Posts Tagged ‘football’

Welcome back Mourinho: Footballing Legend and a True Media Special One

The special one, the mighty Jose Mourinho is back, and with a bang. Love him or loathe him, he is box office. He always reminds me of the legendary Brian Clough: he has the god given talent to deliver a narrative and focus attention. He is the master of the  soundbite, his manner excites, beguiles, bewitches, befuddles and annoys. True value is always trumped by hype, and hype in turn is fuelled by controversy.

The seasoned sports journalist and Manchester United fan, Jim White, opined before the press conference today that we’re likely to see “three years of media silliness, trophies and ostentatious spending. Then another huff, another argument with a loaded Russian, and a flouncing off to continental Europe.” But in truth, we all love a spectacular soap opera of the kind Mourinho creates wherever he goes, and the press more so than anyone. What Jose cares deeply about, where he excels like no other current manager, is in creating fanfare around his tenure.

The fact of the matter is that the media world is much richer for the return of the special one; next season the post-match moments will be much less boring. The man has a natural talent to stimulate the media. He has what the old Hollywood press agents called ‘the stuff’.

He is, without doubt, the cynical, conniving, chameleonic master of self-promotion. He knows, like the granddaddy of hype, PT Barnum, that what led to people getting excited about something was not about how spectacular the thing itself was, but how spectacular you told them it was.

Jose has worked out that with the media as his canvas it is possible to paint pictures, stir up controversy, subliminally undermine opponents and put match officials on edge. Big players want to be part of his three ring circus. His ability to make news takes the story onto the front pages, fires up social media and builds the Chelsea brand.

Everyone loves a showman. Someone of his natural ability is a rare commodity but on the evidence of the press conference he has plenty left in the tank.

The special one’s antics will guarantee points on the board before the team has kicked a ball.

Farewell, Golden Balls

We are struggling to come to terms with the news that Lord Beckham of Ongar and Leytonstone has packed away his Adidas Predator LZ boots. His like will not be seen again. His footballing and soccer achievement is extraordinary: who could forget the stunning injury-time free-kick booking England a place in the 2002 World Cup finals salvaging a 2-2 draw against Greece?

The announcement of his retirement has been beautiful managed. No leaks; just a huge surprise, hijack the news agenda (much to the chagrin of PRs with non Beckham related stories to tell). Golden Balls has proved yet again that he possesses a miraculous gift for wrangling the media. The squeaky voiced, blond curtained young hopeful has matured into a personality of considerable substance, a man at ease with public scrutiny.

We don’t know yet what the grand plan for continued world dominance is, but rest assured there is one. Becks could easily become a sporting politician,  a fashion icon or a powerful charity champion. It’s a mark of his PR genius that he has not declared a future direction, instead his minders have cleverly fostered  an atmosphere of fevered speculation. Hours of radio, acres of newsprint and tens of thousands of tweets wonder about future direction for Brand Beckham, creating the perfect backdrop for whatever he announces next.  By leaving the Game, Beckham won’t have the usual tactic of refreshing public interest by joining a new club available to him. But his hype machine rises above this, and it’s certain that his new endeavours will be tacitly exploited for maximum effect.

Beckham has established himself as a great British brand with proven worth. The media needs Beckham, and the brand needs the oxygen of publicity more. Let’s hope the confidence of the last 5 years will sustain. Some find the dwindling interest in stars of yester year hard to stomach. Brand Beckham must proceed with care. Desperate, ill thought tactics, or, heaven forbid, poor stunts and rash licencing will damage the fabric of success. The time and effort to fix any short term deals is likely to be expensive.

So, enjoy the flattering eulogies while they last. The first step into the brave new world is the hardest.

Lessons from Sir Alex: building a cult brand takes balls

As the sun sets on the news that Sir Alex Ferguson has decided to hang up his fabled hair dryer, it is  time to consider the lessons the PR industry might learn from  his departure. Undoubtedly,  Sir Alex was a remarkable leader, true he forged a unique brand personality but his move to take control of his exit underlines another aspect of his genius. Despite the growing conspiracy theories circulating about the real reason for his resignation, the  man was in ultimate  control of his departure.  The manner and timing of his exit is an exemplar. Leave at the top, offer few words: sit back and watch the feeding frenzy of positive opinion.

It’s prompted me to consider this question: do PR agencies tend to hang on too long to once successful accounts?  It takes true bravery is  to resign an account whilst an agency is at the top of the game, and I’d contend, the act is the mark of a fit, vibrant and purposeful PR business. You know how it feels: going in to see a long standing client, bored before even entered the meeting because you’ve lost your motivation. So often the inspirational, game changing activity is done in the early days of a relationship. Your flash of genius might last longer – Sir Alex’s lasted 26 years – but the time will come when you aren’t doing your best work anymore. Creativity stagnates. But you cling on to the lucrative fee, ritually processing the work.

Having the balls to resign the client, allowing another agency to refresh the brand, shows that you are fully in the driving seat of your work. It’s an act that will of course be accompanied by feelings of terror. Radical resignations  test the profit margin. There is the fear another consultancy might just do a better job.

But I say,  kill the Ego. Time spent finding fresh work is much better investment of your company’s resources. PR folk love the thrill of the new – that’s why we inhabit a world powered by the 24 minute news cycle – and we delight in nothing more than having our mettle tested by a new challenge. A business that is constantly faced with new goals, opportunities and obstacles to tackle is a healthy one.

Sir Alex may be gone, but his name will maintain cult status long after he disappears from the public eye. PR agencies should look to his example.

Suarez, shame and the not-so-beautiful game

The BBC crowned Liverpool player Luis Suarez the king of football controversy yesterday afternoon following the FA’s announcement that they have handed him a massive 10 match ban.

The scandal has had scribblers on the sidelines outraged at football’s reputation since. Left, right and centre, commentators have been clamouring to declare that football’s reputation is in the gutter – but is it?

The truth is that football’s reputation has been in the gutter for decades. Biting, spitting, headbutting, rioting, racism, rape and homophobia have riddled the Professional Game for years. Not to mention the number of super injunctions players have taken out against wives and girlfriends. These super injunctions – which come with a hefty price tag – are part of wider attempts by the industry to use financial muscle to prevent the real extent of players’ malfaisance.

Let’s face it: there are very few role models in football. There have been a few wonder boys with brilliant branding, and international superstars who have made formidable efforts to improve prospects for their home countries, but on the whole, the interest isn’t there. The culture is tainted from the top down and it will take a lot more than an FA ban to rectify things. With so much money to be exploited, does anyone care? The CSR and faded campaigns trying to polish the sport are nothing but fig leaves.

Football’s 1992 move into television sparked a wave of commodification that inverted the sport’s culture. Football is about money now, not values. Multimillion pound sponsorship deals inspire a culture of short-term agency. The real stories that affect football are those about management changes, player transfers, new signings, sponsorship and digital television deals – not fidelity, etiquette and corporate social responsibility.

The Ugly Face of the Beautiful Game

Amidst all the high-profile outrage surrounding the Sunderland manager, di Canio’s recent declaration that he is a fascist, I have found myself wondering how a multi-billion pound industry can pay so little attention to its press machine.

The rights and wrongs of his political beliefs are probably best debated in another forum, but the simple fact is that the handling of the media circus has been highly damaging or the Premiership club.

Important political allies and backers of the team have sought to distance themselves in light of the furore; David Miliband seems to be particularly concerned about the contagion (although he is already leaving to start a career in the United States), he has made a point of stepping down from the Club’s board.

It is astonishing that an industry that thrives in the public eye is so incapable of handling its own media image. While players agents and advisors manipulate self-interests. Most of their power is used to manipulate petty transfer tittle-tattle on tabloid back pages. The reality of the work debases the concept of communication.

The correct PR path in circumstances like these is to address the question, offer an explanation and put the issue to rest. Refusing to answer means the fiasco could drag on forever: the facts of the matter are left open to debate and silence is quickly filled with noxious speculation.

If di Canio is indeed a fascist, he is failing to show radical authoritarian leadership through his PR.

Beckham and the Bounce-Back Brand

David Beckham epitomises the modern celebrity age: in any other era, we wouldn’t have blinked an eyelid at a 38 year old footballer, other than for the sheer amount of time he had managed to stay in the game. Past his prime, we may no longer celebrate his on-pitch prowess in the same way, but we cannot deny the mammoth commercial clout of his brand. I marvel at the noise and clamour surrounding his move back to Europe.

The Beckham brand in its multiple forms has taken on global proportions, shepherding the herd with it at every stage. By leveraging his football career as a gossip point, David Beckham has been able to move across every point on the map. Beckham’s commercial success has been manifold, moving under the knowledgeable hands of Simon Fuller’s management company 19 from football to perfume and from fashion to advertising. He has moved from pitch to pitch and field to field seamlessly, enlisting the loyalty of millions worldwide each step of the way. We might only speculate on the actual contract struck with the club. Charitable donation is a wonderful stunt, but I guess we’ll never see the real deal.

Beckham is the master of reinvention, rivalling Madonna’s notable highs for his capacity to renegade over the course of his career. Along the way he has modelled clothes, endorsed some of the world’s biggest brands, and seized the world’s attention at all times. The interest that he has harvested across the globe – from the US to China – is now nestling itself into Paris Saint Germain, bringing glamour to the team and providing an opportunity for him to hide from the glare of the paparazzi under the country’s privacy laws.

So what’s the next step for the man who’s done everything in his career? Well, hopefully he will invest his brand capital in becoming a statesman for the game. His role in the Olympic 2012 bid carries a formidable legacy. It’s time for the likes of Beckenbauer and Platini to stand aside. Hopefully Golden Balls has the stuff.

There’s so much more for Beckham than the pantomime of the clichéd pundit pit. On home turf, not since the likes of Trevor Brooking or Bobby Charlton has football had a dignified British football statesman who could bring their wealth of knowledge and experience to the game. Beckham’s in it for the long haul.

Chisora/Haye- newest casualties of the sports media machine

The Chisora-Haye post fight Brew-ha ha over the weekend was a stark reminder that the world of Boxing provides us with the clearest and noisiest examples of the many pitfalls open to the young sports star. The scuffle between the two men has seen papers of all stripes filled with talk of the ‘disgrace’ in which they’ve left the sport.

Of course, if boxing can indeed be discredited by an out of ring scuffle, its name is already irredeemably muddied. The Guardian and the Mail both took the opportunity to run in one form or another gleeful summaries of past dust-ups, from Tyson and Lewis back to the racially-charged mid 80’s scrapping of Mark Kaylor and Errol Christie. It’s now pretty difficult to talk about the noble sport of the pugilistic gentleman with a straight face.

Where once the great showman Muhammed Ali used pre show/off-ring hype like an artist, whether to catch George Foreman off guard in the Rumble in the Jungle or whipping up long term media coverage around his rivalry with Joe Frazier, the practice has become cheap and often counterproductive.

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The Bayern Munich Transfer Stunt: When Clever Becomes Smartarse

Yesterday’s failed Bayern Munich stunt was an ideal example of what happens when creative energy fails to connect with the reality of the media narrative. For those who didn’t hear, the German football team wrangled a piece of PR trickery which fuelled an horrific backlash.

An announcement on their website that “a spectacular name” was to sign for the club invited fans to watch the name’s unveiling on the team’s Facebook page.

Needless to say, an incredible amount of furore was generated and fans eagerly tuned in at the proposed time in their thousands. However, following a short video clip from FCB’s general manager Christian Nerlinger, fans were treated to a view of their own Facebook profile picture, followed by their own name on the back of a Bayern Munich number 8 shirt.

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Vegan Football

Football’s back in the news, but this time it’s not about vast sums being splurged on footballers in the transfer market, it’s a stunt that raises awareness about the quality of food at your average sports match.

My local team, Forest Green, have a new chairman, CEO of Ecotricity Dale Vince. Vince is vegan – and he has just abolished all red meat products from being sold to punters during the match.

Out go meat pies, chips, curry sauce, sausages. In comes healthier food – though what exactly has yet to be announced. It’s likely to open up debate about the strange imbalance between watching men at peak fitness playing football whilst gorging on artery-clogging fast foods, positioning Dale Vince as the Jamie Oliver of the footballing world.

It’ll be interesting to see what vegetarian and vegan alternatives come in – veggie burgers never will quite cut the mustard in the eyes of hardcore footie fans. But the fight could well make for an interesting debate on the way people approach food in the football stands. Let’s wait and see if this makes its way up into the canteens of the Premier League.

Vince has lots of local interest and is building his brand locally. It’s fascinating to see the way Vince has taken his core values and woven them seamlessly into everything he does, from his green electricity company to a meat-free Forest Green Rovers. It has become a brand truth that instantly allows an audience to recognise what he and his companies stand for. It will be interesting to see how far he can take them.

Truth, Transparency & Trust: The New Celebrity Mantra

As Andy Gray and Richard Keys reach the desperate end of their careers, Jeremy Clarkson has weighed in to the row, saying that he is concerned about people being sacked and vilified for “heresy by thought”.

Is it possible he’s worried about people discovering what he’s thinking? He should be if he is foolish enough to say it aloud and it’s newsworthy; you can’t avoid the inevitable, There’ll come a time when even King Clarkson’s brand is out of fashion. The prayers of the in-house Car PR teams will one day be answered.

If you are in public life in 2011, be you a sports commentator, a chief executive of a major company, a politician, a pop star, a journalist or an actor, you need to be on message at all times. There is no off the record any more. You are a target and anyone has the means of catching you digitally and transmitting unwanted, candid moments up on the net in minutes where your conduct will be judged. If Twitter and Facebook can start a revolution in Egypt, it can take down a brand or a celebrity with ease.

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