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Joe Favorito | The importance of storytelling in sports marketing – and education

Joe Favorito has over 35 years of strategic communications, marketing, business development and public relations expertise in sports, and teaches a course on these subjects and more at Columbia University. The third edition of his book, Sports Publicity: A Practical Approach, was published earlier this year.

Joe Favorito

I was lucky enough to spend some time with the late former NBA commissioner David Stern during the last few years, and one of the things he would always tell groups, especially groups of young people, was that there were two skills that were essential in any industry…the ability to sell and the ability to concisely tell your story. If you can do those two things well, you would be ahead of many others trying to climb the ladder.

The ability to tell stories effectively is not new at all. It is a skill that has been used as long as people have walked the earth. The difference today is the space and the time that we have to effectively tell the story of who we work with, what we do, and who we are. Whereas in time yore that space was maybe a few blocks or a village, now the space is the world and, who knows for sure, maybe worlds beyond in the coming years. The means may have changed, but the basic skills to communicate effectively – listening, consensus building, writing, community – are pretty basic.

That was really the original impetus for my book, Sports Publicity: A Practical Approach, first published at the suggestion of my colleague John Genzale in 2007. It was to build a repository of best practices, examples, and cases of storytelling in and around sport, told by those who do the work. The marketplace was not just for “PR types”. It was really to have anyone who touches the industry understand the means and the messages of communication.

Fast forward 13 years, and the third edition of the book came out this spring. While many of the basic tools, and some of the best stories, remain intact, the vastness and importance of effective storytelling has grown greatly. Chapters on corporate communications, digital and social media and crisis communications have advanced, while sections on areas that were once emerging are now mainstream and flow throughout the book. One of the best exercises we conducted was not just in looking forward, but in looking back to what were hot topics at first printing – “new media” was a big one – esports did not even warrant a mention, nor did audio storytelling. Today, can we go anywhere without talking about podcasting?

Even with all the evolution of topics, the biggest message to convey remains with the words of Commissioner Stern: you have to know how to tell your story, and having a strategic plan where a communications executive is at the table in the decision-making process is more valuable than ever before. It’s an essential point that anyone in the business needs to understand and employ. If you can’t tell your story effectively, how you can get any larger stage of business done?

That’s the good news about updating the text and the value of storytelling in our business. The bad news is we put the book to bed in early February, and we all know the world since then has changed dramatically. While most of the content in the book still holds true, and the value of effectively communicating, especially in constant crisis, has never been more important, some of the lessons we are learning in real time since March 12 can fill a whole new volume (and, yes, that has been discussed).

For now, however, we hope that no matter what level of business you are at you can take a second and think about the value of storytelling, how your story is told, how you need to tell it, to who, and when.

Just ask all those who learned from commissioner Stern. You will probably hear a great story.

For more information on Joe Favorito and his book, visit joefavorito.com.

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