some image

Month March 2014

Hull City Or Hull Tigers? Could The Whole Public Rumpus Have Been Avoided?

blog No comments

In an industry where football clubs are used to spending millions of pounds on (allegedly) two good feet, why do they continually insist on shooting themselves in one of their own? Why is PR and communications seemingly so low on the priority list for some and why can they not see it? It astounds me.
Hull City Football Club’s owner, unilaterally decided that for commercial reasons, he wanted to change the club’s name from Hull City to Hull Tigers and he announced his intention to an unsuspecting world last year. Since then, the argument has raged on the back pages, the airwaves and of course, social media and now, a fans’ group appears to have protested so cogently about the retention of tradition that the English Football Association’s Membership Committee is set to reject the name change application.
The whole situation is doing the club no favours and a reasonably straightforward consideration has publicly descended into vitriol, tension and a complete mess. Why?
If you own something, you control it’s destiny and you can do with it what you like, right? Well no, of course it’s not right and it’s not just the fractious world of football that has to contend with a democratic world. Too often, the runaway train isn’t seen until it’s too late and the Hull City saga re-enforces my belief there are still those in the game who believe that PR people aren’t supposed to have an opinion – or at least aren’t invited to share it if they have.
Instead, PR representatives are there to look at the facts and consider how best to dutifully present the argument on behalf of whoever is paying the bill. Never mind the consequences, the client’s word is final.
There are fundamental questions that surround the whole Hull City story: Did anyone sit down, look at the facts and put them in a specific and strategic order BEFORE anyone opened their mouth? Did they not think consultation or research might be an opening gambit? Did they not consider there might be a backlash? Or did they feel they could just steamroller opinion and do what they wanted? Hull’s owner, Assem Allam has invested his own money into Hull City and for that, he deserves respect. Consequently, he clearly feels he has the right to do what he likes with HIS football club.
On the other hand, I own my house, but if I wanted to make alterations which potentially affected the neighbours, I’d have to get permission because it’s on a street where rules and regulations apply. To smooth its passage, I’d have to court opinion, state my case, be nice to the odd neighbour or two and attempt to create an environment where people might eventually see it my way. It’s no different when it comes to owning and running a football club. Is it?
In Hull’s case, their entire commercial proposition (house) revolves around the fact that the club plays competitive football in an organised league. (street) The league has rules and when you sign up to play, (move in) you’re committed to abide by them. If you don’t like them, go and play on another street. (buy a tent)
Of course, from Hull’s perspective, there isn’t another street to play on so they must live by the only rules on offer.
And surely that’s the PR point in this whole saga? It looks like no-one sought to look at the rules, consider the neighbours and come up with a plan. The result has been criticism, protest and a reputational problem for Mr. Allam that will take ages to repair.
In the days of 24/7 media coverage, a cogent, professional PR strategy is essential. For multi million pound international companies in other sectors it’s a matter of course. So why not across the whole of football? When the stakes are high and the rewards so potentially lavish, why are club press offices in certain parts of the land filled with willing people who are merely told what to do rather than asked what they think?
Let me be clear that this doesn’t apply to ALL clubs or ALL owners, but the fact remains that being bludgeoned into submission by a bloke who owns the club isn’t going to work. Buying a football club, doesn’t automatically infuse an individual with a miraculous ability to have all the answers and in any other international business these days, there are teams of people advising the decision makers. I fail to understand why some club owners think they don’t need advice or don’t need to consider an alternative view before speaking. They might have broad shoulders themselves, but the reputation of the club is at stake too.
I find it mildly ironic that Hull’s issue is about a name change that would incorporate the club’s long standing and accepted nickname. Surely there could have been a way to position the argument more appropriately? The FA have said they would consult with the fans. Isn’t that something Mr. Allam might have been wise to consider? I assume no-one felt in a position to suggest it to him.
I am glad the FA looks set to reject Hull’s name change application. Not because I necessarily believe the request to be wrong, but because I believe the process that’s been applied is wrong.
In reality, many of the new breed of football club owners have actually injected powerful life into ailing clubs. But why do some insist on treading a path which turns a happy story of football philanthropy, into a mis-managed horror show?

How Newcastle Did Right from Alan Pardew’s Wrong

blog No comments

Rightly or wrongly, football clubs are regularly criticised for how they handle their media relations and general PR (or in some cases don’t) but there will be more than a few who will have had sympathy for Newcastle United’s comms team at the weekend.
Alan Pardew’s astonishing touchline behaviour at Hull on Saturday, put the club on instant alert. Here was the indefensible being starkly played out in front of a bank of in-stadium cameras and literally millions of people.
For the few who haven’t seen it, (surely you have?) Pardew lost his temper with an opposing player while standing in the pitch side Technical Area. There was a short explosive exchange, and Pardew aimed a head butt in the player’s direction. To put it mildly, it is something a football manager just does not do…
Back in the Sky Sports studios, the reaction was instant. Jeff Stelling went red with incredulity and such was the shock of this unprecedented moment, Paul Merson didn’t know whether to laugh or criticise. Within seconds of Pardew recoiling from split-second madness, the airwaves, wire services and internet were awash with description and easy-to-predict judgement.
Clearly this was no time for Newcastle to sit and watch the story unfold, nor to meekly suggest to the media that the team’s satisfying 4-1 away win was really what the headlines should be about. Newcastle needed to ‘own’ the story or get drowned in a sea of reaction they had absolutely no chance of challenging. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Unlike so many post-match occasions when managers and players have hidden away in the sanctity of the dressing room after a bout of inglorious action, Pardew was out doing the only thing he could possibly do in the circumstances. He was apologising to anyone and everyone and publicly admonishing himself. Whether it was the result of persuasion from the comms team or a self-motivated decision is irrelevant here, because this was an illustration of chucking yourself right into the heart of the debate to ensure one-dimensional Pardew and Newcastle baiting was tempered by contrition on a plate.
You could argue of course, there was simply nothing else they could do, but think hard enough and I’m convinced you’ll remember moments when a called-for crisis strategy failed to even start let alone fall at the first hurdle.
Newcastle followed up later in the evening with an announcement of a formal warning and a massive fine. It was action that threw another layer into the mix reasonably swiftly and shoved the act itself even further down the pipe. The League Manager’s Association helped with that too by reflecting embarrassment and unrestricted criticism of one of their own members and by the time Saturday evening was moving into Sunday morning, Newcastle had made sure they were on the same merry-go-round as everybody else.
So what now? The FA’s investigators will no doubt appreciate Newcastle’s pro-active approach even if it doesn’t lessen the severity of the punishment they hand down as the governing body but as the FA considers its move, is there a place for further general story management from within Newcastle United?
Should Pardew, who has a history of touchline indiscretions of varying severity, undertake an anger management course? Should he re-affirm his intention to sit down and keep out of trouble in future by announcing that he’ll go one step further and watch all future games from the Director’s Box? And if that’s the case, perhaps Newcastle United might even announce it as a pre-requisite of his continued employment?
Newcastle legend Alan Shearer has suggested resignation as an option for Pardew but if that isn’t to be the next course of action, the Newcastle boss must surely now attempt to publicly re-assert authority and credibility. If he doesn’t, what happens the next time one of his players does something stupid on the pitch?
Stage one for Team Toon was to publicly reflect the manager’s genuine remorse and the club’s unmistakable intolerance. Stage two must surely be to regain the ground lost when it comes to the manager’s authority over his players but even then, he’ll still have to wait for the FA’s late and inevitable kick in the guts for being a prat.
From the moment, forehead flicked forehead, it all became a damage limitation exercise within a completely indefensible situation and Newcastle United had to move to put their own stake in the ground the moment the game was over. This was a story that could only really be handled in one way, but it is a wider illustration of how ANY crisis should be handled by those in the firing line. In public circles, the ‘ostrich approach’ is all too prevalent at times and if there is one thing the whole of football can take from the weekend events, it’s that whatever the severity of the issue at hand, pretending it isn’t happening is not an option.