else: Being in PR is a bit like being a chameleon. You must adapt your style, presentation and writing to match your client, the media outlet you’re targeting, the social media personality you’re cultivating, etc. This ability to modulate is important, but at our core, we represent our agencies and even more importantly, ourselves. No one else in the sports world could possibly replicate Craig’s unabashed bravado, and he would have probably been half the reporter he ultimately was if he had tried to be “the next Howard Cosell” or another famous sports journalist. The lesson to all of us is: find what make you unique and don’t squelch it; use it to your advantage. That goes for clients’ value propositions, too.
- Embrace eccentricity: I always perked up when I saw Craig on TV, mostly because of his outlandish attire and his fearlessness in asking tough questions, no matter who it was. Dorothy Draper said, “Fight the will to be dreary.” Fortunately for a generation of sports fans, Craig was anything but. He certainly taught us the value in standing out from the pack, in whatever way is most authentic to each of us.
- Invest in relationships: Lebon James, “the King” himself, celebrated Craig’s first gig in the NBA finals earlier this year (on an opposing network, no less). Even the curmudgeonly NBA coach, Gregg Popovich said to Craig, “This is the first time I’ve enjoyed doing this ridiculous interview we’re required to do.” Craig engendered this kind of warmth, even from the biggest names in the business, because of the way he treated people and the respect he showed them. What an inspiration to all of us, whether we’re trying to win new business, forming strong client bonds, becoming a valued media relationship…or hell, just trying to be a good person.
Craig, I was never a huge sports fan, but I was always a huge fan of yours. Thank you for leading a life filled with love, adventure, humor, humility, and grace. And of course, your unforgettable, unapologetic panache.
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