PROFILE: Patrick Harverson, Manchester United - FT man to unite his new club around PR. After the Alison Ryan blunder, Patrick Harverson is better news for Man Utd

The appointment of Patrick Harverson as communications director at Manchester United feels right. The club was looking for someone aware of the complexities of the sports business, passionate about the Red Devils and well versed in handling the media.

The appointment of Patrick Harverson as communications director at Manchester United feels right. The club was looking for someone aware of the complexities of the sports business, passionate about the Red Devils and well versed in handling the media.

You can't imagine a match reporter on a tabloid fitting the bill, but Harverson could tick all the necessary boxes.

The Financial Times sports correspondent was shortlisted for the job two months ago, along with cable TV company NTL public policy head Alison Ryan. Ryan was considered to have the edge, accepted the job, but was then sacked over false claims on an earlier job application and revelations that she had been disbarred for serious professional misconduct during an earlier career attempt as a lawyer.

The Ryan debacle underlines the need United has for someone to revamp its communications. Only United, it has been said, could make such a spectacular PR cock-up of hiring someone to eliminate future PR cock-ups.

Harverson was contacted in Sydney during the Olympics and asked if he wanted to talk, in the language of the soccer contract, 'personal terms'.

Having gladly accepted the phone number salary thrown at him by United CEO Peter Kenyon and club manager Sir Alex Ferguson, the scale of the job facing Harverson cannot be overstated. In short, United is notoriously bad at its own reputation management.

A series of blunders in recent years had convinced Kenyon, who only took over from his unpopular predecessor Martin Edwards in the summer, to boost the resource expended on PR. The decision to abandon last season's FA Cup in exchange for a lucrative but poor performance at the World Club Championships in Brazil led to accusations of placing greed over tradition, a cardinal sin in the charged atmosphere of the soccer world. Telling fans that match ticket prices had to go up to fund captain Roy Keane's high wage demands made the club look spiteful, the captain look selfish and the crowd look like dupes. Kenyon realised, to his credit, that something had to change.

Hence the appointment of Harverson, a sporting business journalism veteran credited with inventing the FT's coverage of sport and with broad experience of covering the financial markets.

Harverson's journalistic career started with ReAction magazine, the trade title for the reinsurance industry. He joined as editorial assistant fresh from the London School of Economics and in a year-and-a-half there became assistant editor.

He joined the launch team for World Opinion, a weekly global news magazine aimed at the financial community, the day before the massive stock market crash in October 1987. The magazine lasted only six months, but Harverson landed a job on the FT shortly after,and has since worked in a range of different jobs for the paper.

He worked in New York for four years covering Wall Street, filling spare time by writing about the massive deals that were on the verge of transforming sport from a hobby to a major engine of the international economy.

The expertise he built up there came in handy upon his return to London in 1995, where he started covering companies and markets for the FT with a particular emphasis on the sports world. Harverson's efforts have borne fruit: from not covering sport at all five years ago, the paper now has sport pages three days a week, covering match reports, business deals and the behind-the-scenes politics so important in the City.

The best part of his United job is that he will go to every game. The lifelong fan - not from Manchester originally, but then that doesn't stop most United fans - has United videos scattered around his flat and can clearly not wait to start.

In addition to supporting the team, former FT colleague Richard Adams says he is well-organised and, as an FT man, has credibility from which the club will benefit. 'He has a great knowledge of the media and he can read a balance sheet,' says Adams.

The question of what he will do at Man United prompts a thoughtful response.

His audiences include Manchester, the football world, the media, fans, sponsors and shareholders. 'The media is the largest part of the job but the fans are crucial. They love the club and feel they have a stake in it. On the one hand they are easy because they love the club, but they are also more demanding because of that,' he says.

His knowledge of other sports hacks is limited, since he covered only major tournaments for the FT. This too, he claims is a positive, since there will not be accusations of bias towards friends that a more traditional sports reporter might generate.

'I am there to broaden out the communications strategy,' he says. 'It needs to be brought up to date and opened up.' Those journalists who have been forced to fax through media enquiries because the lone harassed Old Trafford press officer is simply too busy to help, will be pleased to hear that.



HIGHLIGHTS

1984: Editorial assistant, ReActions magazine

1987: Stock market reporter, Financial Times

1990: Wall St correspondent, Financial Times

1995: Sports correspondent, Financial Times

2000: Comms director, Manchester United.



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