Because of 4 a.m. – The Excellence of Kobe Bryant

Excellence is the result of a prosperous, well-lived and fulfilled life. The excellence that we can truly achieve is up against a real enemy called mediocrity.

Mediocrity and the comfort it gives us is what keeps us from being excellent. Sometimes the painful tension of a struggle comes along to teach us how to tackle hardships with hope and burn mediocrity with motivation. It’s impossible to live a life of excellence without struggle. We often look at successful people and overestimate their talent because we forget about their obsession with excellence which inspires their willingness to outwork anyone else, outshine any appearance of mediocrity and overcome any struggle they face.

As I reflect on the life and legacy of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, excellence has to the best word to describe him. Kobe is considered to be one of the greatest athletes in the world — not just because of his talent but because of his excellent mindset and work ethic. When the horrific news broke that Kobe and his 13 year old daughter Gianna were killed in a helicopter crash along with seven others, I was heartbroken and  immediately felt a sense of disbelief. Kobe, to me, was kind of like a big brother. Not personally. But I was in middle school when he made his announcement to skip college and enter the NBA at the age of 18, and he became one of the overachieving superheroes in pop culture whose hard work, intelligence and humility I found fascinating. He reminded me so much of the guys I grew up with that lived and breathed basketball. Later I would admire his obsession with excellence – a relatable quality that he was often misunderstood and disliked for.

My favorite off-the-court memory of Kobe was when he was on stage accepting the Icon Award at the ESPYs in 2016. Around this time, I’d started the routine of waking up around 4 a.m. to workout and get ahead of my day. The year prior I had experienced a series of major struggles, and I was determined to rediscover Aerial and redefine my purpose. As a fan, I admired how competitive and disciplined Kobe was. It reminded me of myself in some ways. So once I became relentless about my new pursuits and serious about repositioning my purpose, I started going to the gym at 4 a.m. in the morning. I began to see the results not only in my fitness and appearance but everything else became clearer and more precise especially in how I affirmed myself and invested in my relationship with God.

So when Kobe retired and received the Icon Award in 2016 at the ESPYs he addressed his fellow athletes in a speech that still sticks with me to this day:

“We’re not on this stage just because of talent or ability. We’re up here because of 4 a.m. We’re up here because of two-a-days or five-a-days. We’re up here because we had a dream and let nothing stand in our way. If anything tried to bring us down, we used it to make us stronger. We were never satisfied, never finished. We will never be retired.”

Kobe Bryant

Credit: Showtime/THR

Toward the end of the speech, Kobe quoted one of his high school teachers by saying, “Rest at the end, not in the middle.” Kobe Bryant obviously lived that quote, and will now get his rest. He didn’t become one of the greatest athletes in the world simply because of talent. He was great because he was willing to put in the work every single day.

4 a.m.

Seven times a week.

No matter the struggle.

It’d be foolish to think that God allows us to go through life with absolutely no hardships and difficulties. No matter how strong you think you, there will be something that disrupts your peace, shifts your circumstances, limits your livelihood, pauses your progress and tests your character. A struggle or a series of momentary struggles are guaranteed.

It doesn’t have to be life or death, or detrimental to success but the highs and lows will come, and most times the lows will be a struggle – a struggle to get ahead and move to the next level, to fix what went wrong, to get over a bad decision or a disappointment, to make ends meet or break into the right space, to mend broken relationships and pursue the right ones, to establish boundaries, to reach a comfortable position in life, to love yourself and to be fair to yourself, to stay healthy or recover from illness, to let go of resentment or guilt, to overcome hurt and loss, and to heal from anger, sadness and pain – the struggle no matter how it looks is real.

In the world we live in, results are usually tied to performance. Nowadays unfortunately, good enough is enough. Half-done, half-hearted, shoddy, non-committal, just to get by, low effort, low interest, low standard, low energy, unbothered, average attempt, smoke and mirrors, for attention and not for advancement, a failure to go all in and play full out, doing the bare minimum, less than what is required, lack and slack – all fight against the temporary privilege to push through a struggle in order to get better.

I can imagine that 4 a.m. workouts everyday year after year would do nothing but breed excellence, and for many of us, Kobe was nothing short of excellence.

So what’s your 4 a.m.?

What struggle have you overcome recently and how did you learn to see the beauty in it? When it comes to pursuing excellence, what discomforts are required to achieve your personal best and strengthen your character?

Struggles might hinder you but they don’t define you. They will discipline you but do not have to distract you. If we considered a struggle to be a temporary privilege, we’d admit that a struggle isn’t always bad. It isn’t. It can groom us for excellence and bring us remarkable rewards.

This blog post is an excerpt from my podcast Affirmations of Excellence, Episode 4: Struggles. The podcast is an offering of personal devotionals to fuel your week with excellence using personal stories and reflections, clear action steps, and guided affirmations.

Listen, rate, subscribe and share!

Aerial Ellis Podcast

PR Pros Should Do Good & Be Well

Last month, I worked with a personal trainer. I knew my upcoming four-week stay at Johnson & Johnson was going to come with a slight adjustment to my regular exercise routine back home in Nashville. I know how travel can cause major setbacks for healthy dieting and exercising. More than anything, I know that having a balanced life is a major ingredient for handling the stress that comes with a career in public relations. Exercise is one of the necessary must-haves for me as I fight daily fires and face complicated dilemmas.

To prepare mentally and physically for the work ahead, I did strength training with heavy weights at low reps for 3-5 sets, 15-30 minutes of high-intensity interval (HIIT) cardio and timed full-body circuits three days a week at 7 a.m. for an hour. The other four days of the week, I was instructed to do 30 minutes of HIIT cardio for two days and take the other two for rest.

Once I arrived at J&J, I learned about the “Do Good, Be Well” program and the communication strategy created to support it. The initiative links like-minded fitness enthusiasts to volunteer and participate in charitable activities that make a difference in the community such as biking, running, swimming, hiking, walking and playing team sports. The employee platform is an internal initiative that connects to an online community to recruit team members for events, post goals and share success stories. As a component of “Do Good, Be Well,” 500 Johnson & Johnson employees recently teamed up at the TriRock Philadelphia Triathlon to raise more than $250,000 for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. It’s the perfect reminder to stay active and commit to giving.

So often, working in public relations can take you away from living a happy and healthy personal life and inspiring others to do so.

Our stresses often come with second guessing deliverables, asking “is this what the client wants?” and ending up with mismatched results and mismanaged expectations. We find ourselves over-committing or overcompensating to frantically find a solution.

Our stresses can derive from budget problems. Internal mismanagement, nonexistent ranges on accounts, and lack of access can cause frustration with client relations or interruption in account services.

Our stresses are many times the result of mounting or overlapping deadlines. The pressures of delivering a quality product at a moment’s notice, responding to a crisis or pulling multiple all-nighters add up and may impact our ability to function properly.

Our stresses can develop from the perfection myth that exists in the PR industry. If media doesn’t cover a story, an event starts five minutes behind schedule or – God forbid – a typo is found in a campaign piece (gasp), the entire effort can feel worthless.

These things and more are issues PR pros cannot always control but we can control our response. We can manage our time in ways that allow us the freedom to make room for things that give us balance.

After an intense workout during week two of my stay at J&J

After an intense workout during week two of my stay at J&J

Instead of sitting at the computer all day or working through free time, ‘do good’ by volunteering at your favorite local charity’s big event or enlisting your company to sponsor a community health fair; ‘be well’ by adding a quick 30-minute workout to your calendar two to three days a week or walking in an upcoming 5k hosted by an organization you support.

As PR pros, we are brand advocates. Organizations depend on our expertise and knowledge. If we are to be champions for their cause, we must make our own health and well-being a priority.


(This post is part of a series written during a four-week project in corporate communication at Johnson & Johnson through the Plank Center Fellowship program.)

Personal Brands I Like: Ice Cube

He’s come a long way since NWA. His career proves that none of us are one-dimensional. Read how the former gangsta rapper used his hip-hop legacy and L.A. roots to direct a documentary for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series.

Ice Cube and Robert De Niro at the Tribeca Film Festival. (Getty Images)

Personal Brands I Like: Marshawn Evans

This former pageant queen is a multi-faceted entrepreneur who offers women tips for success in business and life. She’s another example of women with marketing/branding savvy who capitalize on opportunities to build, grow and give. Hear more about her philosophy of women in business from her interview with

Courtesy of

Victory for Vick’s PR

It’s going to be an interesting season for the team of PR and image consultants who are delivering the winning strategy for reinstated NFL player Michael Vick. Known as one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the league, Vick’s rise to gridiron fame and fall to criminal intent has proven to be a PR challenge to tackle.

Without knowing the details of the team’s members and plans, their attempt to carefully rebrand Vick and map out a road to redemption following his release from federal prison is turning out to be a PR victory. nfl_a_vick_480

Since Vick’s admitted act of animal cruelty, his team has made a public effort to present him in a repented and reformed fashion. They recently positioned Vick to confess his sins and express immense guilt on CBS “60 Minutes” along side former NFL coach Tony Dungy, commissioned by the league to be his mentor, and President of the Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle, to be his community partner. We all know you’ve got to have a bit of cache to tell your story on “60 Minutes” and the PR team that knows Vick has to come back with some credibility.

Whether his remorse is scripted or sincere, you must admit his team is gaining yards toward the goal. Yet, the ultimate test of a winning strategy is whether the public believes you. Vick is going to have to walk the walk. If he doesn’t, his PR team will end up seeing a bigger chunk from that first $1.6 million to keep him on the straight and narrow. Judging by the execution and perceived outcome, Vick has gotten his money’s worth, but the team must continue to move strategically so the public won’t think Vick’s efforts are contrived.

Personally, I’ve always been an advocate for second chances. Only time will tell how Vick shapes up while his PR team shows out. Our culture often forgives, and, most times, forgets the sins of public figures. So the more touchdown passes Vick throws, the further his wrongdoings will be from our minds.

Bad Publicity is NEVER Good

This month has been pretty busy for the sports and entertainment industries. Events like the Grammy Awards, Oscars, Super Bowl and NBA All-Star Weekend are enough to keep a celeb on the red carpet and a PR pro on their trail. But with all the glitz and glamour of star-studded events, sometimes a PR crisis is waiting to happen. Actors, entertainers, athletes and personalities are under such close scrutiny in the public eye that anything they do or say can be held against them and their PR pro and could possibly put their careers on the line.

Understanding how to deal with a crisis is not an easy job. PR pros should have a crisis contingency plan but that doesn’t mean they should result to being a babysitter. It means that should a client face an arrest, argument, embarrassment, lawsuit, divorce and even death, a plan is in place to help them navigate the problem and save any instant damage to their career. Crisis management is often an overlooked PR strategy. Who sits and waits for a crisis to happen? No one. But they happen. No one is above a crisis or immune to one. And when the danger lurks, it must be dealt with.


PR pros – fight the urge to make hasty decisions in a crisis. One snap comment, untrue statement or rash decision can ruin your credibility, upset the media and make your client resent you. Once you have proven you can handle a crisis in a methodical and graceful manner, you may become the Johnnie Cockran of PR.

Companies and celebs – be honest with your PR and legal counsel. They need to know the facts of your situation. Remember that most incidents involving the police, courts or emergency medical are public record. That means they can be readily accessed for fact-finding in media reports. If your family would be embarrassed or you’d be ashamed by your words or actions, then its probably not a wise move.

The cliche, any publicity is good publicity, is false. Contrary to what we may have assumed for decades, publicity means nothing if your name is as good as mud. Good crisis management makes a distinct difference between a few minutes of fame and a long-lived run of notoriety. Bad crisis management can lead to terrible publicity, severe ramifications and a long battle of image recovery.

Here are a few do’s and don’ts to remember when communicating with the media as you approach a crisis: badpub2

DO be calm, alert and positive.

DON’T fill in silent pauses. Say what you have to say and stop! Get comfortable with silence.

DO be cooperative. Know what you will and won’t say.

DON’T ever say “No Comment.” Whenever possible explain why you can’t give them the information. For instance, “I cannot speak about that at the moment due to legal reasons.” No comment IS a comment.

DO have a one sentence message you want to communicate no matter what is asked. For example, “I am committed to my family, my career and my fans.”

DON’T start an argument with reporters. Look and sound calm and controlled. An argument makes you look hostile.

DO make your point in 20 seconds or less to avoid being taken out of context. An uncontrolled or long-winded response could contain conflicting statements and confuse the media.

DON’T say or do anything you don’t want reported. There’s no such thing as “off the record” when speaking to the media in a crisis. Any statement you make is likely to make the news. Avoid speculation, lying or talking about anything that’s not a known fact. It’s OK to say “I don’t know.”

DO stand still behind the microphone and use comfortable, meaningful gestures. Make friendly hand movements and facial expressions. It shows you’re not intimidated by the media nor have intentions of intimidating them.

DON’T keep talking as you’re walking away. Stop talking before you walk.

DO allow a PR professional or legal counsel to advise and coach you in ways that are most comfortable for you.

Reality Checkpoints for Athletes

With football season now over and basketball season about to climb to its peak, sports fans couldn’t be more excited.The thrill it brings with each year continues prove the sports industry to be one of the powerful agents of media culture. But the public’s interest spans further than touchdowns and championship trophies.

More than ever before, pro athletes are increasingly seen as celebrities, stars and ballers but known less for their power plays on the field. Sure, that’s great branding for name recognition but how many players can you name but have no idea what team the guy plays for? More importantly, at what moment did you learn or remember his name – during a hot media crisis buzzing amid the news or after reading a good magazine article about his journey to the pros?


The reality is athletes aren’t hard to brand. Their public relations efforts are made simple by their league and team affiliations. Take the media legend of Terrell ‘T.O.’ Owens for instance. Though he grew into some rather unfavorable moments while becoming one of the most outspoken and unpredictable players in the NFL, T.O. has weathered the storm. The Dallas Cowboys’ receiver is getting his own reality show on VH1 this summer showing what life off the field is like. Kudos to his publicists Monique Jackson and Kita Williams tasked with the taming of success.

Not every athlete will have a shot at a reality show. Not every athlete wants their daily life off the field to be peered into. Not every athlete will face public crisis or turmoil. Nonetheless, the responsibility for athletes to manage their image very carefully couldn’t be greater.

Here are three reality checkpoints of PR for athletes:reailtycheck1

First, realize that the sports industry has gone far beyond just getting in the game. PR is a must. Athletes have to study both games and acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses. Knowing this firsthand will help them tackle their seasons with success.

Second, work hard. Hard work never kills but it pays.
If you’re an all-around hardworking guy, you will surely make progress in your career. This will make people respect and see you as an icon. Hardwork includes going to practice on time and as well as maintaining your character in front of the public.

Third, humble yourself and be disciplined.
This is one of the greatest assets of success. Remember, its public relations, the art of relating to the public and it requires you to be in touch with who you are as player and a person.