How Howard Bragman Helped Michael Sam

I look forward to the day that a professional athlete, celebrity or famous figure comes out and it doesn’t make major news. Or cause certain individuals to question their admiration of the celebrity based on his or her sexual preference. But as this is a current “issue” that draws a lot of interest and attention of the public, it is no surprise that University of Missouri senior defensive lineman Michael Sam made major news when he came out this past week.

When any celebrity comes out, there is a lot of publicity surrounding it. And you can bet that any publicity team carefully plans out how the story will break, when this will occur, and where it will first hit the stands. I’m interested in discussing the PR efforts surrounding Sam’s plan to come out to the public.

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Photo by Brandon Wade via The New York Times

Howard Bragman, founder and chairman of Fifteen Minutes Public Relations, prepared and supported Sam for the announcement, and shared with PRWeek a little insight into his efforts. 

First of all, Bragman went beyond the media realm and first focused on the feelings of his client. In preparation for the interviews that would follow, Bragman arranged a party for Sam, which featured a guest list of several other gay athletes. This party offered a support system for Sam during this monumental time in his life.

Bragman knew his audience, and meticulously planned out who he was going to share the story with. He did his research, and also prepared his client to combat potentially negative questions and commentary. Bragman utilized his relationships with the media to decide who would be the best candidate to break the story. He wanted to ensure that these communication channels were well-versed in the topic and had previous experience with coming out stories of other gay and lesbian athletes. Additionally, Bragman had special consideration of the LGBT community, and gave a behind-the-scenes exclusive to Outsports.com, “the most important gay website” according to Bragman.

But the best part?  This piece of gold:

What I wanted to happen was to let Michael Sam tell his story in his words on his terms and on his timetable.

Beautiful. Commendable. Right on point. Bragman recognized that this was not about him. Rather than roll with the plethora of follow-up interview and talk show requests that began flooding in, he allowed Sam to breathe.

I think that sometimes, in public relations (and in life), we can forget that the main focus is our client. We may jump to do what we think is best – or what may be the best for our own self interest – rather than truly listening. And while offering PR advice may be your specialty, it is extremely important to truly listen to the client’s wants and needs.

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