From the Touchline: How a Manager Can Save His Job By Befriending the Media

From the Touchline

As we have mentioned repeatedly in this column, managers have an incredible survival instinct. They seek whatever advantage they can on the pitch and in the boardroom. Another potential ally or hurdle is the media. The way a manager interacts with the media is key to his or her longevity in their career. One wrong step – or a harassing phrase – and you’re as good as sunk.

The odd thing is, there are no set rules for how to handle the media. What turns reporters against some managers turns out to be not that big of a deal for others. Witness this:

Sir Alex Ferguson obviously did not suffer any consequences from this, but why? Was it just his sparkling record? What separates Mick McCarthy from another manager with a 39% winning percentage? The key to surviving as a manager is to create a positive enough relationship with the media and using those contacts to help save or enhance your brand.

One thing to remember about “media” is that the meaning of the phrase changes in a brief time. In the 1990s when the Premier League began, media were the newspaper writers from the major national brands and television personalities from major networks. Today, a manager must deal with media who are both of those plus bloggers, podcast producers, social media personalities/celebrities, and their own internal media; in some cases, one person fits many of these categories simultaneously (ala Gab Marcotti or Barry Glendening). With a decentralisation of “media” comes a hunger for news, so that your show/paper/site is the one that breaks something first and grabs readers/listeners/advertisers’ attention. This doesn’t even include the power social media provides citizensjournalists, as we saw in the U.S. in the case of Reddit users WetButt23 and KatyPerrysBootyHole breaking a major baseball trade.

In this age of intense competition from numerous areas, a journalist’s goal is the same as someone playing the game of Monopoly: you need to secure property and build on it to profit. This is where a football manager can assist. In front of the camera, securing time to discuss important topics with a manager is key. With so many media channels, a manager or club’s PR staff can be selective on how it exposes its most high-profile property. Yes, managers will never turn down chances to chat with the BBC or ESPN, but the nature of those interviews matter. If a manager can arrange it that his time with a media member is unique and productive to both sides, then the manager creates not only a channel to get his message and brand out, but creates a possible ally when things go south.

Let’s go back to Sir Alex, who had plenty of conflict with members of the media. Why was he so beloved by them? Was it just the winning? Actually, it was the principle we just outlined. When he was first hired by United in the ‘80s, he was aware of what the national papers’ deadlines were for the various editions and conveniently was in his office around those times (including as early as 8 AM) to answer calls from reporters. Even when he was banning newspapers and berating questioners, he maintained long-term cordial relationships with many reporters, allowing them to be considered separately from their employers that may have been in his ire.

Sometimes though making a media member’s job easier is simpler than being ready to take a call or text. Making players or practices open may help a writer meet a deadline with something new or see a new angle for a story. Even something as simple as speaking the language helps – see Jose Mourinho speaking Italian at his first Inter press conference and the positive press that won him. In this way, media members and managers are incredibly similar – they both crave information they can use and is exclusive to them. If both sides can provide this to the other, they can form a bond that helps both weather the inevitable storms of the job.