Eddie Howe-gate: a study in poor PR

We live in a 24 hour rolling news culture and sports clubs and businesses must accept and deal with that.

When handling crises, in terms of reputation and media management, the old adage was that the first hour was crucial in terms of managing or losing control of the situation. That was before the advent of social media and the immediacy in which rumour could be spread globally.
I recently spent time at an event with one of the very experienced PR team from Manchester Airport Group. He revealed that with any media issue or crisis they now deal with, the first twenty minutes are spent controlling and firefighting the situation on social media. This then feeds into the ‘traditional’ media.
As I write this at 18.30 on Thursday night, my football club, Burnley FC is facing its own reputation battle and quite frankly it’s failing.
In the lifecycle of this proud and historic Club, the current situation is but a mere blinking of an eye but right here and now there’s important decisions to be made and the Club is failing in its basic duty of engaging with its key major stakeholder, its fans. Put simply, it’s demonstrating a lack of respect and therefore alienating many of the core support that it needs now more than ever.
And I’m not talking about the forum fools or Twitter trashers who routinely wade in with outlandish, unreasonable and wild commentary whenever there’s the slightest deviation from the team winning back to back matches 6-0. I mean many of the knowledgable, reasonable and seasoned fans that pay their hard earned cash to watch the team they adore.
You probably know the situation by now, AFC Bournemouth dispensed of the services of its manager last week and rumour immediately spread in its local media and the usual online gossip magnets of football forums and social media that the the Club wanted its ex boss and current Clarets gaffer Eddie Howe back.
This seemed to most Clarets a fanciful suggestion. Despite an uninspiring start to the season which has posed more questions than it’s answered of Howe’s reshaped team, most fans believe Eddie would not even consider a drop back down the leagues given the number of Championship clubs battling for his signature a couple of years ago.
Over the last 24 hours or so that situation seems to have changed as everyone from the bookies to Sky Sports New’s ubiquitous ticker expects Howe to make a return to the South coast, apparently taking with him his entire back room staff and a current player.
This post is not designed to discuss the rights and wrongs of that potential move, nor whether he’s jumped before he was pushed. The thing that’s annoyed and infuriated me is the lack of communication from the Club.
I understand that the Club has to be in tight control of its messaging and what it can say publically whilst it would appear negotiations are taking place between directors and manager and possibly another Club. Nor should the Club deem to comment on every single rumour that rears its head but when the tide turns and the weight of chatter (digital and real world), ink and airwaves reaches such heights, there’s a need to act and here’s where the leaders have failed.
Some might feel that in the absence of anything concrete to say, the club was right not to issue any formal comment. However in a void, rumour can run riot and solidify into ‘hard’ fact and as already outlined, in this modern communication age fans expect instant answers, or at least a soundbite.
When the local newspaper’s reporter is camped out at the training ground and reporting the Chief Exec’ is arriving for crunch talks, the other club’s local media is claiming a deal is nearly done, a view even mirrored by the BBC website, it’s time to act. Sure, they may not have been able – for legal or contractual reasons or more simply as final decisions still hadn’t been made – to reveal all yet but something had to be said.
For the sake of a couple of short sentences, issued this afternoon, many fans would feel less aggrieved and there may be a stronger undertone that the Club is in control of the situation, not the other way around. Which senior management team member takes the lead for allowing, or blocking,  media manager Darren ‘Daz’ Bentley to make such announcements is unclear but they need to look at their strategy.
Would it have hurt so much to say something like:
“The Club acknowledges the intense speculation surrounding the manager’s position at this time and can confirm that Eddie Howe is still Burnley’s manager and has our full support. As always, we can assure fans that they will always be the first to know official news from the Club and any other media reports should be treated as nothing more than speculation.”
This alone would not have been enough  for many fans but at least it would have bought the Club officials time whilst they worked on the situation behind closed doors, given the media a soundbite to use and made fans feels like they matter.
I’ve blogged in the past  about how Twitter could be the saving of  the relationship between modern footballers and fans and perhaps today a simple statement from the Club, distributed via its social media channels, could have made a real difference in managing its reputation.
No matter what now unfolds in this saga, Burnley FC has an even bigger PR challenge in winning back the hearts and minds of its fans.  With or without Eddie Howe.
Up the Clarets
Posted by
Rick, a #twitterclaret