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On the face of it, you may think a Premier League manager losing his job has little to do with his ability to deal effectively with the media.
It is after all, as pundits constantly remind us, a ‘results based business’.
Only the latest sacking of a top flight manager appears to owe little to do with performances on the pitch.
For those who do not know, or do not particularly care about football, Claude Puel saw his services dispensed with last week despite guiding Southampton to a respectable eighth position in the league and a Wembley cup final.
As soon as I became aware of his departure, I was reminded of an item I had heard on the radio around two months earlier, where Puel’s media persona was questioned and put forward as a key factor for the then growing speculation surrounding his role.
Phil Neville, a former player turned pundit, was talking to Radio 5 Live about what managers needed to succeed at the highest level.
He said: “I look at Claude Puel at Southampton – he is a fantastic coach, but when he speaks in the media he is not someone I think inspires the Southampton people and I think for Craig Shakespeare (the new Leicester City manager) he has to learn that side to management now, not just the coaching side.
“He has to learn to come out into a press conference, be bold sometimes, be brave, or play the mind games with other managers.
“People keep telling me the Southampton supporters aren’t happy with Claude Puel and I can’t think of any other reason apart from the image he portrays when he comes out and speaks to the television cameras and the media after a game and that he doesn’t inspire me.
“When you hear other managers speak, for instance a Klopp, you think ‘I could play for him’ and he is inspiring with his words. With Claude Puel, he is a fantastic coach but are his words after a game, his image, the brand, is it powerful enough for the Premier League world we live in now?”
Do #saintsfc fans like Claude Puel? No chants, no interaction, dull press conferences, frustrating rotation/tactics etc.— Alex Smith (@Alex_PJ_Smith) December 9, 2016
The kid won't sleep 😴 I'm so close to putting on a Claude Puel press conference to bore her to sleep 😴— Todd Richards (@ToddRichardsSFC) June 14, 2017
He said: “They worked a lot on our presentation skills, our media skills and worked a lot on our recruitment skills. The actual (football) coaching when you do your Pro Licence is probably five per cent, the rest is dealing with the owners, is dealing with the media, is dealing with how to recruit players, how to look for the right players, how to actually present yourself in public in terms of your body language, in terms of your hand movements when you are speaking.
“I listen to some managers, and I‘ve not watched the game, and I think they speak well, they speak with a boldness. Sometimes they might not be speaking the truth, but you think ‘I can be inspired by him’ and sometimes you have to play the game.”
Of course we don’t know the exact reasons for the manager’s departure, but Puel himself said it was for ‘a little bit more than sporting reasons’.
So what can corporate spokespeople learn from this situation?
Well, while we would clearly argue that Neville’s point about not necessarily stating ‘the truth’ is not something corporate spokespeople should adopt, there is a lot else they can learn from what he says.
His point about how Puel made the supporters feel is particularly pertinent. On our media training courses we tell delegates that the audience will remember very little about what they said in an interview and stress the importance of focusing on getting one key message across.
Although audiences may not remember what a spokesperson said in an interview, they will remember how they made them feel. For example, did they reassure them, excite them, motivate them or just leave them feeling cold and uninspired?
We think this point is best summed up by American poet Maya Angelu, who famously said: “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.”
The other key point from Neville’s words is about ‘boldness’ and ‘being brave’.
Sometimes to stand out from the noise and inspire, a spokesperson needs to push the boundaries of corporate messaging. Spokespeople who are empowered and encouraged to use their own words, phrases (within corporate guidelines), anecdotes and examples will inject life into messages. And they will come across as being confident and authentic spokespeople.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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