Rangers' PR: Succulent lambs to the slaughter

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Succulent lamb: a phrase which, as bizarre as it seems, alludes to the great sway Rangers Football Club, or perhaps more accurately Sir David Murray, once held over the Scottish media.

The term refers to the food served by the Rangers chairman in meetings with friendly journalists who would report favourably in return for exclusives and inside information in return.

Murray understood the value of brand management, media relations and the need to have journalists onside for the inevitable moments when our club would require them. Murray, for all his many, many faults, understood the true value of public relations, at least in the first-half of his tenure. The same cannot be said for our current board of directors. Lamb is very much off the menu.

“Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. PR is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour.” - The Chartered Institute of Public Relations

The above, quite clearly, has not truly been appreciated at Rangers for well over a decade as our club has allowed itself and our fans to become a punch-bag for the media and rival supporters, epitomised most disappointingly by the poisonous summer of 2012.

For years we adopted an outdated and counter-productive approach of “dignified silence”, allowing the vacuum created to be filled by others. And, let me tell you, the narrative they have built up has not been beneficial to Rangers in any way, shape or form.

Our club has allowed, over a period of time, the continued and disgraceful dehumanising and abuse of our support. We have made ourselves an easy target and at times when there were no shortage of people lining up to take a kick.

And that’s the problem with saying nothing. If we don’t comment, someone else will.

Look no further than the events of the last week. Two knuckle-draggers were pictured at our stadium racially abusing Scott Sinclair. It was as abhorrent as it was vile. And our club’s response? Silence. Deafening silence.

The result of that has been clear for all to see. Celtic had their players tweeting, their manager commenting and stories about a “hate mob” on the back-pages until the middle of the week. Their orchestrated campaign continued with players posing with a t-shirt emblazoned with the message “Love Celtic, Hate Racism” and their supporters proudly displayed a banner with an anti-racism message. That's the same club that employs Leigh Griffiths and was “seriously disappointed” at the ban handed to Aleksandar Tonev!

Yet, because of Celtic’s un-matched PR, there’s no mainstream media comment on such hypocrisy – just compliant journalists helping with the over-the-top milking of what was, of course, a horrible situation. An article in The Herald entitled “Scottish football a backwater? Racist abuse and anti-Catholic songbook doesn’t help our case” again reinforces the growing link being made with racism and our club on the back of two morons in a crowd of 50,000.

At the time Rangers needed to be proactive, not reactive. Our club is very much open to all and runs numerous terrific initiatives within communities that we should be proud of. The problem is we quite simply don’t promote this anywhere near enough.

We could, in any attempt to salvage something remotely positive from this situation, have invited an anti-racism initiative to the stadium the next day and had players endorsing their positive message just as Celtic have done. It seems like pretty simple stuff if I’m being honest.

Instead we allowed ourselves to be put on the back foot, issuing a minimal response condemning the gestures and spending the rest of the week fire-fighting the association with racism or, worse, simply waiting for the embers to burn out of their own accord. Then, just as the fire does die down, we organise a SRTRC anti-racism event with Wes Foderingham – over a week later. And days after Celtic did the same at the PFA Awards dinner.

All of this begs the question – just what on earth is it that James Traynor and Level5 actually do?

I know for a fact that a number of prominent journalists in Scotland are in complete disbelief over how poorly Rangers handles its public relations and brand management.

They cannot comprehend that the club thought it was a good idea to employ somebody almost universally disliked and, worse, distrusted in media circles to head-up the public relations of the new regime at Rangers and queried what exactly a former tabloid hack really knows about the various different aspects of modern PR. Valid points, I would say.

These journalists cannot understand that a huge club like ours has such a dreadful, antiquated, and ineffective approach to public relations and that we persist with this despite the obvious failings.

The amateurish, old school methods deployed by Level5 no longer work in the modern world. Good PR isn’t limited to angry, rambling statements and taking pot-shots at everyone and anyone on the club website. It might work in the sports pages of the Record but it certainly isn’t enough for an institution like Rangers.

Celtic used the media, rather disgracefully, to apply pressure to a referee prior to our semi-final at Hampden. They then used it to build the association of Rangers fans with racism through the Scott Sinclair incident. They know how to play the game and they aren’t afraid to take the gloves off in doing so. And we let it pass without as much as a peep.

While I wouldn’t advocate stooping to their level there is absolutely no doubt that a modern, professional firm who actually specialise in PR and not sports columns could provide us with so much more value for money than the incompetents we currently have running the show. You wouldn’t hire a plumber to fix your electrics, so why hire a former sports hack to handle our most sensitive PR and defend our reputation beyond the back pages of the Daily Record?

Rangers have nobody with the relevant experience in issues like crisis PR or delivering a sustained, message-focused campaign to change or promote perceptions of a brand. What do Traynor and Level5 know about positive image enhancement? What do they know about community engagement or creating and building a brand? The evidence would suggest very little.

While Celtic have successfully built a romanticised image around their origin, Brother Walfrid and the core values they believe define their football club, our institution and support have had our reputation defined by jealous, bitter rivals and others. We have allowed ourselves to be portrayed by our enemies, for lack of a better word, as some sub-human, knuckle-dragging “klan”. And we didn’t do anywhere near enough to counter it.

Yes, in recent years, we’ve taken action against BBC Scotland and individual journalists such as Graham Spiers and Keith Jackson but the club don’t make clear enough why they’ve had to take these steps. In the last few days another Daily Record journalist – indeed their online sports editor - has joined Jane Hamilton and their paid Celtic blogger in having past sectarian tweets and anti-Rangers bile exposed. What have Rangers said? Absolutely nothing.

They may well understandably be fed up of being patronised by the Record Editor Murray Foote’s ongoing tacit support for such bigotry and inaccuracies regarding our club but as powerless as we may be to stop such content, the club should be informing every Rangers supporter to take their business elsewhere. Celtic did so in the past and are reaping the rewards now. Sure, banning newspapers or taking away the privileges of journalists may not be the best long term strategy but if organisations can’t be worked with positively then make it clear why. Don’t leave people guessing – fill the vacuum and make your point.

With that in mind, our club needs to define what it stands for, what it means to be a Ranger. David Mason, the club’s historian, said “for me it is about standards and tradition and about the values that Bill Struth instilled into our institution”. From the Gallant Pioneers’ humble beginnings we established ourselves as the premier club in the land, upholding values like class, dignity and sportsmanship. That is Rangers.

PR is about much more than the back page of a newspaper. The club needs to start looking after our image, our identity. And you don’t do that by employing those who have absolutely no idea what those are, never mind how to champion them.

At best right now we are constantly reactive rather than proactive. At worst we are completely inactive. It is an embarrassingly negligent approach for a firm receiving a not inconsiderable sums for their services.

What concerns me however is that our board seem completely ignorant as to just how abysmally poor our PR is. Or maybe they actually believe that Level5 do a good job for us? One is as worrying as the other.

There are firms out there who actually specialise in public relations. I suggest we consider hiring one. Only then we may match Celtic off the park – as well as on it.

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