“We adored you and you sold our souls. RIP MUFC. 1878 – 2021”
So read a banner fluttering against the railings of Old Trafford last week. The crisis sparked by the European Super League (ESL) and its swift collapse dominated headlines, and made for an extraordinary few days in football.
Twelve of the world’s biggest football clubs attempted to revolutionise the sport via an elite breakaway league. The backlash from fans, players, broadcasters and government was furious and unanimous, forcing the six English clubs involved to hastily withdraw and issuing grovelling defences. The Super League had been three years in the making, but within 48 hours it was dead in the water. The full scale of the reputational damage to the ‘Dirty Dozen’ clubs remains to be seen, but in the short term, substantial repair work is needed to begin rebuilding fans’ trust.
So what were some of the factors which led to the fiasco, and how could it have been better handled?
i) Misreading fans’ reactions.
The Super League clubs believed that on the whole, their fans would support the breakaway venture. This appears odd given every existing fan seemed to despise the idea, which suggests the clubs had developed a different assessment of who their target audience was. Rather than appealing to the older established fans, the Super League clubs were likely looking to engage legions of new, younger, followers in emerging economies like Asia. This made the Super League plans even more offensive to existing fans; the contest had not been designed with them in mind at all, but rather millions of potential foreign supporters. The notion that a new fan is as valuable as an old one might have been met with more grace in the American sports market, but in European football – built on decades of local associations and history – it was unthinkable.
ii) The deafening roar of silence:
Talks around the Super League will have been taking place for considerable time. Criticism was bound to have followed the announcement of its set-up, and the Super League camp should have been ready early with a short positive message to counter the negativity. Instead, after rumours of its establishment began to swirl, there was nothing official from the Super League side until days later. None of the executives of the 12 clubs provided statements or interviews to the media, or attempted to explain the upsides of the Super League. This comment vacuum was unsurprisingly filled instead with negativity from fans, managers, players and media. The result? The narrative was already set, and by last Monday it was virtually impossible to change.
iii) Sorry seems to be the hardest word:
As the saying goes: trust ‘takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair’. Fans of the conspiring clubs feel betrayed and sidelined, and while their trust can in likelihood be earned back, it won’t be overnight. Swift and contrite apologies were going to be crucial to starting the repair of fractured relations, yet the clubs have shown varying levels of public regret over the fiasco.
Somewhat astonishingly, Tottenham and Chelsea have so far failed to explicitly apologise. Tottenham’s chairman Daniel Levy instead flagged ‘we regret the anxiety and upset caused’, while Chelsea stated they ‘deeply regret’ the decision to join the league. The failure to apologise highlights the growing chasm between the clubs’ decision-makers, and the fans they purport to support. Compare this to Arsenal, whose message to fans was clear both in terms of culpability (‘We made a mistake, and we apologise for it’) and mutuality: (‘We have heard you’).
For now, football supporters are understandably cheering the sinking of the much-maligned Super League. The debacle over the last week has helped shine light on troublesome elements of modern club ownership, and the commodifcation of a game which drives it further away from the values of the fans who underpin it. Whilst the breakaway clubs are humiliated and licking their wounds, now is a good time for important discussions about the future of the game, and decisive reform.
This has been a turbulent time in PR. Some clients drew in their horns as the pandemic hit and as a result, agencies let people go and then had to plug gaps rapidly as the work returned. This has resulted in some strange staffing arrangements in PR, but there was a precedent for this pre-COVID.
Admittedly finding and keeping great people in PR is notoriously difficult. Staffing an agency with the right people with the right skills at the right time, while protecting and nurturing the culture, is a delicate balancing act at the best of times. Obviously, this challenge was exacerbated by the pandemic. But (and you knew there was a ‘but’..), should we be taking greater care with when and why we promote people?
Tempting as it is to promote that Account Executive to an Account Manager, should you do it? You know in your heart they’re not quite ready, but you’re worried that if you don’t, they’ll leave. Are you actually being unfair to them and their future employer? Promoting them may make you seem to be rewarding them but is this really the case? Would they not feel more comfortable and more authentic if they have a couple more years of experience under their belt? Setting someone up for a bout of imposter syndrome in the guise of an upward move is a cruel and unusual punishment indeed.
Recently we’ve seen a smaller agency promote a member of staff from Account Executive to an Associate Director in less than three years, which really stretches the credibility of the PR agency model in the eyes of clients. Presumably the agency hopes that the client will not be aware of their dearth of experience but a quick glance at LinkedIn or a passing comment, or even the fact of their youth, will give the game away.
We need to be brave, and realistic. People who have made up their mind to move on invariably do so sooner rather than later anyway, so there’s a decent chance you’re setting them up to fail in their next role with that panicky promotion. Better to keep your powder dry by only promoting people when they’re ready. Your employees and your peers will respect you for it in the longer term.
Clubhouse exploded onto the tech scene last year as a new audio-only social network for people to engage in a professional context. It’s climbed to 10 million weekly users, its impressive growth driven in no small part by advocates like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, as well as the sense of FOMO generated from its exclusive invitation-only access. Now Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have followed hot on its heels with their own equivalents to try and steal some of the market.
Social media moves fast and we can’t predict whether Clubhouse will still be top of mind five years from now. But while the hype is alive and well, there is a great opportunity for entrepreneurs and C-Level executives to get in on the action and make their voices heard.
- It’s an engaging way to tell your story and attract new listeners
Audio is one of the most engaging ways to tell your story, with some even saying it’s the ‘new video’ (no doubt, in light of the video fatigue we’ve all experienced since lockdown). Because conversations on Clubhouse happen live, with more opportunity for dialogue, the content tends to be more memorable and impactful than a pre-recorded podcast interview might be.
This means that speakers need to be fully prepared for people to pose questions and challenge their statements, and therefore as a rule, they should stick to discussing areas that fit comfortably within their wheelhouse. Media training for spokespeople, considering the platform attracts lots of journalists, is also a must.
- It’s a good way to knowledge-share and learn about the latest trends in your industry
Podcasts and video interviews with industry leaders have long offered a valuable source of knowledge. With Clubhouse, individuals can not only tune in, but engage with them in real time, including influencers who they might never have had a chance to connect with prior. It’s a great way to stay up to date on trends, hear what your peers are doing and develop your own arguments, all the while fostering connections in your industry circle.
- It offers event hosting without the hassle
Once you’ve built up a following, you can use Clubhouse to host your own events. This is a great way to control the messaging you’re putting out there and who you’re collaborating with, and to educate a wider audience on your subject matter expertise and what your company stands for.
The conference circuit can be an intimidating place and, while most business leaders have insights worth sharing, many shy away from speaking in front of a big audience. Clubhouse solves this problem by allowing you to speak to an unlimited audience from the comfort of your own home, without feeling the audience’s eyes on you.
If you’re using Clubhouse as part of a wider PR and marketing strategy, as with any social media platform, measurement is key. Monitor the reaction and engagement you’re getting regularly to evaluate whether it’s bringing you connections and business leads over time.
It remains to be seen whether Clubhouse will be able to sustain its hold on the market but, in a competitive landscape with so many voices trying to be heard, maybe another stage to tell stories is just what we need.
Big news at Ballou France; Cédric Voigt is being promoted to Chief Operating Officer (COO) from General Manager France. Cédric has been with Ballou for a decade and joined when Ballou France boasted a grand total of three people.
In his new role Cédric will be continuing to drive growth, fostering closer relationships with clients and partners, building out the Ballou brand in new markets and helping to grow the agency’s digital capabilities. At his right hand will be Alexandre Denis, formerly Deputy General Manager, who will take over as General Manager Ballou France. Congratulations to them both!
If ever there was a time to celebrate everyday successes, it’s now. Ballou has inaugurated a “Corker of the Month” award in our UK, French and German offices, to be awarded to whichever member of staff embodies Ballou’s values best.
It’s our core values, which include respect, humour, thoughtfulness and clarity, that have helped the teams cope and the business thrive through the stark days of coronavirus.
Every Corker gets a bottle of Champagne or box of chocolates according to taste. This month’s winners include a new joiner who’s shown a readiness to handle anything that comes his way, another member of staff who has maintained incredible motivation and another who always goes the extra mile for her teammates.
A corking start to 2021.
Ballou is delighted to be working on an on-going basis with venture capitalist firm Draper Esprit, whose recent investments include Cazoo, Seedcamp and Crowdcube. Draper Esprit prides itself on being one of the most active venture capital firms in Europe, supported by the global Draper Venture Network, headquartered in Silicon Valley.
Our role will be to craft Draper Esprit’s messaging to obtain coverage in the tech press, support on company announcements and announce the fundings of its many portfolio companies. It’s an exciting time for Draper Esprit and we’re greatly looking forward to our partnership.
Ballou UK and Germany are delighted to be rekindling their previous alliance with online education provider Udacity, which partners with enterprise companies to create bespoke training courses.
As well as working on Udacity’s B2B offering, Ballou will be providing PR service for Udacity’s component for government, namely the national roll-out of apprentice training.
Nick Taylor and Jude Parveselli in the UK office will again be working with Udacity, as will Katja Waldor in Germany.
Ballou PR is one of the top 150 PR agencies in the UK, according to PR Week and not only that, we’re delighted to have come in the PRovoke (formerly Holmes Report) Global Top 250 PR Agency Ranking for 2020.
We’ve been in the Tech PR ranking before but to be in the top 150 across the board is really exciting for us, and all credit must go to our amazing team that works so hard to provide our clients with the best possible service and achieve the coverage that keeps them coming back. We’re so proud of the Ballou family.
Nurses and doctors are recommended to retake basic life support training every six to twelve months, regardless of how many decades they have been practising. This is not because the requirements change significantly. It’s because despite constantly working in a medical environment, when people are faced with a crisis situation they can go blank and forget everything they’ve learned. The training needs to be embedded so that it’s easily mentally accessible and can over-ride a flood of adrenalin that can be paralysing.
We’re currently in a crisis situation (not that anyone needs telling) and as leaders of organisations we need to be doing the same thing. We’ve all been trained or learned about good comms in a crisis, about leadership skills, motivation and creating a strong work community. How much of it are we actually remembering to use?
As humans, we fight, flight or freeze in extremis. We’re all feeling vulnerable about ourselves, our families and our businesses. It’s our responsibility to quieten down our own anxieties at work as much as possible (without negating them, obviously, and making sure we address them appropriately outside work) and lead our teams to a working day that’s as productive and calm as possible.
In terms of our own survival through this, there is no disgrace in seeking help. There’s been an outpouring of love to the NHS, there’s been huge community support and neighbourhoods drawing together, ironic in a time of isolation. As business leaders we tend to close down as part of our desire to project a calm exterior, but that does not mean we are not in great need of support from each other. We don’t need to pretend to each other that everything is fine; huge support and comradeship can be exchanged by simply ringing a contemporary at another organisation and finding out how they’re feeling, what they’re doing, what they’re winning at and where they are feeling challenged.
Some organisations have behaved badly during this crisis in the way they have treated their staff. There’s no need for me to name them as you all know who they are, and you will remember who they were when this is long gone. That’s the point. People have long memories and they will remember the companies and the individuals who stepped up and behaved well.
Just as there are a few pub chains who might find themselves with fewer customers than they had pre-virus, and we might be buying our trainers elsewhere, in a year’s time people within our organisations will remember how the senior leaders behaved. In the words of the great Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
We’re learning and changing as a result of this virus. We’ve all used the term “quarantine” more in the last fortnight than ever before, everyone’s figured out that furlough doesn’t meant what they thought it did, that their parents have no understanding of the word “essential” and realised that we’re never going to under-estimate the joy of a trip to the pub again.
Also, everybody who has been attempting to home-school their children now has the fervent belief that all teachers should be paid at least £46,000 per day. Similarly, Priti Patel’s “low skilled workers” have suddenly become the people that are keeping the nation going – the shop assistants, agricultural workers and care providers. Doorstep milk deliveries feel like a minor miracle, we’re hugely grateful to refuse collectors for keeping the service going and the fact that letters are still plopping on to the doormat seems incredible.
Loving the invisible forces that keep us going brings me on to IT. I work in tech so obviously I’m more aware of the work that goes into producing the systems that keep the office going, but so many people aren’t. IT departments are the butt of jokes (looking at you, ‘IT Crowd’), and can be seen as unhelpful or deliberately oblique. Without them though our working lives would grind to a halt under normal circumstances but under this lockdown work would be utterly impossible. Those in IT are obviously highly skilled workers but I’m still not sure they get the recognition they deserve.
A video did the rounds of social media earlier today of a woman lambasting two telecoms workers for digging up a pavement to fix a connection. In her view this was inessential work, noisy and intrusive, and broke the lockdown regulations. In what world is telecoms an inessential service? Not this one, where vital medical information and access to life-protecting services are all accessed through the internet.
Like I’m sure you have, I’ve been out clapping for the NHS and all those on the front line. Of course we should be aware and appreciative more often of the outstanding contribution these citizens make. It shouldn’t take a global catastrophe to make us aware of their work. Along with everything else coronavirus is teaching us about society, however, hopefully after this we’ll stop and think every now and again of the unsung heroes across different industries, tech included.
Now we’re really self-isolating we’re realising the part we each play in society. Maybe we’ve actually been self-isolating all along, in entirely the wrong way – it’s time to step up and keep this momentum going.