Hats off to Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho – a true media operator. Where rivals babble incoherently about “games of two halves” or, at best, indulge in bland 1970s-style trash talk, Mourinho understands that the battles played out in the media can be just as important as those won or lost on the pitch.
After he dominated the sports pages last weekend with his assertion that Chelsea are a “little horse” in the Premiere League title race – a comment he later admitted was a “mind game” – we thought we’d put together a list of what brands can learn from the master.
1. Understand the power of memes
No, we don’t mean pictures of cats or Sean Bean with humorous text overlaid on them. We mean pithy little units of cultural material; quotes or ideas that you only have to put out once before they are repeated indefinitely. The use of the phrase “little horse” was a classic example. The coyness of the metaphor – so unusual in sport – combined with the quaintness of the image made this an irresistible kernel for a journalist to base a story around. Brands should think about concepts they can plug which are slightly off kilter while remaining compelling.
2. Don’t outfight, outsmart
In a pugilistic world like football, you can’t just let slights or insults slip by, and it’s the same for many brands. But nobody likes a bully, and aggression can be off putting. Mourinho is adept at letting his rivals have it in such a quirky, clever manner that you can’t help but love him anyway. The prime example would be his 2006 accusation that Barcelona’s Lionel Messi overreacted to a tackle in order to get Chelsea’s Asier del Horno sent off in a match. “How do you say cheating in Catalan?” said Mourinho. The papers loved it. Never lower your rivals in the audience’s estimation without simultaneously raising yourself.
3. Be eccentric
In football, personality often takes a back seat. Or rather, people mistake bravado, brashness or stony silence for personality. When you get a major figure who lets their actual character shine through in all its beautiful strangeness, they rightly stand out. Mourinho is one such, unafraid in interviews to expound upon subjects like omelettes: “Omelettes, eggs. No eggs, no omelettes. And it depends on the quality of the eggs in the supermarket. They are class one, two or three and some are more expensive than others and some give you better omelettes. When the class one eggs are not available you have a problem,” he once cryptically said. It’s an old lesson, but always a relevant one: never be afraid to say just exactly what you want to. In the now economy, where audiences demand honesty as never before, people often appreciate it.
4. The haters are your friends
Alex Ferguson may be touted as a management genius by everyone from his squad to Tony Blair, but he had one fatal flaw; he didn’t understand the press. In the end, they loved him, because you can’t fail to love a record like that, but he spent much of his career barring unfriendly journalists from press conferences and otherwise trying to control his brand narrative too much. Mourinho is the opposite – he lets the haters in and welcomes their criticism. He knows that a powerful quote will speak for itself, even if surrounded by a negative write up. To truly dominate the agenda, you must dominate your enemies’ agenda, not just your friends.
5. Establish a ritual
Like another great spinner, Alastair Campbell, Mourinho understands how to elevate a press conference into a theatrical event. The regularity of his briefings, the reliability of the stories they generate and the combative atmosphere he whips up in them combine for an adrenaline rush journalists just can’t miss. Think about ways to get the public or the press in a room with you and hash it out; it’s the best way to generate true engagement.