February marks the start of the Six Nations Rugby tournament and sport is never short of wonderfully creative campaigns to draw inspiration from.
Recently I was shown a video of a brilliant PR stunt which combined advertising, marketing and PR in a beautifully clever package. It’s so good and really stuck with me, I literally can’t stop thinking about it, so much so that I just had to share it with you.
I think it’s pretty special when a person with such incredible sporting talent can change, advance and improve a sport in multiple ways. He impacted the build of players, the game itself and the communications surrounding rugby. Public relations for rugby changed as communication between stakeholders evolved and improved. The changes to the way rugby organisations and players handled PR, marketing and advertising made the game accessible to a much wider audience. By being more accessible Jonah became an icon and an inspiration to players of all ages.
Jonah’s support of the rugby world didn’t stop despite his health conditions or when he retired from the international rugby circuit. Recently he toured the UK promoting the 2015 World Cup, performing the traditional Haka.
Jonah Lomu, you are going to be missed but forever remembered as one of the greats, perhaps even the greatest. By engaging all your stakeholders you engaged the world through sport and you built a legacy that will last forever.
What do you get when you combine Air New Zealand, the All Blacks and the Men in Black?
And an instant social media viral sensation.
What Air New Zealand is doing is focusing on an important safety feature that is often overlooked and bringing attention to it through a series of cool parody videos that engage a wide demographic. It uses popular culture and topical events, the classic film and the fact there is a Rugby World Cup just around the corner, to make you pay attention to the important safety features you would usually ignore at the beginning of your flight. And this is why it’s a cracking creative campaign. If you don’t know about this campaign, I wrote about it before for Air New Zealand’s Lord of the Rings Safety Video, so take a look for another cracking safety video and for ideas of how to make something dull and necessary into something fun and engaging. Enjoy!
Rugby’s recent hot topic was how George North’s concussion was dealt with, which resulted in concerns being raised about whether appropriate action was taken and its impact on Rugby Union’s reputation.
Paul Rees wrote an excellent article for the Guardian (12 February) that sums this up perfectly. He states that the future of the players and sport depends on action being taken to treat concussion with the importance it deserves.
Image and reputation is inextricably linked with stakeholders, and therefore a damaged reputation can have seriously harmful repercussions.
If the Rugby Union is not properly looking after it’s key stakeholders, the players, by risking their health then it calls into question rugby’s credibility. Rugby’s image and reputation becomes damaged and this then loses other essential stakeholders – the fans and the funding.
When things go wrong mitigation is key and rugby’s swift action on concussion has limited the damage to the Union’s image and to the players.
George North’s case emphasised Rugby Union’s concussion protocol and it’s importance. But, there was considerable outrage with how it was dealt with and his welfare.
After George North’s concussion debacle it was rumoured that players often pushed themselves back to playing before they were ready, in fear of losing their place on the team. Other comments circulated that coaches were the culprits making players return. The comments didn’t go away.
Given the nature of rugby, it wasn’t long until another high-profile case presented itself and after Mike Brown went out cold during the Valentines Day match against Italy, PR went in to overdrive from the England camp. It was the perfect opportunity to rescue rugby’s reputation from what happened mere weeks earlier with George North. It was time for communication.
Multiple news stories and updates were issued stipulating that Mike Brown is being protected by existing protocol and that he will not be returning until all symptoms are gone. Mitigation, through strategic PR communication, did its job and the concussion protocol fever has been sated for now. Here are some of the quotes that were released from the England camp…
“This morning Mike woke up not feeling 100%. The right and proper thing to do was to make the call. His health is the main priority here and we need to get him right for the next game. The symptoms aren’t too severe whatsoever, just a little headache. He’s fine in himself and is chirpy enough, but it just isn’t worth the risk because his health comes first.” assistant coach Andy Farrell said.
England head coach Stuart Lancaster said the squad’s medical staff would continue to work with Brown to “get him back to full health”.
Although this is great news for Mike Brown’s welfare, this does mean that he will miss today’s Six Nation Ireland v England match, much to the disappointment of England rugby fans, Stuart Lancaster and the rest of the coaching team. But, in this instance, the risk is too big to chance. Everyone involved knows this and the right decision has been made. Well done Stuart. England 1 – 0 Wales.
Taking risks for reputation enhancement is not a new topic in PR and it is something I have written about before. Recently, the article I posted about Madonna at the 2015 Brit awards, talked about how far is too far in PR, using the example of Red Bull who risked a life for PR purposes. Like I said before, if the live jump from space had gone wrong then the damage to the brand would have been unprecedented. Instead it’s secured their place in the top brands of the world. Risk can equal big rewards.
However, rugby isn’t just a brand or a product, it’s bigger than that, it’s a part of our society. It’s children developing important skills, the Sunday run about with the lads, it’s the first trip to a major stadium, it’s the highs and lows of following your team. Big risk here won’t work.
It seems rugby is aware of its position, the risk and the potential damage, even if the George North situation was a reminder of why the rules and protocol are there. In this instance, strategic PR was used to manage the expectations of its stakeholders. It facilitated communication with its stakeholders by saying ‘how we dealt with that was wrong, but look, we’ve learnt from our mistake’. Crisis averted.
I set out to write a piece on the Rugby World Cup 2015 ticketing but actually discovered the positive PR that is channelled through rugby and the close stakeholder relationships within it. When I wrote my PR Masters Dissertation this year I focused on ‘Global Sporting Events: Managing PR strategies in complex stakeholder environments’. I examined the top global sporting events in 2014 – the Tour De France, the FIFA World Cup and the Commonwealth Games. From this I concluded that a positive reputation hinged on good compatible working relationships between the main stakeholders before, during and after the event. Without it the brand, event and nation suffered in many different ways – audiences are perceptive, dynamic and savvy. If you compare the English and French ‘bro-mance’ that was the Yorkshire Tour De France to the boycott and corruption of FIFA, the perception of each was radically different, they were viewed differently by other stakeholders and this impacted their overall effectiveness. The power of stakeholders is phenomenal, so managing the PR strategies and relationships is fundamental to the overall success of the event.
We are gearing up for another global event in the UK. The worlds finest rugby players will be going head to head on home turf. Of course I want tickets, it’s the Rugby World Cup in the UK, practically on my door step! It’s a no brainer.
However, like many, I didn’t get tickets in the ballot. It seems to be all or nothing. But, I wanted to see what else was out there about other people’s experience and the effect it has had on audience stakeholders. Did it receive good PR? Bad PR? Or did it depend on whether you got tickets or not?
I still don’t know that yet. I got distracted. Blame YouTube. Instead I learnt that rugby as a sport has a ‘good will’ unlike any other I’ve experienced (I’m an ex-amateur rower and sports aficionado!). It is rare you hear of any hooliganism (sorry football fans!) and it has been used as a positive force to engage historical change within nations (Yes, I’m talking about Mandela, apartheid and THAT 1995 Rugby Match).
Even the Royals are on board, driving promotion of the 2015 World Cup, but also defining the town of Rugby as the ‘Proud Home of the Game’. Similar to the big three sporting events of 2014 I mentioned earlier, this event also influences the PR of nations, cities and the towns in which they take place. The positive partnerships and sponsorship contracts between stakeholders are already radiating from the snippets of advertising and PR being released. It pre-sets a tone for the event within the media and gives us a hint that this is going to be bigger and better than the ones before it. After the success of the 2012 Olympics, the 2014 Yorkshire Grand Depart and the 2014 Commonwealth Games, we as a nation have a rather high standard and legacy of sporting and event success to maintain and develop.
Communications between stakeholders hosting the event and their prospective audience are one of the most important to nurture and this has already started…
What happens when you take a rugby legend and the Captain of the England rubgy team? Priceless Surprises. MasterCard have got it right, they are building on the concept of national sporting pride and focusing on the sporting stars of tomorrow, youth teams. There is a bit of branding here and there, but the focus is on the relationships, using sport to influence and drive positive change. Ok, it’s a little cheesy, but it has the feel good factor and shows a great relationship between the event, the nation and the key stakeholders…
Whilst researching, I also found a partnership between the City of London Police and the 2015 Rugby World Cup, which is humorous in getting it’s point across playing on the infamous, characteristic kicking technique of Jonny Wilkinson. It warns ticket buyers to ensure they are buying from official ticket sources, which shows a clear aim to crack down on the crime but also a caring element for fans not often seen in other global sporting events (certainly not the three I looked at in 2014 anyway!). Have a look here…
This early PR strategy of collaboration is already creating an environment where positive PR is generated about the event, the nation and the stakeholders. This preparation is laying a positive foundation for the build up to the event. I can’t wait to see how PR and communications unfold in the run up to the 2015 Rugby World Cup event, it’s already an exciting start!