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Monday, 26 August 2013

Rangers: Public Relations Disaster (the sequel)

Much has been written in the last year about the public relations disaster that is Rangers Football Club. To many fans this was somewhat of a shock to their system. They have grown-up expecting nothing less than positive stories in the press about how wonderful and glorious everything connected with Rangers is. Ex-chairman David Murray once had the press so deep in his pocket negative headlines were rarer than the need for a wallet-full of Euros by the current Rangers squad.

How times have changed.

Last summer Rangers' plodding from one public relations disaster to another could be understood as no one was actually steering the ship as it drifted onto the rocks. It was left to stalwarts Ally McCoist, Sandy Jardine and John Brown to speak on behalf of the club. 

To be fair, none of them are public relations professionals. 

Although speaking from the heart was music to the ears of thousands of fans desperate to know someone was putting the club's interests first, veiled threats and demands for answers they already knew proved something of an own goal in terms of public relations. Opinions hardened against their presence in Scotland's top league and they found themselves having to start again from the bottom. 

When Charles Green took over he had his own inimitable public relations style. When he spoke fans listened. In fact, when he spoke everyone listened, mostly in disbelief at his more ludicrous claims. 

But, as far as the majority of Rangers fans were concerned, here was a man who knew what he was talking about and the man to take Rangers forward. 

Here was a man who understood the importance of an organisation communicating with its publics.

But he turned out to be a public relations own goal, too.

Does anyone involved with Rangers fully understand the role of public relations in today's world?

In the nineties I was lucky enough to study the subject as part of a Marketing degree. But the growth of the internet and explosion of social media makes public relations such a constantly evolving subject I can't claim any great expertise in the field today.

So what do the experts see as public relations?

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) defines PR as - 

Public relations is about reputation - the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.

Public relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.

Two key words stand out. 

Publics - these include existing and potential customers, employees, management, investors, media, suppliers, opinion formers.

Understanding - is a two-way process. To be effective, an organisation needs to listen to the opinions of those with whom it deals and not solely provide information. Issuing a barrage of propaganda is not enough in today's open society.

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) offers a more succinct definition - 

Public Relations is a strategic communications process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and their publics.

But let's not stop there. 

Marketing expert Heidi Cohen asked professional public relations organisations to send her their definition. You can find her list of thirty one definitions here -

And let's not stop there either.

As far back as 1972 Rex F. Harlow examined 472 definitions of public relations to try to arrive at a definitive version.

So, as we can plainly see, getting anyone to agree on what exactly the role of public relations is can be a complicated business.

Bearing that in mind, who are we to criticise the public relations strategy of Rangers? 

After all, they have had two professional public relations firms on the pay roll in the last year:

Media House
Keith Bishop Associates

Not to mention one Director of Communications:

James Traynor

Maybe they each employ a different definition of public relations.

Whatever definition they use they have managed to alienate most, if not all, of their publics.

Let's remind ourselves on the last sentence in the CIPR definition - 

It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.

How does Rangers' performance measure against these goals?

Most customers, or fans as they are known in the industry, don't trust those running the club. 

Employees and management feel undermined by the board.

The media, once in the club's pocket, are now turning against the board and its manager.

Investors are...well, who knows? There is so much cloak and dagger stuff among different factions going on behind the scenes no one really knows. But a share price that has almost halved since the initial flotation tells its own story. 

Suppliers are rumoured to be nervous about an impending administration event.

Opinion formers, especially among the club's customers, are at odds with one another and factions within the club about who knows what's best.

Does the club listen to the opinions of its publics?

Well they had a meeting with selected fans and followed that through by ending the contract of consultant and ex-chief executive Charles Green.

A positive sign then that they do listen...sometimes.

Then a statement released last week by the club said this - 

If Rangers fans want the truth they will find it only on the Club's official platforms.

It concluded with - 

Finally, Jack Irvine of Media House does not speak for this club.

Yet this week, against the wishes of the majority of its customers, chief executive Craig Mather rehired Jack Irvine as public relations guru for the club.

One of the reasons given was - 

The board also felt that there are huge public misconceptions about the financial realities of the club and once again this was a failure of communication.

Wait a minute. 'Failure of communication'? Isn't that the fault of the club's Director of Comminications? If so, why hasn't James Traynor also gone the way of Charles Green?

So why has Mr Irvine really been invited back? What is his primary objective? 

His remit is to fight back against the investors trying to oust Mr Mather. In fact, a club insider said he is prepared to 'go to war' with certain investors.

Now I never read all the different definitions of public relations but I doubt I'll find one that includes going to war with investors.

But, who am I to doubt the years of experience Mr Irvine has accrued during his time at the coal face?

I'm sure he thinks he knows what he's doing, as this thinly-veiled threat shows - 

'I have known Jim, Frank and Paul for many, many years and have a huge respect for their abilities in their individual fields. Unfortunately I believe they have now stepped out of their comfort zones and are going to find that the everyday rules of business do not apply in the world of football and the media scrutiny they now face is like nothing they will ever have known in their professional lives.'

It looks like the gloves are off, and those pesky investors who had the temerity to question the running of the club will now feel the full force of the Rangers Football Club propaganda machine.

Or will they?

Director of Communications, James Traynor, was surprised when told of Mr Irvine's appointment and said:

'I have not spoken to Jack Irvine and I have not had any dealings with him. As far as I’m concerned that is the way it will stay.'

So, here we have the Director of Communications refusing to communicate with the club's hired public relations expert who was brought in to improve the club's communications.

It remains to be seen how long Mr Irvine will last in is current role. Fans are already calling for his head. And in a strange twist of fate they are using documents leaked by the anonymous Twitter account Charlotte Fakes to boost their cause.

Here's Mr Irvine's thoughts on the man voted by fans as the greatest ever Ranger - 

'Grieg is just thick and contributes nothing.'

You don't need to be an expert or trawl through hundreds of public relations definitions to know that's a red card offence. 

Is it any wonder Rangers Football Club continue to be a public relations disaster, regardless of what definition is used?

*link to original Rangers: Public Relations Disaster last year 

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