Without scoring a goal or even kicking a ball, Marcus Rashford became one of the heroes of the lockdown.
The Premier League star’s campaigning has helped more than a million disadvantaged children get access to a free meal during the school summer holidays.
His passionate appeal to have England’s free school meal voucher scheme extended triggered a government U-turn on the issue as it became increasingly anxious it was losing the PR battle.
His efforts have been described as a ‘PR masterclass’.
So, what communication lessons can you learn from the success of this 22-year-old footballer?
One of the crucial parts of the striker’s success was his willingness to share his own story.
He is someone who had experienced hunger as a child and he was willing to talk about it.
In an interview with BBC Breakfast, he recalled his mum shopping in a discount store and going to friends’ houses when there wasn’t any food on his table.
He said: “What families are going through now, I once went through that same system. I remember we used to go to a shop called Pound World and everything was under a pound and we would sort of schedule out the week – so we’d get seven yogurts and you can have one yogurt a day and so on.
“If there was food on the table, there was food on the table. If there wasn’t, I had friends who understood my situation.”
It is something he also discussed in his powerful open letter to politicians that he shared on his social media channels.
“As a family, we relied on breakfast clubs, free school meals, and the kind actions of neighbours and coaches,” he said.
“Food banks and soup kitchens were not alien to us.”
Marcus’ background and experience made him the ideal person to drive the initiative. His openness and honesty added that much-needed authenticity and credibility to the effort.
There have been other recent examples of this involving footballers. I stumbled across a video of some Liverpool players talking to care home staff and residents. One of them, Adam Lallana, spoke about his own experiences of living above a care home his parents ran when he was a child and how he enjoyed spending time with the residents and how he coped when they passed away.
Instantly, I felt this was an initiative he wanted to be involved in rather than one he had been persuaded to take part in.
This is something we have discussed before in our media training blogs. Human stories, particularly those which are personal to a spokesperson, help capture the audience’s attention.
They stimulate emotions, persuade them to give money, take action, support an idea or buy a product – talking about policies and procedures does not have the same impact.
Everyone has stories to tell and the more detail you are prepared to tell the more impactful they will be.
This was a campaign with one simple message – we need to support children and families experiencing food poverty.
Simplicity is key when it comes to creating a message that resonates and stirs people into action.
The message here was so simple that it became almost impossible to argue against it – who would want to come forward and say that hungry children shouldn’t get a meal? Even the Government eventually saw that would leave them in a particularly uncomfortable situation.
You’ll often hear people talk about the importance of ‘three key messages’. It is a common media training tip.
But the reality is that the audience is unlikely to remember more than one major point you make.
We urge spokespeople on our media training courses, whether they are carried out on videoconferencing software or face-to-face, to focus on establishing one key message for their interviews and initiatives.
Once you have a clear message you need to stick to it and repeat it. This is something Marcus did, whether he was giving a broadcast interview, writing in The Times, posting on social media or publishing an open letter.
Figures and statistics are a great way to support a message and Mr Rashford used plenty of them to support his argument.
We were told that 1.3 million children in England are registered for free school meals, one quarter of these children have not been given any support since the school closures were ordered.
We also learnt that 45 per cent of children in black and minority ethnic groups are now in poverty.
But there was a figure in his open letter that stood out for me from a media training perspective.
He said: “This summer should have been filled with pride once more, parents and children waving their flags, but in reality, Wembley stadium could be filled more than twice with children who have had to skip meals during lockdown due to their families not being able to access food.”
Why is this good? Because numbers work best when they are used creatively in a way that allows the audience to visualise them.
Most of us will be able to picture how big Wembley is and to think that it can be filled more than twice with hungry children, helps us to picture the scale of the issue.
We may not remember the exact number, but we are more likely to recall that the stadium could be filled more than twice.
One of the key factors in the campaign was the language used.
It was powerful, persuasive and passionate, yet, at the same time, simple and every-day. Whether he was giving an interview, writing social media posts, or producing letters, you felt Marcus was using the language he would use if he was talking to his friends, teammates or family.
This allowed his personality to come through and for people to be drawn into what he was saying.
All too often people in media interviews and giving presentations fall into the trap of moving away from the language they use every day. Not only does this have an impact on the authenticity and credibility of the message, but the audience starts to wonder if they are your words at all.
To use a football expression, ‘the boy done good’. Using some of Marcus’s tactics and techniques in your interviews, campaigns and social media posts will go a long way to helping you achieve your communication goals.
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