What PR Can Learn from Nike’s Epic Mishandling of the Steph Curry Pitch

basketballLast Wednesday, ESPN posted a pretty lengthy and detailed account behind Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry’s move away from shoe giant Nike, in order to sign with competitor Under Armour. Granted, back then nobody (not Nike, not Under Armour … not even us Warriors fans here in the Bay Area) ever had the foresight to see the baby-faced assassin for who he is now – practically the face of the entire NBA whose humility (and long-range jumpers) have replaced bravado and monster dunks.

Still, in 2013 the Warriors were coming off a 47-win season and made it to the Western Conference semifinals. Certainly, Nike should have seen the potential in what Curry had to offer moving forward. But it was evident that “The Swoosh” had other things (and players) in mind when they were making their pitch to retain Curry as a client.

To recap, the pitch was held without Nike’s power broker, who would typically attend these pitches if it were a superstar-caliber athlete. Second, the PowerPoint had another player’s name in it (Kevin Durant), which indicates that the company likely used Durant’s presentation as a template, then sprinkled in anything that would be pertinent to Curry … except his own name, apparently. Then, the nail in the coffin: Nike reps refer to Curry as “Steph-on.” It became obvious that Nike didn’t see Curry as a priority athlete – and they treated him as such.

As a PR agency, we are pitching our experience and services to potential new clients all the time. Our team of administrators, analysts, media strategists and creative minds vet each company and its respective industry so we can provide the thorough assessment of what we believe will lead that company to success with their communications program. What often gets lost in new business pitches is the agency flaunting experience and expertise … when it should be more about what that expertise could do for the client.

I recently caught up with former Warriors player Adonal Foyle, who currently serves as the team’s Community Ambassador. Foyle was also a fellow Nike client during his 13-year career. I started my PR career working as his publicist, but you can say that Foyle and I are more friends now than we are business associates (I even got married at the guy’s house). He was able to give me some insight into what athletes think about when it comes to new business pitches. He was speaking with athletes in mind, but regardless of industry, potential clients are going to be looking for the same fundamental services when they’re looking for representation. So I was listening as if he were a tech CEO.

“Part of what you must do as a company is make sure there’s a personal touch to your pitch and make sure you’re paying attention to detail,” he told me. “If I’m a superstar player, the company is going to be so worried about my needs that they’re going to provide that personal touch. So they’ll go above and beyond the call of duty to take care of their client. For athletes who aren’t superstars, they’re going to care about how your company is going to help build their individual brand.”

This got me thinking. At B&O, the question was recently put forward to our staff: ‘Who would you like to work for?’ Much of the answers included some of the top “cool” tech companies you know: Uber, Airbnb, Fitbit, Slack, etc.

These are companies we all know and see as fun and up-and-coming with a startup mentality. But we also know that the enterprise B2B companies (though not necessarily considered cool) are just as important – if not, more so – to the industry because of the impact these companies make to everyday business processes.

As mentioned earlier, Nike did not hold Steph Curry in the same regard as a LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant. In our line of work, it shouldn’t matter what kind of company we are representing. They should all be treated as star players.

“We are going to ask: ‘Do you truly believe that we, as clients, are going to be represented equally – even though we all don’t bring in the same amount of money?’” Foyle went on to say. “Shouldn’t you believe that professionalism is so important that you should look over a PowerPoint to make sure it doesn’t have someone else’s name on it? If you’re a top-notch company, clients (and potential clients) are going to hold you to that standard. We all want to be treated well. And we all want to know that you took the time to know who we are and what we want. We want to come away from that meeting feeling like you really know us.”

So what did we learn from Nike’s epic f***up in losing Steph Curry as a client? It’s quite simple, really. Regardless of where that client stands at the moment, you should always hold them to a high regard and believe in their full potential. More importantly, do your homework on the client and industry … and make sure you have the right damn PowerPoint deck!

Chris Navalta