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For my team and I, like 24 million others around the world, Netflix’s The Last Dance has made compulsive lockdown viewing.

by Alexander Mills

The story of Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and co hits all the 90s nostalgia buttons- a time when America still seemed great- and has already provided ample analytical fodder for amateur sports psychologists and business strategists alike.

But for the benefit of the comms community- whether you’ve watched the show or not- these are our six top take outs- one for every NBA title the Chicago Bulls won.

1.  Why think about missing a shot you’ve never taken? (Alexander)

My team and I pride ourselves on being brave and doing things differently to create campaigns which pack a real punch and make a difference.

Yet equally, having worked in public sector comms a while, I know how hard it can be to push yourself to try new things in an environment where colleagues and leaders are naturally risk averse.

One of Michael Jordan’s great strengths, which shines through in the docuseries, was his ability to be totally present and to only focus on the challenge or the task at hand, forgetting the things he couldn’t control.

We all make mistakes- a badly worded tweet here, a less-than-best poster campaign there- and perhaps we would all benefit from owning up to those a bit more.

But just like Jordan, I reckon if we learn to not worry too much about what might go wrong if we try out a new approach- our communication campaigns will be bigger, braver and better as a result.

2.  It’s not about how many times you get knocked down (Jack)

The greats are not immune to failure, and neither was Michael Jordan. He got knocked down year after year, yet got back up stronger every time.

At 15-years-old he locked himself in his room and cried after not making his High School Varsity Team. Most people would have given up there and then, right? Not Jordan. His Airness turned that heartbreak into a level of motivation that made him the world’s best.

Yet that wasn’t the end of his knockbacks. Michael spent 13 seasons in Chicago with the Bulls, but only won six championships. That’s seven more occasions of heartbreak and failure, right there.

The world of communication has never been more challenging – even before COVID took over our lives our channels and audiences often felt like moving targets. However much insight you bring to the table, things won’t always go to plan.

Campaigns will fail from time to time, social media content will backfire and people will pick holes in what you thought was good work. It might feel like you’ve been knocked down but, whatever you do, keep getting up. Take the lessons and use that knockdown as motivation.

3. Jordan believed Kerr would deliver – and he did. – (Emma)

Michael Jordan, if he had everything his own way, would’ve never had the ball out of his hands. At the beginning, he hated the idea of the infamous ‘triangle offence’ and he hated his new coach Phil Jackson. In his words: “I wasn’t a Phil Jackson fan when he first came in…because he was coming in to take the ball out of my hands”. Phil Jackson based his leadership around selfless teamwork. He ultimately helped Jordan play as part of a team, not as an individual, replacing ‘the me for we’. As previous experiences had shown, a one-man show wasn’t going to win back-to-back NBA championships- a solid team would.

But what can we learn from this?

By working as a team and not just as individuals we can achieve so much more. By valuing each other not just as colleagues but as people we can be the best that we can be. Remember, teamwork doesn’t have to come at the cost of losing your individuality or your unique skills either. Phil Jackson was able to listen to his team and recognise his individual players. He never subdued Dennis Rodman’s quirky behaviour because he knew his talent and he knew that he’d be there for his team in the crucial moments. He harnessed each talent and created a team culture based on trust that didn’t force players to lose individual identity or skill.  The fact is you won’t be able to do everything yourself and its normal that you won’t be good at everything you try. Count on the people around you to take on the work that is outside of what you do best to ultimately strengthen your team. Teamwork makes the dream work people.

4.  The secret to success? There isn’t one (Jack)

It’s not always clear through the series, but look closely and you’ll see what it was that made Michael Jordan the best basketball player of all time.

Sure, he was able to get back up after getting knocked down, and he was able to focus purely on the task at hand, but these things alone aren’t what took him to the top. What sat behind his brilliance was nothing more than hard work and a relentless obsession with the game of basketball.

When the Bulls lost out to their physically stronger arch rivals, the Detroit Pistons, in June 1990, Jordan made the whole team to spend the following summer in the gym. They trained hard, came back stronger and, yes you’ve guessed it, won their first championship the next season.

It’s unlikely that extra gym time will help our campaigns succeed, we get that, but what’s clear is that just as MJ’s success wasn’t based on talent or luck, nor is award winning communication. Both are the result of careful planning, clear goal-setting and hard, focused work.

Every public sector communicator works hard. That goes without saying. But how many of us are spread so thin we’re unable to give our projects and campaigns the time they deserve? 

5.  Overnight success takes time – (Emma)

The thing to remember about Michael Jordan is that before his first Championship win, his reputation wasn’t all that great. He was known as a sporting performer and a great player, but he wasn’t seen to be in the league of those who were winning Championships like Magic Johnson. There was definitely nothing easy about becoming the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) and it was a long six years until his time finally came and it still wasn’t plain sailing after that.

In relation to our work, culture within an organisation for example, is often one of hardest things to change. It takes a lot of time, effort, work and trust to positively change culture, but that means it’s all the more important.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Resilience is key and if you want to make a change and believe in what you’re doing, dedicate the time and effort you need in order to achieve what you set out to. Don’t revert back to ‘the easy option’. Knowing where you want to be and what your goal is is the easy part, but getting there is what takes the work. 

6. Nothing lasts forever (Alexander)

I feel incredibly lucky to be working in the best team of my career, with the some of the finest comms people in the business.

But just like that famous Chicago side which was broken up after their second three-peat in 1998 (the Bulls haven’t won an NBA title since), it’s important to remember that in work, as in life, nothing lasts forever.

It’s easy to think about all the rubbish things at work- difficult managers, social media haters and- most of all- crap comms jobs that we all have to do from time to time.

But if you’re lucky enough to work alongside great people who you love, drink it up like Gatorade.

Emma, Jack and Alexander form the communication team at South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue, alongside Jayne- but she hasn’t watched the series yet!

To find out more about their work, they’ve published a summary of some of their recent campaigns here.

Alexander Mills is head of communications at South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service

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