When football managers lose their cool

There seems to be a glaring omission from the training curriculum for football managers.

A useful session for would-be Special Ones might be ‘How to keep your cool with the local media and not look like a prat’. I suggest interactive bits where they could practise how to avoid a media crisis.

Newcastle United’s Alan Pardew’s current spat with the Sunday Sun would make a good case study. See if you can complete the following exercise.

‘Your team has a run of disappointing results. The local Sunday newspaper, reflecting the views of some fans, criticises your actions in a way you find offensive.

‘Should you a, Ignore the criticism and get on with your job or b, Explain your decisions and enter into a discussion or c, Tell the editor to go to hell and ban the newspaper from all matches? Describe the likely repercussions of each option.’

Anyone who chooses option c would be following a well-trodden path taken by managers since time immemorial. It starts as a molehill and ends as a mountain.

What happened in Newcastle was this: Mr Pardew’s ban on the Sunday Sun generated more hostile publicity (surprise, surprise). He then appeared to blame the paper for recent defeats when he said, by way of an explanation: “ I don’t think the local press have helped.”

To which undiplomatic comment the Sunday Sun made this roaring response:sunday sun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

. . .which is all highly entertaining for anyone with nothing better to do than watch alpha-male elephants crashing about in the bush trying to knock seven bells out of each other, but is no help to Newcastle United fans desperate to see their side improve.

Managers would argue that they know more about football than sports editors (which in most cases is true) and that local newspapers need football clubs more than the clubs need newspapers (also true).

But the clubs employ press officers to disseminate favourable publicity and it is quite wrong to expect football writers to follow the official line. In fact it’s essential that journalists demonstrate their independence. It is arrogant of managers not to recognise this and disrespectful to the thousands of fans who read the sports pages for their alternative opinions.

GARETH WEEKES, Deep South Media Ltd.

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If you can keep your head while all around you are losing theirs

STORMY WATERS. Protecting reputation in difficult times takes care and skill.

STORMY WATERS. Protecting reputation in difficult times takes care and skill.

By Ron Wain, Joint Managing Director, Deep South Media

A true test of leadership is in a crisis.

A crisis where humanity, humility, courage, and other hitherto unknown personal attributes, coalesce to create a reassuring presence that everyone else will rally around, however desperate the situation, whatever the odds.

Some of these crises are reputational and it is beholden on any well-run company to ensure their own leader is up to the task of facing the eye-bleaching glare of the media.

Don’t be fooled by appearances, though.

Your boss may appear confident, intelligent, capable, driven.

But a barrage of aggressive questioning from reporters on matters of public interest, where your company has blundered, perhaps with the loss of life, may end in humiliation, petrifaction and an ignominious exit from an appalled boardroom.

Malaysia, as a country, faced similar reputational damage after MH370, the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER aircraft carrying 239 people, vanished from the face of the earth on March 8.

Communicating in these challenging circumstances, with relatives’ emotions running high and an information black hole due to an unprecedented event, would place any organisation under stress.

The initial news conferences were shambolic, disordered, amateurish, feverish.

Step forward Hishammuddin Hussein, the country’s defence minister.

He has brought statesman-like gravitas to proceedings, ensuring the briefings have been more controlled, professional, thoughtful.

Mr Hussein has brought another thing in this distressing episode: leadership.

As former reporters ourselves, we regularly put leaders to the test in front of the cameras.

Some stumble, sweat, curse, lose their heads.

Others keep theirs on.

These white-heat media interview training sessions, which are always based on realistic scenarios, prove useful pointers for senior management teams.

They are now informed, with a better degree of certainty, about who would be frontman or frontwoman, should the worse happen and a news conference has to be called in the interests of transparency, the media clamouring for answers.

In fairness, few of us could perform in such a pressure-cooker environment.

But the key question is, who, in your organisation, can show Hishammuddin-like leadership in a reputational firestorm?

If you can’t name the right person immediately, you’ve got a problem.

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Where a simple question can trip up the talented

by Ron Wain, Deep South Media

TV broadcaster Noel Edmonds, the British Broadcasting Corporation and your £145.50 TV licence fee illustrate a point of especial relevance to businesses in the public eye.

Mr Edmonds has made a thoroughly decent living over the past few decades as a charismatic TV presenter.

They include shows such as Top Gear, Multi-Coloured Swap Shop, Top of the Pops, The Late, Late Breakfast Show, Noel’s House Party – featuring that Mr Blobby – and Deal or No Deal.

Given this impressive curriculum vitae, mostly with the BBC, Noel is perhaps better positioned than most in the TV industry to give his opinion on how the public service could be cured.

He described the corporation as “a patient that is now terminally ill” and “not for purpose”.

A buy-out by a group of private investors would be the way forward, the cure, he indicated.

So far, so good – a chance to tell us what is wrong with the BBC, how these white knight rescuers would change things for the better and how you would go about price-tagging the vast organisation.

Then, with Noel’s appearance on BBC2’s Newsnight, things started to unravel.

Jeremy Paxman, the interrogator, wore a bemused expression; Mr Edmunds could only give the vaguest of details about the nature of the investors or their plans.

Then that moment when we collectively take in an audible gasp of breath – and we all knew in an instant that Mr Edmonds was on the back foot.

Delivering the coup de grâce, Paxman had asked if he is currently paying for the TV licence fee, to which the reply: “I don’t have a television licence, no. I don’t watch [TV] except on catch-up.”

At which point the interview closed.

There you have it. The public was just told by the telly personality – the one they had made famous by loyally tuning in to his programmes since the 1970s – that he did not feel it necessary to buy a licence like the rest of us. Or even a telly, which we watched him on.

Now, Noel does raise a serious issue regarding the thorny issue of catch-up – the Beeb is struggling to monetise the digital distribution of television content via the internet.

But any semblance of credibility had evaporated with the admission that the 39p-a-day cost of the TV licence was not for this wealthy star.

The moral of the story – get your prep done, and your ducks in a row, before facing the news cameras.

Had Noel been on our books, we’d have told him what Newsnight would probably have asked, and a few other questions beside, to avoid him falling into bear traps.

We would have also strongly advised he dipped into his pocket for that TV licence.

After all, it is often the simple things that trip up the talented.

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Inconvenient truths delivered in a news release

by Ron Wain, Joint Managing Director of Deep South Media

As a company news release goes, this one was right up there in the scale of drama and impact.

One that will reverberate within the top echelons of that particular organisation for years to come.

The embattled Co-op Group, for so long a byword for ethical consumerism but now struggling to regain equilibrium, accepted with “deep regret” the resignation this week of a demoralised chief executive Euan Sutherland.

Hard enough to regain reputational ground when your banking arm recently triggered the largest crisis in the mutual’s 150-year history because of the discovery of a £1.5 billion funding black hole.

But nigh-on impossible unless, in Mr Sutherland’s own words in the news release, “the Group adopts professional and commercial governance”.

Given these febrile conditions at board level, some corporations may have been tempted to issuing a terse one-paragraph statement to the markets, to the effect that so-and so stood down for personal reasons.

Such a tactic would have neatly – but not cleverly – avoided addressing the actual circumstances which led to the high-profile departure of the person who was, in this case, in charge of 90,000 staff, 5,000-plus high street branches and the quality of service to seven million members.

Such a tactic would have backfired because the media abhors an information vacuum on a big story.

Such a tactic is not recommended – you are inviting trouble to your door, leaving the way open for a poorly executed communications strategy made on the hoof and inviting reputationally damaging revelations.

Corporate silence morphs within hours, sometimes less, into the proverbial red rag to a bull.

Journalists, their investigative senses heightened, will dig, ferret and rightly hollow out the truth, or as near as damn it.

It is what they excel in; democracy and accountability are stronger for it.

Fair play, then, to The Co-op. What the news release – in effect a corporate denouement – has done is show what is at stake reputationally. That doing nothing is not an option.

No punches were pulled; Board executives know that the eyes of the City, employees and members are now firmly focused on them to deliver “fundamental modernisation”.

Mr Sutherland has thrown down the gauntlet openly and intelligently, as befits an ethical retailer which is run and owned by members.

He has divvied up inconvenient truths to his now-former colleagues, a final irony given The Co-op’s policy of sharing profits with members.

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Protecting reputation in the age of digital permanence

By Ron Wain, Joint Managing Director of Deep South Media

This time 20 years ago I was a few weeks into a 14-month adventure to cycle the knotted Andean length of South America.

From the Antarctica-facing toe of Argentina, at the far end of the world, to the fevered scalp of a tremulous Colombia 9,000 miles away in the heat-haze Caribbean north.

Meanwhile, in that year – 1994 – there were reportedly just 40,000 or so emails sent globally, compared to the 249 billion that currently flash across the information super highway every day.

Touching upon the way communication has changed beyond recognition since then, it was this month all those years ago that I had to detour an extra 800 headwind miles to pick up air mail letters from family and friends. At a tumble-weed post office forwarding address. Having haphazardly selected the arid Patagonian location back in England on a cosy sofa with a large-scale map. Which was next-to-useless in conveying meaningful distances.

Even now, despite the arduous diversion, I remember the gripping excitement of opening those letters, the familiar scrawls and in-jokes, the characters of the writers emerging larger than life from the Par Avion parchment paper. They good-naturedly gossiped and chuckled, shared thoughts and reflections, bade me well. All in private, because they were letters meant for an audience of one.

Fast-forward to 2014, to a real-time world where a rogue tweet or Facebook update can be headline news online within five minutes. Writing letters is anathema to so many of us. Understandably, conveniently, the email is expedient, second nature, so now. Handwriting feels awkward, clumsy, disconnected, fuddy-duddy.

Given the potential for viral insanity – that now-famous group selfie of Hollywood A-listers at the Oscars on March 3rd was retweeted a record 2.5 million times in just a few hours – the watchword must always be digital profile caution.

There is the constant danger that injudicious comments made on a stray email, or an inappropriate image borne out of a moment’s stupidity, will haunt us digitally, either as an individual or a company, a never-ending echo bouncing off the impenetrable walls of a bottomless canyon.

No doubt the owners of those echoes, especially those whose reputations have wrongly been damaged by internet search engine permanence, long for a not-so-distant time when letters were the only means of written communication.

Yet the online imprint cuts both ways because there are many decent, well-run companies and organisations that prefer digital permanence for all the right reasons.

They are sharing success stories, from contract wins, industry awards and job creation to new products, customer service excellence and growth.

Just the sort of sharable and informative content we provide for our own clients.

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Real-time decisions for daily regional newspapers

Deep South Media

Content is king whatever the format

by Ron Wain, Joint Managing Director, Deep South Media

If your business lost a third of its sales over half a year, following a long-term decline, what would you do?

Perhaps reach for a stiff drink and reminisce about the glory days? Then put staff to the sword as a stop-gap measure to reduce costs?

The enormity of just such a situation casts a shadow over the regional newspaper industry following the latest audited circulation figures. The best performer in England celebrated, if that is the correct word, a drop of just under 5%, while the worst was a smidgeon under a jaw-dropping 34%.

The decline in sales of local dailies is across the board. Fewer of us are buying printed newspapers; we walk or drive past what is now clearly an anachronism in our digital world, the newspaper bill board.

Yet this is not the time to start shroud-waving and delivering the last rites. Far from it. The readership of many titles is higher than ever, courtesy of the internet.

Newspaper websites receive tens of thousands of online hits every day from an audience that recognises the provenance of the paper which was read by generations of their families before them. The brand is still respected, liked, trusted.

So the product is not at fault here – the news content is usually good enough to attract people’s valuable screen time.

That readers can comment in real-time on stories is also a draw, as part of that all-important user experience, albeit with the exception that it leaves the door open for the venomous to air their warped opinions.

Interactive advertisements, too, reach out to us in a way that printed ads never could. Which takes us to the heart of the problem. Ads generate the revenues that keep newspapers alive, but online ads don’t generate as nearly as much profit as those in print.

Yet, in time, that may well change, given that online advertisements already have a far larger audience than is now achievable in print.

Like an unstoppable avalanche, more and more of us, of all ages, from all backgrounds, are accessing news – free – from phones, tablets, laptops and desktops.

Indeed, the main regional press groups have all recorded surges in online readership.

So there is an increasingly cogent case for regional daily and weekly titles to cite their website hits, to justify higher advertising revenues, rather than being wedded to audited newspaper sales rooted in a bygone age.

In the light of what appears to be an irreversible decline in paid-for daily print sales, perhaps it is time to wave goodbye to cover prices and instead start producing free Metro-style papers, on a daily or regular basis, backed up with a free-access website.

Or ditch print entirely and bring in a free-access website, accepting that revenues will hurt for some time before the patient returns to health.

Then, down the line, make the transition to subscription only, ensuring that the editorial content is so good, so readable, so engaging and revelatory. By doing so, visitors won’t mind quite so much that they have to dip into their pockets and/or be tempted to search elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the role of the journalist is more important than ever in the internet age. Without compelling editorial content, there would be no brand, no local newspaper, online or in print.

Come on, don’t wave to the drowning. Instead, take action in real-time.

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Press officer in Babylon

She’s beautiful, she’s clever, she’s a warrior for Truth – of course she must be . . . a press officer.

But anyone thinking of applying for a job in a police press office might like to watch Channel 4’s satirical cop thriller Babylon before mailing the application.

When PR guru Liz Garvey becomes head of PR at Scotland Yard she enters a snakepit of half-truths and manipulation bringing her own simple mantra: honesty and transparency.

Cue hysterical laughter from crime reporters and indeed police press officers everywhere who would be happy to point out to the lovely Liz (played by Brit Marling) that this will never work.

As the show makes clear, external communications for the police are clouded with many difficult issues such as establishing the truth in a fast-moving situation and taking care not to endanger officers or alarm the public unnecessarily. Sometimes transparency reveals a picture of chaos and panic.

Add hostile journalists, malevolent press office assistants, loutish constables and above all citizen journalists (ie anyone with a smartphone camera and a Twitter account) and you have an inflammable atmosphere entered only by the brave and the foolhardy.

Of course it helps that she is being paid £250,000 a year – at which point cue more hysterical laughter.

The pilot show went out last night. Babylon returns as a series later in the year. I can’t wait.

- GARETH WEEKES, DEEP SOUTH MEDIA.

 

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Write your own news

Ronnie“How do you find all that news?” is a question often asked of journalists.

The answer usually includes “contacts”, “grapevine”, “sources” and if they are being honest “press releases”.

Journalists have always used press releases but never as often as in these austere times, when newsrooms are expected to fill more pages with fewer writers. With less time to cultivate sources they are forced to fall back on oven-ready material from the PR industry.

Flicking through The Times this morning I counted 17 stories in the main news section which I guessed were inspired by press releases and at least double that number in the business pages.

These stories represent a tiny fraction of a mighty deluge of press releases sent to journalists every day. Many of them are badly written and the vast majority are deemed unsuitable and never see the light of day.

The best ones make headlines because they have news value, meaning that journalists see immediately that readers will be interested.

You don’t have to employ a PR agency to do this, although if you do it saves time and effort and is more likely to be successful. But if you have good language skills and plenty of time you can build your own list of media contacts, find out what they want, write your own press releases and try your luck.

If you are setting up a small business this is can be a cheap way to get publicity, and you might benefit from a PR skills master class from Dorset Chamber on “How to Write a Great Press Release”.

Deep South Media’s Ron Wain, pictured, a former business editor, will be outlining how to write the perfect press release including:
• Getting attention with an eye-catching headline
• Covering off all the questions a journalist will ask
• Targeting your release to the chosen audience
• Accompanying the release with a strong image.

Find out more on this link.

- GARETH WEEKES, Deep South Media Ltd.

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How to look like an arrogant twit

Who is responsible for flooding the Somerset Levels? Surprisingly, no-one seems to have fingered God, but this week Owen Paterson turned himself into a lightning conductor for blame.

By visiting the flooded areas and not talking to local people the Environment Secretary gave a convincing impression of being an arrogant twit.

No-one can seriously blame him for failing to dredge the waterways over the past 50 years but if you are going to take the trouble to drive down to soggy Somerset for a photo opportunity you really need to wear wellies, and you do need to get them wet.

You also need to nod sagely while people vent their frustration in your ear and at least give the impression that you care enough about their plight to do something.

What you do not need to do is arrive at a pumping station in a posh Range Rover, wearing smart city shoes, and not lend an ear to the many distressed people who have gathered to ask for Government help.

However tight your schedule may be and however important your next appointment you don’t, you really don’t, act like this with Joe Public – especially when the media are present.

Should we blame his press office for this public relations disaster? Who knows, but someone should have a stern word with Mr Paterson about how to behave in front of the cameras.

- GARETH WEEKES, Deep South Media.

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If editors were like their newspapers

What a difference a new editor can make to a radio programme.

Under the guest editorship of singer-songwriter PJ Harvey the BBC’s Today programme finally became what the Tory press has always accused it of being – a hot-bed of lefties.

She packed the show with the kind of people they love to hate – radical journalist John Pilger, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a Briton who had been a prisoner in Guantánamo Bay, a Cypriot who said he had been tortured by the British and  – shock horror –  the former archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

All this was lambasted as “incomprehensible liberal drivel”, “left wing tosh” and a “train wreck of a programme”. The Daily Mail’s columnist Stephen Glover denounced the show as “silly, frivolous and unpatriotic”.

I thought it made a fabulous change from Today’s usual earnest, meticulously balanced Westminster-centric discussions. I wouldn’t want to listen to these people every day, but PJ Harvey’s programme was a refreshing start to the year, and such a surprise that it made me laugh out loud. She even added poetry readings and music.

Clearly the programme reflected the personality of the guest editor, and it made me wonder how closely the style of other news outlets follows the personality of their editors. So here are my guesses about what the editors of national newspapers must be like: I’ll leave you to work out which papers I’m talking about.

There’s the sad old pensioner too terrified to go out of doors for fear of being killed by fierce weather or crushed by stampeding Romanians.

And that nice, but unrealistic bloke in the pub who hasn’t got a good word to say about capitalism or the Coalition Government but can’t come up with any convincing alternatives.

There’s that elegant, kind and terribly well educated chap. Sometimes I wonder what on earth he is going on about. You know who I mean.

As an old geezer I clearly live on a different planet from at least two of the editors, who seem to be obsessed by celebs I have never heard of.

I try to avoid the curmudgeonly old so-and-so who is depressingly convinced that England has gone to the dogs. He keeps running scary health stories and tales of miracle cures.

There’s also a delightful old gentleman who is rather deaf and out of touch, and although  very well informed seems to be under the impression it’s still the 1950s.

This is a matter of personal taste of course, but after reading through all the national papers  I can imagine only one editor who is not going to browbeat me.

And not even he sounds as much fun as PJ Harvey.

GARETH WEEKES, Deep South Media.

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