PR Reflections on Jason Kelce Day

This month, Philadelphians of all stripes took a moment to celebrate Jason Kelce Day, a very unofficial holiday honoring the 13-year Eagles career of one of this city’s most beloved athletes. The recognition, observed on 6/2 to coincide with the legendary center’s jersey number, had its roots in an unsuccessful effort by two Pennsylvania lawmakers to commemorate Kelce’s countless contributions, on and off the field, through a resolution introduced in the state Senate.

While that legislative action ultimately stalled in Harrisburg, those off us on the eastern side of the state will never forget all that Jason Kelce did for Philadelphia, from securing the city’s first-ever Super Bowl victory, to his philanthropic work enhancing educational opportunities for local youth. It’s hard to imagine a player who better embodies this city’s blue-collar ethos of grit, hard work and determination better than the undersized offensive lineman from Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

And so it was fitting that when Kelce decided to retire earlier this year, he went out with an emotional address—punctuated by characteristic sobs and profanity—that recounted his abiding love for Philadelphia, the Eagles and the game of football. Kelce’s speech, which clocked in roughly 40 minutes, is an exceptional piece of writing that will likely be taught in communications courses for many years to come. Surely, the Philadelphia Eagles talented public relations staff have already clipped the speech as an example to new players and rookies of how to connect with the city they now call home.

But I think the speech also has resonance for communications professionals, like me, who operate outside the world of sports. On this Jason Kelce Day, I took some time to study Kelce’s address through the lens of PR and came away with a few key takeaways to share with clients for dealing with the public and the media.

Embrace Authenticity

Jason Kelce has always been known to wear his heart on his sleeve, and his retirement speech was a perfect reflection of both the player and a person—raw, passionate and sincere. Fans always knew they could trust No. 62 when he stepped in front of a microphone because everything he said came straight from the heart. That authenticity was on full display over the course of 40 minutes in South Philadelphia, as Kelce recounted the personal details of his long rise to stardom in the NFL.

Now, not all brands and businesses need to embrace Kelce’s unique, emotional style in their dealings with the media. Rather, the lesson here goes to the importance of maintaining authenticity in communications, both internally and with the public.

At the most basic level, this means that a brand’s messaging should align with the reality of its values, actions, products or services. Consistency and transparency go a long way in building equity with the public and earning the loyalty and trust of consumers over time. It’s also crucial in the event of a crisis, when companies must respond rapidly to a major threat to the business or its reputation. In those moments, it’s essential that companies, and their spokespersons, are viewed as reliable narrators, capable of delivering clear, consistent and transparent messaging that is aligned with their brand.

Control the Narrative

Perhaps the most instructive passage in Kelce’s speech is a message to younger players coming up in the organization. In it, Kelce recounted his early struggles with the Eagles, saying how, after an awful start to the 2016 season, most fans and executives would have traded him for a “brand new set of washing machines,” if given the chance.

“As players, you write the narratives,” he said. “The fans and media, for the most part—occasionally different—only write what you give them.”

The lesson is that, in the absence of strong and proactive public messaging, there will always be an opportunity for outside voices to fill the void and shift the narrative you, as an organization, are trying to convey. Any successful communications or PR strategy will recognize these risks and help you consistently reach your key audiences and consumers with well-crafted stories, content and messaging that are true to your mission.

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