The England football team has been praised widely in the media for its open and friendly relations with the press; even playing a darts tournament with seasoned journos to help build better relations. This contrasts well with the rather more spikey relationships previously enjoyed or endured between England squads and Fleet Street sports writers.
When those past campaigns have ended in ignominious defeat, it’s very likely that the media hacks in writing their reviews will have been slightly more savage in their criticism of the team and individual team members.
Fast forward to today and the FA’s PR charm offensive has put the England team on a good footing with the press, and also seems to have started to rekindle the long suffering England fans’ love for the national team, which had certainly diminished over the course of the last two or three tournaments.
However, having seemingly won over the likes of the press journalists, TV pundits, commentators and even the fans, this England team still needs to deliver in the tournament if it is not to be, once again, the subject of a detailed and unforgiving autopsy.
They may escape the most savage of reviews, because of their relatively (average) young age, but if the performance or results don’t follow, they will most likely suffer a metaphoric beating; their individual shortcomings held up to scrutiny, examined forensically and, in the end, judged as ‘simply not good enough’.
In football, as in business, performance is everything. As Kane, Alli, Lingard et al need to deliver on the pitch, so a product or service must live up to its PR and advertising. If not, it’s hard-won new customers will not come back for more. Whereas the national team’s supporters can’t simply switch their allegiance to Germany, France or Brazil, consumers and business customers can and will.
Yes, PR and marketing are important to raise a product’s or company’s profile and to build a positive image with customers or prospective customers. But if the product doesn’t do what’s expected of it (expectations raised by the pre-experience PR), you’re asking for trouble.
Conversely, if the product or service delivers as it should, a positive PR message will work to reinforce a customer’s belief that they picked the right company and the right product, reinforcing their loyalty to the brand.
England already has that loyalty as a given. The country wants England to do well in the World Cup. The way the players and coaches have presented themselves, perhaps in a more understated and humble way than previous squads, along with the football they have played so far (albeit against teams they would be expected to comfortably beat) has certainly won round many fans, which includes a good proportion of the press.
If England do go a long way in this tournament, the positive PR they have created will only encourage media and supporters to eulogise them more than they may otherwise have done.
Having already secured a berth in the last 16 of the competition, England has negotiated the first hurdle – an absolute priority for them to avoid a media onslaught.
However, the England ‘product’ is expected to ‘work’ when subjected to more severe tests. Abject failure in a tie, players freezing and seen not to be ‘giving it a go’ will not receive favourable coverage in the aftermath.
But give it a go, even get a few squeaky wins (it doesn’t matter too much how they play if they keep winning), and reach at least the semi finals, then the England team are likely to be lauded back home. And Gareth Southgate will be held up as a consummate PR operator.