Public relations, the bastion of any successful brand or individual. Marketing and advertising helps too, of course, but public relations are the real winners. Public relations can move you from quite liking a brand to becoming an advocate for the brand, a flag bearer insisting all your family and friends should sign up to the brand and any other brand is inherently evil. It’s all absolutely intentional and, by and large, quite harmless. It’s achieved through free media such as news stories and social media; unlike advertising which incurs a cost to get your product out there.
For example, if you were a new owner of a business and that business was a run-down brand in the depths of despair but you were trying to win the public over then advertising your brand is not going to do very much. However, if you invite the public to join in an initiative, challenge them and you make sure that you film them doing it and call the media to run a story on it, well then that’s good public relations. The public feel optimistic that the brand is turning the corner and good times lie ahead, the business benefits from increased positive publicity and opens up new custom. Something like replacing pink seats with red for instance and getting the fans to fit the seats themselves. That’s good positive PR.
Public relations will shine a positive light on a reputation or a business or an idea. Like the Dortmund Model for instance. Like a certain party stopping. Like only signing players who are desperate to buy into not only the club, but the city as a whole. All great positive things when your customer base want the best for the club and know just how great this club could be in the right hands.
Of course, you do need to be careful with PR. It permeates every decision that is made public, whether those decisions are good or bad. Where there are bad decisions PR is equally as important, if not more so. Say for example you had a young, promising striker scoring goals for fun. That striker could be the difference between success and failure, but you made a mistake in not tying him down to a long contract and so, you let him go for a relative pittance. You will face questions, however finding an alternative scapegoat works well in these situations. Blame the agent, call the player’s commitment into question, anything like that. What it isn’t wise to do is to panic that you won’t be loved anymore and go and blow a fortune on an overpriced striker who has had stuttering form in the hope you have found a more than adequate replacement. That’s running scared of PR and making it inform rash decisions. Never do that.
There are other things you shouldn’t do. Let’s go back to those owners coming into a new club. They want to re-engage the fanbase. They really want those stay at home supporters to come back to the ground, to spend their hard earned money in the club. What you should never do in this situation is to alienate them. Definitely do not insult them. Never, ever, call them parasites.
Similarly, if the fanbase are a little annoyed it makes great sense to pull them all together around a common cause. You have to identify that common cause, find out what it is that is annoying them so much. Listen to them. Survey them. Interact with them. What you should never do is arrange a meeting with them and have a bust up by suggesting that people in the North East lack good business sense compared with southerners. What you also shouldn’t do is, after said bust up, hide things away, like avoiding publishing the minutes. That will only make those who weren’t at the meeting suspicious. Whatever is said in that meeting will be 100 times worse in the ether of gossip. Be open, be honest, be transparent and apologise.
You should acknowledge problems squarely if they are going to be out in the public. Say for instance you are getting a loan from some Americans. By all means call it an investment, I mean, after all, that money will be invested in the club right? Just be careful you don’t secure it against major club assets because that type of thing gets into Companies House records which are in the public domain.
If you’re trying to sell your business to prospective buyers do everything in your power to paint the club in a good light, sell them the positives. This isn’t PR this is marketing. Now you may not have a great deal to offer, you may be in the third tier compared to other competitors. In fact, the only thing that might be going for you is the fact that you have some decent business premises and your customer base is incredibly loyal. In marketing terms never go on record saying your customers can be difficult to deal with, that could put the buyers off. If you do say that then the buyers might disappear. If you do say that though and the buyer does disappear, please do not then blame your customers for spoiling the deal. Remember they are your customers and, let’s face it, they didn’t have a seat at the negotiating table to market themselves, they were reliant on you.
Say for instance something major happens, a global pandemic or something. It’s absolutely beyond your control. This puts you in a very tricky position. Your company has lost its income because your customers can no longer spend their money with you. Say for instance some of them have already paid you though. You should refund them and make it as easy as possible for them to get those refunds, especially when those people are suffering financially at that time, even if being poor is something you’ve never personally experienced.
The pandemic is tough, it’s tough on everyone. Businesses across the region are laying staff off left, right and centre. Shutters and boards are coming up and you’re feeling the pinch too. Some staff will have to go I’m afraid. Which staff though? It’s not just a financial decision, think about the impact on the product (the team) think about how much the fanbase respect the people you are laying off. If you really are left with no choice but to put everyone’s favourite employee out of work, then do it with dignity. Explain it all, give him or her a great send off and thank them for all their hard work and diligence throughout the years. Think about the respect they have built up. What you should never do is carry out the task behind closed doors without any acknowledgement. You will appear sneaky and underhanded.
So, there you go. PR isn’t that difficult is it. Maybe Sunderland AFC should employ someone who can do it…