Trash-talking NFL star Richard Sherman keynotes Adobe conference, dishes out marketing tips

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Richard Sherman jokes around with sports anchor Colin Resch at the 2014 Adobe Summit.

The CEO of Kickstarter, the CMO of Sephora, Robert Redford and … Richard Sherman?

This week’s Adobe Summit conference had a notable lineup of keynote speakers, but one name certainly stuck out.

That would be Sherman, the NFL star cornerback fresh off a Super Bowl championship win with the Seattle Seahawks. But what the heck was the outspoken 25-year-old doing at an event filled with top marketing experts from around the country?

Well, Sherman knows a thing or two about branding and innovation. Not only did the Compton, Calif.-native graduate with a marketing degree from Stanford, but he also has his own clothing line, writes for Sports Illustrated and has nearly one million followers on Twitter.

But while the Super Bowl champion attracted plenty of attention for one of the most memorable post-game interviews of all time after January’s NFC Championship, Sherman’s rise to international fame was not merely a coincidence — in fact, it was calculated.

Video thumbnail for youtube video Good timing: Richard Sherman's post-game trash-talk was excellent marketing for Beats

Richard Sherman’s post-game interview with Erin Andrews set off a wildfire on social media.

“You always have to have a plan,” Sherman said during the keynote.

Sherman explained that his emotional interview with FOX reporter Erin Andrews, during which he trash-talked San Francisco received Michael Crabtree immediately following an impressive play that clinched victory for Seattle, was all part of a plan he had going into the game. Sherman was mic’d up by the NFL for the entire day and had thought about what messages he would send if certain events, like a big interception or defensive stop, took place.

“There’s always a plan of engaging with the audience and understanding how we’re perceived as entertainers,” he said.

But despite his authenticity — which differs from a majority of high-profile athletes who Sherman says “get into cookie-cutter mode” —  the cornerback received widespread criticism across the Internet for the post-game tirade. His image was tainted in the following hours and days, but Sherman did something that marketers can take note of. 

After speaking with his former college coach David Shaw and weighing the pros and cons of what had just happened, Sherman decided that he was going to use the next few days to show what he was really all about: a fierce competitor on the field, but a level-headed, well-intentioned guy off of it.

Sherman has racked up endorsement deals, like the one here with Beats By Dre,  in light of his new-found fame.

Sherman has racked up endorsement deals, like the one here with Beats By Dre, in light of his new-found fame.

“If you catch a lawyer at his highest peak in the courtroom, he might not be that great guy that he is at home and might be an aggressive a-hole trying to make a point to win a case,” he explained. “But if you take it out of context and judge his character from one moment, you’ll be short-changing yourself and that man. That’s the message I tried to get out there: Get people to understand who I truly was as a person.”

Sherman noted that he thought deeply about how to take advantage of the spotlight in the aftermath of the interview while it was shining brightly. This helped him do a little damage control and also unlocked several new business opportunities.

“When you have a plan, you embrace moments like that,” he said. “You have to be able to live inside that moment and understand it and create that impact. It allows you to spread a message if you have one, but if you don’t, you miss that moment.”

Sherman repeated the word “plan,” over and over again during the keynote, saying that it’s been the secret sauce to his rise as a superstar ever since he grew up in the tough neighborhood of Compton. He’s had obstacles in the way of that plan, too — from being a late draft pick to controversial suspensions to the Andrews interview — but he’s “stuck to his guns.”

Sherman at Microsoft's Halo 4 launch back in November 2012.

Sherman at Microsoft’s Halo 4 launch back in November 2012.

“That’s all you can do when you come up with a plan and put all that work and effort into it,” he said. “You can’t go away from it just because you have a few hiccups in a row. You can’t let anything change who you are or what your morals or values are, or what your plan is. It takes a lot of resilience and strength to do that, but it feels good when you do it.”

Two months after the Andrews interview, it’s impressive to see where Sherman is now, making moves off the field and speaking at a conference like the Adobe Summit. His brand is now more often associated not with that crazy, loud person who demeans opponents, but rather as that well-intentioned guy who simply likes to tell it like it is.

“The message people could sympathize with was honesty and the genuine mentality,” he said. “That’s one thing I’m known for now: Being honest and genuine. Good, bad or indifferent, I’m going to shoot you straight.”

Finally, Sherman had a word of advice to any marketers or those interested in talking trash: Have facts.

“I would never say anything that I couldn’t back up with factual evidence,” Sherman said. “After that [NFC Championship] game, it wasn’t an outrageous claim — I have evidence to back it up. Your opinion is still going to be what it is, but you can’t argue the facts. That’s what I try to do: Present facts they can’t argue.”

Super Bowl champion, Twitter superstar and successful entrepreneur — no one can argue with that, Richard.

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  • Trakar

    Sherman is going to make Sherman’s money regardless of what he earns playing professional football!

  • Randi

    Once you figure out what he’s about, you’ve gotta love Richard Sherman!