By Aaron Kreuscher
The Hoffman Agency
Marshawn Lynch is a Pro Bowl NFL running back who made the 2014 season his career best when he ran for 13 touchdowns and over 1,300 yards. He also carried his team to the Super Bowl, where he became the subject of controversy when the Seahawks called a pass instead of a rush play on their 1-yard line, resulting in an interception that lost them the game. Why pass when you can hand it off to a man with a Twitter hashtag of #beastmode? No one knows for sure.
All of his accomplishments and Beast Mode highlight reels are noteworthy, but one feat more than the others has contributed most to his soaring popularity… an unorthodox media strategy.
After a series of interviews and articles that, according to Lynch, twisted his words, the sports star has refused to speak to the media since the 2013 season. Now, facing astronomical fines from the NFL, Lynch has found a middle ground for his anti-media policy by responding to reporters’ questions with a “Yeah,” “Thanks for asking,” and a myriad of other entertaining deflections.
Lynch’s media strategy has become so notorious that many mainstream publications, like the Wall Street Journal, Daily Mail, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Yahoo Sports, etc. have devoted entire articles to document this phenomena. ESPN has aired countless hours of ‘expert analyses’ dedicated to this topic.
The result for Lynch has been an enormous amount of fanfare, exclusive sponsorships and wildly popular YouTube content.
By refusing to speak to the media, Lynch has ironically received relentless media exposure that has helped to propel his brand to new heights. Look no further than Lynch’s viral segment on Conan, his scene from The League, or Skittles commercial for signs of a booming sports personality.
Search results for ‘Marshawn Lynch’ skyrocketed in January after a series of very media unfriendly interviews
As a PR consultant, my question is if this approach would work for the CEO of a private company.
Because public companies answer to shareholders, an apples-to-apples comparison is difficult even with athletes being like the CEOs of their own brands. But the answer is, “Of course not.” But why? Why would these antics flourish in the sports world but not the business world?
My conclusion is (readers feel free to disagree in the comments section) that by refusing to speak to the media, Lynch taps into an American pulse that respects anti-establishment ideals. He does not cower to a powerful media industry, which often sets out to shape our perceptions of sports figures to boost viewer/readership, and in turn is admired by many for his rebellious attitude – not all share such enthusiasm, however.
At the same time, Lynch is breaking tackles, winning games, and seems to have no trouble showing up to practice, unlike fellow media outcast Allen Iverson. So we give him a pass and delight over his latest interview. This is sports after all, and Americans are very forgiving of high performing athletes.
Regardless of how you feel about his play or personality, Lynch’s popularity has reached a level few achieve in their lifetime and a large part is due to his unfriendly media strategy. I certainly do not advise corporate executives or other public figures to emulate such tactics, unless of course they have a trending Twitter hashtag that includes the words beast and mode.