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The Premier League is huge global business, pulling in television audiences, generating colossal traffic on social media, creating reams of copy for print outlets, not to mention hours of match commentary matches as well as the phone-ins (or moan-ins) on radio.
In terms of revenue in professional sports leagues, it’s only beaten by the three big American sports – the NFL, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association.
On this side of the Atlantic, football rules. And the leading clubs have had to evolve to keep pace - not just with their competitors on the pitch, but also with the appetite for news, views, opinions, and comment from players and managers.
The media managers at Premier League clubs are key players, running teams which would leave provincial newspapers looking sparsely resourced.
Players and managers remain a club’s prize assets and vital to the image of the brand. A smiling and winning Solskjaer is more appealing than a sullen, losing Mourinho.
While clubs are contractually bound to make managers and players available to the rights-holding media outlets for a certain number of pre and post match interviews, controlling the output or the story which emerges from those conversations presents a different challenge.
At Tottenham, the head of communications halted a press conference when a television reporter tried to ask questions related to the newly created vacancy at Manchester United, following Jose Mourinho’s dismissal. No doubt that reporter was under pressure from his Editor to quiz Mauricio Pochettino on his interest, or otherwise, in a move to Old Trafford.
It appeared to amuse Argentinian Pochettino as his media manager, Simon Felstein, interrupted and prevented the Sky Sports journalist from pursuing his line of questioning. Pochettino is a good communicator with a wealth of experience when it comes to kicking rumours, speculation or unwanted gossip into the long grass. He could comfortably have managed this situation.
As it was, the press officer took charge – and became the story.
Indeed, while any journalist worthy of the profession will be irritated by a press officer dictating what questions may or may not be asked, Mr Felstein has been complimented by some for his handling of that situation. It was ostensibly a pre-match conference to preview a game at Everton. He didn’t want it railroaded by a managerial vacancy in Manchester.
However, journalists wouldn’t be journalists if they didn’t push the boundaries and strive to find the strongest story to keep their audiences interested and entertained. Spurs media chief would almost certainly have expected the question about Manchester United and organised his strategy accordingly.
That said, his actions did generate some negative headlines:
Tottenham media chief prevents Maurico Pochettino from answering questions on Manchester United links The Telegraph
Man Utd target Mauricio Pochettino STOPPED from speaking about job Daily Star
Frustrated Tottenham stop Pochettino answering questions about Man Utd job Goal.com
On our media training courses, we work with clients to help them plan and prepare for their meetings or dealings with the media.
What message do spokespeople want their audience to take from their interviews or press conferences?
We also work with press officers and media teams to develop their media strategy, so when and how to manage the media in general and how to respond to specific questions.
From time to time organisations, from any sector, will find themselves catapulted into crisis media management situations. It could be due to an accident in the workplace, customer dissatisfaction, or any other event and not necessarily of their own making. Once again planning is vital. Press or PR managers within businesses, together with the spokespeople being put forward, need a clear view as to their strategy and messaging. Audiences and the media expect clarity.
While stopping a press conference and ruling certain questions as offside was achievable in a sporting setting, such tactics could rebound badly amid a news crisis. The majority of the sports media want to establish decent working relationships with clubs and organisations they’ll need to re-visit.
But for any organisation finding itself overwhelmed by a crisis, there’s every chance the general media will be more determined and less tolerant of organisations evading questions. And more important than the media response is the audience reaction.
On our crisis media management courses at Media First we ask our clients to consider the reputational damage to an organisation which appears evasive, defensive or resorts to prevarication, rather than showing transparency and humility.
In Tottenham’s case, the press officer performed effectively. He was on home turf. It was his conference to run. He was decisive and clear. And the manager just sat and smiled, resisting any temptation to confuse the issue by adding his own views. This was media management, but not a crisis.
In a news crisis, the spokesperson, rather than his minder, would have been expected to state his position with clarity. No need for defensive tactics. Move forward with style – just as Mauricio’s team often does.
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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