Much has already been said about the ESL debacle which came, went and has been analysed by everyone all within a week. Some have said it was terrible crisis management which is mostly true. It was certainly terrible crisis communications, in that there wasn’t any. Being silent when the whole world is trashing your (putative) organisation/idea is not a viable strategy. I still don’t know what these great benefits for the game were going to be!
In the interests of balance, we should perhaps recognise that some of the clubs got some aspects of crisis management right. First, they knew they had to change tack fast. After spending years and no doubt millions developing the concept, and despite contractual restraints (we are told), they recognised a dead duck when they saw one and pulled the plug. It is not always easy for an organisation, even during a crisis, to recognise the need to do that. Second, most have apologised – some profusely – and have made promises about a future change in approach, which has taken some of the sting out of the immediate situation.
This is not to say it wasn’t an extraordinary failure. For me it is already a stakeholder engagement case study and, in time, will also prove to be a case study about the value of reputation.
Stakeholder engagement is a fancy corporate term for listening to and engaging with the people that matter to your success, building their views and needs into what you do and how you do it. This is extremely basic. And yet the clubs seemingly believed that they could force this plan through without vocal and immediate support from fans, players, pundits and politicians.
Reputation management is corporate term for running your organisation in a way that reflects how others will view you over time based on their experiences of you, your actions and behaviours, and what they hear about you from others. It has at its heart the belief that a good reputation is better than a bad one, and that a good reputation can be utilised positively to achieve your wider organisational goals. Your reputation strategy and your business strategy therefore go hand-in-hand.
A trashed reputation diminishes influence. In the UK, a review of football has been brought forward by the government and the door is now open to changes that would likely not have been possible had the clubs not diminished their influence through the ESL failure. This happens a lot. There have been many crises over the years after which regulators and governments have stepped in and assumed the role of the ‘hero’, punishing the ‘villains’ (in this case the clubs) on behalf of the ‘victims’ (fans and ‘the game’) and forcing change.
Sometimes I think ‘everyone knows how to do stakeholder engagement now’ an ‘most organisations know how to build reputation thinking into their forward plans’. And then this happens. Getting it right is still far from guaranteed; we still have work to do!