Archive for communication

What Liverpool should have done!

Posted in PR, Sport with tags , , , , , on January 4, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Two things have concerned me about the Luis Suarez / Patrice Evra racial abuse case which has been all over the sports pages.

The first can be dealt with quickly. Liverpool’s responses have been abysmal. Both statements released by the club, one in the immediate aftermath of the verdict and the other yesterday following the decision not to appeal, have been knee-jerk, ill-thought through and bad tempered.

Either senior management at the club have no faith in their PR people and are drafting statements themselves or PR people at the club are not being listened to. My suspicion is that the club needs a communication function with the gravitas to stand up to some very big personalities and move communication beyond keeping the Liverpool Echo happy. Best advice in both cases would have been for short, carefully-worded statements, not the haranguing diatribes that were released.

I vividly remember being involved in a hostile bid situation about 10 years ago. Our client hurriedly called his team of advisers together in order to draft a response to another initiative by the activist shareholder. The CEO, totally fed up by this point, started dictating a stinging response for issue to the London Stock Exchange, egged on by his lawyers and stockbrokers. My colleague and I, increasingly uncomfortable with all of this (we were mentally writing the next day’s headlines) managed to drag out the drafting until 6.30pm by which time it was too late to issue the response that day. By the next morning, calmer heads had prevailed and a three line statement was issued.

This is what should have happened. In an ideal world, PR people, particularly those in-house, should be acting as the company’s policemen, anticipating events and pouring oil on stormy waters. It is one very good reason why PR should never come wholly under the control of marketing, but that’s another blog!

My second issue involves procedure. Everyone in this case admits it has been horrendously difficult, involving language barriers, cultural issues, race and tribal loyalties. For the Football Association to throw a Queens Counsel into this mix, in the form of Paul Goulding QC, whose every instinct is to prosecute by any means within the law, was like adding petrol onto a fire.

What this case needed was dispute resolution, in the form of arbitration and conciliation, to move two parties with entrenched positions to some sort of agreement about what happened and crucially what was, and was not meant, during the exchanges, which were in pigeon Spanish, between the two players.

The FA may well be patting itself on the back this morning, but nobody, least of all my football club, comes out of this episode well.