The Unfortunate Story of Zak Gilbert, Former PR Director of the Oakland Raiders

You might have thought this morning’s post was going to be about Game 1 between the Spurs and Heat last night. I thought about it, but decided I would wait until next week to weigh in, especially since a lot could change on Sunday night. One thing I will say though: that last shot by Tony Parker might go down as one of the greatest plays in NBA playoff history.

I turn my attention to a story that cropped up this past week and hit particularly close to home for two reasons: 1. I am a Raiders fan and 2. I work for a PR / digital firm. Raiders owner Mark Davis fired his PR director, Zak Gilbert, for how the team was portrayed in a recent article in Sports Illustrated by Jim Trotter. Trotter has been covering the Raiders for awhile now, so he knows the ins and outs of the franchise and has had a firsthand view of the absolute tragedy the team has been the past decade. And as with most great journalists, he is always completely fair in his judgment.

That's Zak Gilbert on the right. SpreeGoogs wishes him the best.

That’s Zak Gilbert on the right. SpreeGoogs wishes him the best.

He was again in this article, basically stating that new Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie inherited a mess when Al Davis passed away, but he is doing one hell of a job to fix it. The story even mentions how McKenzie is truly having to start from the ground up, hiring a regular groundskeeping crew at Raiders practice facilities, building a draft room from scratch and buying 21st century equipment for the video department, all because the Raiders didn’t have  these under Davis. Trotter was merely stating what everyone knew: Davis, once the king of the league, was out of touch once he reached a certain age, and his maniacal rule over the organization was a big reason for the recent dysfunction.

It was the piece any good journalist would have written. It was a piece I enjoyed reading as a Raiders fan. I love to see that my team is finally heading in the right direction.

Mark Davis, on the other hand, thought the article was a flaming bag of poo. You have to assume that he took issue with Trotter’s portrayal of his father. I get that. But Mark, can’t you have a little family awareness? Your father guided the Raiders to a 29-83 record between 2003-09. That’s got to be historically bad. Jim Trotter wasn’t the first person to notice that.

One of the issues is that I doubt Davis understands that Gilbert could not influence what Trotter was going to write very much. He could give him suggestions or the initial concept, but after that, any good PR person steps back and lets the writer do their thing. If you badger a journalist too much, they can get frustrated and not write the story or include a line in there about how the PR person was annoying the crap out of them and caused their story to take on a much more negative tone. Gilbert’s job was to get the story idea to Trotter, coordinate the interviews and provide him with the assets to go along with the article. It looks like he did that quite well.

Someone could surmise that Gilbert could have not worked with Trotter on the story so that there was no press at all. This would mean Gilbert either would not have pitched it to Trotter or, if Trotter approached him, politely declined based on McKenzie’s “busy schedule.” A few problems with this approach. One, it looks shady, because who doesn’t have time to talk to Sports Illustrated? Trotter could have then just written the story anyway and said “Raiders were unavailable for comment,” which never looks good. Two, the story about Oakland’s complete culture change would not have been broadcast to the masses as well as it was. You think NFL players read that article? They sure did. How many of them are likely more open to coming to Oakland in the future knowing that it now has a competent GM at the helm? Probably more than a few of them. Just look at Charles Woodson as Exhibit A.

My real problem with all of this is Mark Davis’ hypocrisy. In the article, he is quoted saying that he knew McKenzie “inherited a mess” and was going to give him lots of time to fix it. That’s in essence saying that “Yeah, I know my dad put us in this terrible situation.” And then he fires his PR director because the article doesn’t paint Al in the best light. Unbelievable.

I just hope and pray that he doesn’t have this knee-jerk type of reaction when it comes to McKenzie. He has promised McKenzie that he will be able to use the whole five years of his contract to transform the Raiders into a contender. But with this firing, I’m not sure that you can trust Davis to not put anyone on the chopping block in a moment’s notice, much like his father was famous for.

I leave you with two tweets that perfectly summed up this whole situation. Have an amazing weekend, everyone.