There’s been a lot of attention on Steph Curry’s new Under Armour sneakers over the past few days—some of it pretty hilarious. But to be honest, I’ve paid less attention to the design of the sneakers than many. Instead I’ve been focused on the parallels between the sneaker industry and media relations. (Guess that’s what happens when you’re not really a basketball fan!) It was this ESPN article on how Nike lost Curry to Under Armour that influenced my thinking.
In short, Nike treated him badly. It might have been that they were overconfident. Curry’s godfather worked for the company, and he had been a loyal Nike wearer for his entire life. And, it was Nike!
But the company didn’t send top execs to the pitch meeting. They pronounced his name incorrectly and forgot to change out slides on a stock presentation, so another NBA player’s name popped up instead of his. There were other things too, which in my mind, all added up to a major display of disrespect.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure Curry has plenty of people going above and beyond for him now and not every business transaction can work out. In the grand scheme of things, he made out just fine. But still, it was the way he was treated that ultimately prompted him to try something new and take a risk on people who treated him right.
Who knows, maybe Nike didn’t think he’d be as good of a player as he is. Maybe personalities clashed. To me, those things shouldn’t have been factors.
In my mind, the Steph Curry/Under Armour deal isn’t about a sneaker. Entertaining memes aside, the brands and products don’t matter. The player doesn’t even matter. What I took from this story is a lesson in customer service, in relationships. And because relationships are at the heart of what we do, it struck a chord with me.
Higher ed media relations isn’t the sneaker industry or the NBA. (My retirement plans would look much more luxurious.) But our success, and ultimately the reputation of our institutions, hinges on how we treat people, and the relationships we work so hard to build and cultivate.
This means that a reporter from a local alternative weekly or student newspaper deserves the same treatment as one from the New York Times. It also means we offer the same supports to people on campus whether working with the president or a visiting lecturer.
Working this way takes more time and effort—but just a little more. How long would it have taken to check on the pronunciation of Curry’s name, or to proofread the slide presentation? If you’ll take the time to call back the Wall Street Journal, what’s stopping you from returning messages from your local daily?
It truly takes mere minutes to be polite and respectful, and to reserve that kind of treatment for just a special few is not only morally wrong, it can also result in some major regrets.
I can’t say if Nike laments the way things worked out, or if they’re enjoying the criticisms of the new kicks. But I can say that I prefer to operate without risk of regret.