By The Esk
Following the recent podcast on “Everton Business Matters” we received a lot of feedback, including the segment on our PR and media relationships. There’s a recognition we don’t do as well as we should, and that this area of our business is important. Let me explain why.
The City of Liverpool has two major football teams -a fairly obvious statement.
Both clubs compete for the attention, support and custom of the good people of Merseyside and beyond. The decision to support one or the other is a complex matter, often determined by family roots, occasionally location, or one or the other team having a period of success on the pitch.
However, that is not exclusive. Support can be won from people newly interested in football, or those not previously committed to one team or the other. (Sounds odd to the very dedicated supporter but yes, those people do exist).
Both clubs rely upon various channels to get their branding and messages out there. They have their own marketing teams, have very distinctive brand values and approach, plus they rely upon the media to deliver content and messages to existing and potentially new supporters.
This branding and public relations is not only important in gaining support, it’s vital for sponsor engagement, finding better commercial partners, and plays a part in player recruitment – particularly when looking overseas for players. I’m sure several players we approached last year will have had only a limited understanding of who and what we are.
In economic terms Everton & Liverpool operate an effective duopoly in terms of local support and sponsor revenues. In most duopolies, there’s a dominant brand and a challenger brand – the most obvious would be Coca-Cola and Pepsi, or Microsoft and Apple.
Whilst as Evertonians, we can be very proud of our history and heritage, the many years of stagnation have left us currently with the “challenger” status. The arrival of Farhad Moshiri has changed the dormant nature of our status, and with the improvement in our finances, a competitive manager and the new stadium at Bramley Moore we can “challenge” once more.
The change in our circumstances, the huge advances we are making under Moshiri and Koeman has yet to be reflected in media perceptions – the media is still full of advice on selling our best players and never considers we may be competitive in attracting the top players, not just selling them. The lack of recognition nationally of David Unsworth and his team’s achievements is another clear example.
Before looking at how Everton go about changing perceptions it’s worth considering the response of the dominant brand when the challenger becomes energized.
Liverpool FC will not just stand still and allow Everton to make up previously lost ground in our attempt to become the dominant force.
Football is a serious business with both clubs worth hundreds of millions of pounds and turning over significant amounts of revenue. It is unrealistic in the extreme to think there won’t be a response from them.
To defeat that response, we, Everton, must be at our best in every respect – performance on the pitch, player recruitment, pricing, marketing, and importantly public relations.
For many years, Everton have lost the PR game, certainly in relation to football matters. In other concerns, such as the work of EITC, and some of the softer (but important) aspects of branding we’ve more than held our own, but in terms of our main product, football, we are a long way back.
My concern is that in the absence of a determined effort to change relations with the media, we’ll continue to suffer for it.
There’s another concern – the PR response supporting the planning application at Bramley Moore. As I said earlier, we’re a duopoly, but we are also the challengers and why would Liverpool FC and their supporter, commercial and fans, make it easier for their major competitor to become once more the dominant force in our city? Media perceptions and messages can play a big role in supporting planning applications.
Liverpool have a new CEO arriving at the end of this month. Any organization bringing in a new leader will plan a charm offensive, and that will include close engagement with all forms of media, including the local media in all forms.
My question is how would we respond? Do we allow them free reign, or do we have a strategy and the resources to fight back, locally as well as nationally at a time when we are ideally positioned to challenge?
Liverpool are not the dominant force they once were. The opportunity to win back the dominant status is there for Everton to seize should we respond appropriately. There is the opportunity to deserve the “senior club status” based on current performance and prospects not just our past.
We’re in a highly competitive market, for fans, sponsors and players. Media perception and what’s written/spoken about us counts.
There’s a grave danger if we don’t address media, press and PR relationships and strategies we will continue to dramatically under sell the advances the club is making. In doing that we make the job of attracting players, sponsors and yes, new and returning fans more difficult.
The return on investment in effective press and media relationships is enormous especially at a time when Everton as a business is investing hugely in its future development. It therefore seems ludicrous to me that the same attention is not given to how we are perceived by the media.
The timing of that investment in effective communicators and an effective communications strategy is critical. It just happens that that time is now, we can’t afford to leave it any longer.
As the challenger in the footballing duopoly that exists in our City we need to be driving home key messages of strength and advancement, otherwise the effectiveness of our development elsewhere is reduced.
As Moshiri said himself, the window of opportunity is small, we need to use everything at our disposal to take advantage of it, and that definitely includes a much more effective communications and media strategy.
If we can’t sell ourselves, no-one else is going to do it for us.