Today’s guest RepMan is by Peppercommer Dmitriy Ioselevich.
Bill Simmons and ESPN decided to part ways last Friday after nearly 15 years together. Typically, employee moves don’t generate this much news interest—The New York Times broke the story and #BillSimmons became the #1 trending topic in the country on Twitter.
But Bill Simmons is different, and that’s a good thing.
For an industry as saturated as sports journalism, Simmons has stood out amongst his peers for his willingness to always speak his mind, often to the detriment of his employer. Among some of his more outlandish actions:
- In 2009, Simmons was suspended from using Twitter for two weeks because of tweets that were critical of a Boston sports radio station. He was again suspended from Twitter in 2013 for criticizing one of ESPN’s own shows.
- In 2014, Simmons was suspended for three weeks for repeatedly calling NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a “liar” in response to his handling of the Ray Rice controversy.
- In 2015, Simmons was a guest on former SportsCenter anchor Dan Patrick’s new radio show, even though ESPN employees were forbidden from appearing on the show. The next day, ESPN announced they would not be renewing Simmons’ contract.
To ESPN, Simmons is an outlaw with no respect for authority—in particular, the authority (read: money) of ESPN’s various partners and sponsors. To his fans, Simmons is just a diehard sports nerd stating his (admittedly biased) opinion. That’s why he’s been able to build a multimedia empire that now includes Grantland.com, the award-winning “30 for 30” documentary series, one of the most popular podcasts in the country and a prominent role covering the NBA on TV.
Once just a popular writer for ESPN’s defunct Page 2 site, Simmons is now everywhere! He’s built his own iconic brand with an army of loyal followers, most of whom will likely follow him to his next venture.
This should be any public figure’s dream, and a lesson for anyone working in communications. Although we would never recommend that our clients say or do anything that would get them fined or fired, we do counsel them to stand for something. The challenge, however, is how to stand out from all the noise.
That’s why it’s so important to consistently refine messaging to make sure a client’s viewpoint isn’t just emulating what others in the marketplace are already saying. And once a client stands for something, they should be consistent across all platforms in order to maximize engagement.
Simmons never really considered himself a sportswriter, but rather more of a self-proclaimed “Sports Czar”—a spokesperson for sports fans everywhere. Simmons’ mouth may very well have gotten him fired, but the brand he created is so strong that every pseudo news outlet in the country is now clamoring to hire him. Or he might build something from scratch and change the way we all consume sports.
Every individual has this same opportunity to speak up and stand out. It’s time more people did.