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Crisis Communications in the Premier League: A Tale of One City

Posted by Charlene Sep 3, 2013 11:57:47 AM

Topics: reputation management, PR, Crisis communications, Digital Marketing, News

Over the last few months, both the red and blue sides of Manchester have lost a celebrated manager, but that's where the similarity ends.

What can Fergie's exit tell us about crisis communications?Back in May, Manchester United announced that after his 26 year tenure as manager, Sir Alex Ferguson would step down at the end of the season. As the news broke, pundits, competitors, and fans from a range of teams put their partisan support aside to applaud Fergie's stamina, perseverance, and unrivalled success over the last three decades.

While United fans were dealing with a sense of abandonment, journalists and others took a more philosophical view and asked the question: Will we ever see such a long and committed club-manager relationship again?

A Southampton FC fan's letter in the Guardian summed up the consensus among the football community:

"His longevity has been crucial to the success of Manchester United and has allowed him to stand out among his peers in a game that always seems to rush to sackings when short-term success is not forthcoming.

"He himself could easily have suffered such a fate in his early years but for a far-sighted and patient employer."

United became was celebrated for the security and commitment, which often seems to be lacking lacking in the money-drenched, fickle world of the Premier League, and other clubs were being lambasted for their short-sighted, profit-driven targets.

Surely now was not the time to announce a sacking?

Four days later, talk of Mancini's imminent dismissal hit the rumour mill which led the manager to publicly criticise Manchester City's head of comms, with the Independent recalling: "It was excruciating on Saturday evening when he named the club's respected communications director, Vicky Kloss, who was present in the room, during his public criticism of the media department for not quashing Friday night's story."

As United fans celebrated Fergie's last ever home game, City fans and journalists were wondering why Team Blue were behaving in such a bizarre way. In PR, silence is worse than an admission. Saying something, anything, is better than silence.

Mancini's sacking was a PR debacleThe next day, and a year to the day City became Premier League champions, the worse kept (and handled) secret of the season was confirmed: the Mancini stint was over after three years for failing to 'meet club targets' and properly utilise Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan's £1bn total investment.

While the treatment of Mancini and the sacking was sadly not a surprise, the timing and handling was a shocker. Ms Kloss is no doubt paid a handsome sum to devise and manage how the club is perceived, and where public relations is concerned, an understanding of the dominant sentiment at any given time is key.

Fergie's retirement is the biggest football story of the year, so holding off a few weeks before making any decision final would've prevented City becoming a real life example of an oft-criticised practice in the game. Even waiting until Benitez was sacked would've at least allowed the club share some of the blame with Roman Abramovich.

While fans were still reeling and as a final act of defiance, Mancini placed a full page advert in the Manchester Evening News thanking fans for their loyalty, stating “You will always be in my heart” - with these seven words, the Italian tapped into the emotion that has driven prevailing sentiment of the last few weeks and ensured we all knew who the bad guy was.

This won't be the last high-profile sacking in the world of football, or the business world in general, so here are some of the key PR lessons we can glean from the latest Premier League saga:

•         Time your announcement right

•         Pay attention and tap into public sentiment

•         Don't stay silent, issue a well-considered response in a timely manner

•         Issue a positive story shortly after the negative announcement

•         Once again, timing is everything.

MCFC should take solace in the fact their ill-timed announcement is nothing new in the world of corporate communications. We have lots of examples, but would love to hear what you consider to be the most ill-timed announcement by an organisation - so don't be a stranger and leave us a comment or two.

And if you want to learn more about crisis communications or simply want to enquire about our reputation management services - why not get in touch today?

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