Media: Time these sponsors hired some good PR people

There is nothing new in the Newcastle United debacle that hasn't arisen in other sponsorship deals in the past, argues Simon Parker. This is

a failure in public relations

Newcastle United Football Club is in a mess. There is no denying this statement, and little evidence that it has the savvy or desire to extricate itself from the fiasco that has engulfed it. However, it is the board's prerogative if they want to drag out the situation.

The problem is that their failure to extinguish the flames of controversy is beginning to damage the reputable names of their sponsors, namely Adidas and Newcastle Breweries.

The sponsors are not in a unique position; many before them have suffered the same insidious fate of death by association. Yet many have managed to disengage themselves from their associations, so why not Adidas and Newcastle Breweries?

The answer seems to stem from the fact that they do not believe that any wrong-doing has taken place, preferring to refer to it as a slight hiccup in an otherwise happy relationship.

For instance, the selling of the Newcastle shirts to fans at such an exorbitant mark-up looks like no mean misdemeanour. Presumably, you would think, the sponsors are not happy with this situation. Well not exactly. Adidas's press statement includes a comment about the price of the shirt being in line with the industry standard, whilst Newcastle falls even to mention the topic.

It is difficult to believe that anyone or any company is advising the sponsors on how best to handle press inquiries. However, you would assume that written into the contract should have been a clause relating to adverse publicity - presumably on the lines that in the event of a dent in the reputation of either party - if the situation falls to be resolved tout de suite - then compensation might be appropriate.

But sports sponsorship is a rocky road to tread. The communications agency FCA! says that when developing business relationships it spends a great deal of time researching potential clients and sponsors, marrying up their strategic profiles and delving into their past history and company background.

FCA!'s chairman and chief executive officer, Chris Parry, believes that, unfortunately, many deals are struck on instinct, and are not necessarily founded on business acumen. He is scathing of the way the sponsors, or their PR companies, have failed to try even to control the negative situation, believing that none of them ever developed a formulated strategy to handle negative publicity.

It seems that these two sponsors failed to recognise that every coin has a reverse side. This is naive. Aside from any obvious synergy, the brands should complement each other, so that, although distinguishable, they are relevant to their target audience and compatible strategically. However, what both parties missed, in this instance, is the realisation that things can, and do go wrong. The parties should have an annual meeting specially dedicated to formulating strategy to handle events of this nature. Perhaps they already do.

Kinross and Render, a leading PR company, believes that preparation is the key to managing a crisis. Mature organisations have detailed procedures and processes in place that can be put into operation on receipt of a telephone call. Often it is the first few minutes and hours of such a crisis that determine whether the organisation will preserve its reputation and successfully manage media and public perceptions as the story unrolls. Above all, information needs to be managed and messages must be consistent. People need to see that the organisation is making the best out of a bad situation by being as up-front and honest as possible. If blame is to be attached, it must be so on the basis of the facts, rather than speculation.

That past, present and, presumably, future master of public relations manipulation, Richard Branson, after one of Virgin planes experienced "severe" mechanical difficulties - I think it was something to do with the failed descent of an undercarriage - turned a potential air disaster into a hero's welcome for the pilot. The story was so well handled that it has to be assumed that the PR department had been pre-prepared for such an eventuality. Pepsi, too, did a fantastic job removing itself from an association with Michael Jackson. So why can't Adidas and Newcastle Breweries?

Chris Parry of FCA! also believes that Virgin would have handled the Newcastle situation with more panache and circumspectly. Branson would have reacted swiftly to any suggestion that he made 1,000 percent mark- up on shirts with a carefully calculated promotional offer, or by defusing the situation by focusing on another, less hurtful topic. However, Parry believes that the situation could have been brought to a dramatic and immediate halt by the resignation of the thoroughly disgraced board members.

Adidas and Newcastle Breweries missed an opportunity here. They should have clubbed together and voiced their joint disapproval. Instead, woolly press statements have been issued. The one from Newcastle is as follows: "This has certainly been a traumatic week for all involved with the club, and we have no wish to reflect back on those events." I bet not, but once again their failure to criticise is tantamount to endorsement. In the modern world, public opinion is heavily influenced by the media in its various forms. Adidas is equally mealy-mouthed about the event, having issued a statement that includes a few words about the shirts being well within industry standards, and listing the recommended retail price. Yet neither will be drawn on the question of whether the board of Newcastle, an organisation that they sponsor, and have been proven to show such disregard for their fans and women in general, has done anything untoward.

CbH chief executive David Moore believes that the cause of the problem for the sponsors could lie deeper, suggesting that a long-term sponsorship deal is laced with hidden dangers. He suggests that sponsorship deals, like marriages, can end in disaster if the respective parties develop in different directions. Moore prefers deals where the relationship focuses on supporting a theme or generic industry rather than a brand. For instance, Snickers supports football rather than a specific team. Moore suggests that the intangible relationship enjoyed by Snickers and football allows the sponsor to cherry-pick their associations. These relationships bear the often quoted "one night stand" or "short courtship" tag, and can seem an infinitely wiser choice for sponsors.

Yet Simon Chick, of Company Barclaycard, believes that in order to make sponsorship work, a company has to be completely confident of its objectives and commercial perspectives. The company's sponsorship of the local football team has much to do with putting something back into the community.

The real issue is, however, should the sponsors in this case be more vocal in their disapproval of events? Their muted voice is galling to the fans, and an admission of acquiescence by the sponsors of the behaviour of the board. But let's leave the final decision to the great fans of Newcastle Football Club.

The writer works for SPS Marketing

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
News
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Life and Style
Duchess of Cambridge standswith officials outside of the former wartime spy centre in Bletchley Park
tech
News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'