This past weekend has brought news of football journalists finding themselves barred from doing their job.
For doing their job.
On Sunday after Newcastle’s defeat to Sunderland journalists from three local newspapers were stopped from asking questions of manager Alan Pardew.
The ban came about after coverage of a protest march in the Journal, the Chronicle and the Sunday Sun.
Coverage of Time 4 Change resulted in three local papers getting banned
This is nothing new. Sir Alex Ferguson dished out a number of bans to journalists and blanked the BBC for seven years, however more and more clubs are now seeking to strong-arm the press into censoring their own coverage.
The proliferation of this particular type of press control suggests that clubs must be reaping the rewards for hammering journalists whenever they step out of line, but is that really the case?
Newcastle United have previously banned the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph for their reporting. Neither newspaper has suffered or changed tact. The club and those in charge are still criticised when bad decisions are made.
Local newspapers have more pages to fill and as a result more to lose, however Newcastle United is not a particularly accessible football club even when you’re in their good books. Now the club have slammed the door in the face of NCJ Media they’ve given them free reign to go to town on them.
If they thought the coverage of the march was disproportionate they’re in for a shock.
So if banning journalists doesn’t work why go down the route of the playground bully.
Simple. They don’t know any better.
This is not an idea formulated by anyone in the club’s press office, or anyone with the most basic understanding of media relations for that matter. Wendy Taylor’s name may be on the bottom of the polemic fired out to the three publications in question, but I’d speculate that was the sum total of her involvement. Football clubs are autocratic institutions. Whatever the person at the top says goes.
In banning the local press Mike Ashley isn’t just showing a contempt for journalism but contempt for the club’s media team and demonstrating why once again Newcastle United are a living advert for employing someone with public relations expertise at a boardroom level.
Not that he’d listen to them.
When Paddy Power’s marketing team attack any subject controversy is never too far away. The announcement that they’d teamed up with leading gay rights charity Stonewall for an anti-homophobia campaign was no different.
According to Paddy Power’s website Right Behind Gay Footballers is “designed to kickstart a fundamental change in attitude” within the game. Players from all 134 professional teams in the United Kingdom have been challenged to show their support for gay footballers by wearing specially supplied rainbow laces during this weekend’s fixtures.
Unsurprisingly much of the consternation lies in the name, with the bookmaker accused of trivialising homophobia by adopting such a crude slogan.
So, have Paddy Power backed a winner or have they spectacularly misjudged the mood?
The choice of name is a deliberately provocative one but it works. It’s in line with Paddy Power’s fun, fair and friendly brand values while adding to the mischief-maker persona the organisation has worked so hard to cultivate. Rather than adopt a more tactful approach, which may turn their core audiences off, they’ve stuck to using the language they know garners a response.
And guess what? The audience has responded. Since the campaign hit the headlines on Sunday there have been over 24,000 mentions of #RBGF on Twitter, a figure you can expect to increase several times over as supporters play spot the rainbow laces this coming weekend.
As well as the backing of Stonewall, garnering the support of stars like Joey Barton and David Meyler (along with a host of other celebrities) very early on has also given a credibility to RBGF that would’ve been sorely lacking had Paddy Power launched it without any name players associated. Faces lend a legitimacy to the campaign.
The debate about the appropriateness of the slogan will continue, however I get the feeling the success of this campaign is already assured.
So that’s that then. Joe Kinnear is Newcastle United’s new Director of Football and the word ‘crisis’ is yet again being chucked around to describe another episode of high farce that has unfolded on Tyneside. A fair assessment?
I’d say so. Not only is it a crisis, but it’s one completely of Newcastle United’s own making. Employing the unemployable is bad enough, and I’m sure there’ll be chapter and verse written on that subject by people far more qualified to comment than I, but the sound of silence has inflamed a delicate situation.
Nature abhors a vacuum. A statement should’ve been forthcoming the moment Joe Kinnear decided to go on national TV to talk about his new role. Instead the fans and press were left to pick over every line of the interview.
A carefully worded statement wouldn’t have solved all the club’s woes. They would’ve still been in full damage limitation mode. Kinnear isn’t the most polished interviewee the world of football has ever seen, nor does he care much for facts. His record at press conferences during his first stint at Newcastle United should’ve served as fair warning and it should’ve been made clear to him that he wasn’t to talk to the press a) until the club announced the appointment and b) he was then only to do so through official channels/with the express consent of the club. Considering Joe did neither we can only assume these instructions were not conveyed.
By late Monday evening, after Kinnear’s second baffling interview with a national media outlet it was apparent the club had lost complete control not over only the message, but the man who cannot be relied to stay on-message! There was little the club could do to placate supporters or pretend this hadn’t been anything other than an unmitigated disaster. On Tuesday lunchtime, almost 48 hours after Kinnear’s first interview, a short statement was released confirming the appointment. As far as denouements go it wasn’t a particularly satisfying one for Newcastle United’s support.
A press officer’s nightmare
It must be said that I do not believe any fault lies with the club’s media team for this disaster. None at all. It’s apparent they were hamstrung, I assume by the hierarchical structure in which they’re expected to work, and simply unable to say anything until they’d had word from on high. Considering the deal was apparently done on Sunday afternoon such a delay suggests to me a lack of understanding of the role of public relations from those in charge.
If clubs can learn anything from this sorry saga it’s that they desperately need PR knowledge and representation at boardroom level. At no point over the past few days has any one of the decision makers stopped to think how this would be received by the fans, how to announce this decision or even whether letting their own employee loose on the media would cause further woe. The individuals who had the expertise to at least attempt to deal with this situation, the employees who had began to build bridges with fans that have since had petrol and a lit match chucked on them, were left in the dark.
Director of Football? How about a Director of Communications?
It’s past midday, so I think we have to assume that the appointment of Paolo Di Canio as Sunderland’s new boss is not an elaborate April fool.
The news has sparked some pretty fierce reactions among fans and interested observers which is entirely understandable considering the man’s politics. You don’t need to be an expert in PR to know that employing a self-confessed fascist is going to raise a few eyebrows, however Sunderland seem to have been caught on the hop by the response. The club, clearly aggrieved that they’re now at the centre of a media circus, released a bizarre statement this afternoon detailing why they’re being harshly treated.
This appointment was always going to be terribly difficult to justify, however there was a real opportunity for Sunderland to take the heat out of the situation. For a start acknowledge the issue. Despite the club’s protestations that Di Canio’s position has been misrepresented he is famously on record saying that he is a fascist and was pictured several times performing a ‘Roman salute’ during his time at Lazio. Sunderland have committed the cardinal sin of crisis management – they haven’t got their facts right. As a result they’re completely discredited.
The scornful manner in which the press are referred to throughout is quite simply petulant. This is a story not borne out of media mischief, but the actions of Di Canio himself.
Furthermore the club have made it clear that they’ll not entertain any questions about the situation, finishing the statement with the following line:
“Neither Sunderland AFC, nor Paolo Di Canio, will make any further comment on this matter.”
Has ignoring the elephant in the room ever proven to be a sound public relations tactic? An unwillingness to engage on a particular topic will not make it go away, quite the opposite in fact. Warning journalists off asking about Di Canio’s fascist leanings may make sure his press conferences run a bit smoother but the club are sacrificing what little control they had over the issue. A dangerous decision.
Sunderland’s PR department had an unenviable task when they woke up this morning. Lancing this particular boil was always going to be difficult to do however a desire to ignore certain unhelpful facts mixed with a lack of preparedness and refusal to engage further has exacerbated the situation.