From overprotection to paranoia - are PRs at football clubs right to shield players from the media spotlight?

In football you encounter some "overprotective" and "paranoid" comms people who can make life difficult, says BBC News sports editor Dan Roan - but PRs argue it is understandable that clubs shield players from the media spotlight.

Dan Roan says certain PR professionals "punish" journalists for doing their job
Dan Roan says certain PR professionals "punish" journalists for doing their job

Roan (main imagewas speaking to PRWeek for the Grilled interview in the latest edition of the magazine.

He said certain PR professionals "punish" journalists for doing their job, adding that in football in particular "you do encounter quite overprotective and, at times, paranoid comms people" - an example of this he has encountered is seen in the video in the below tweet. 

"Sadly, over time, trust between the media and football clubs has been eroded and that can make life difficult [for journalists]," said Roan. 

Exploiting opportunites

In response, Chris Soult, account director at sports and entertainment comms group Pitch, said that with so much at stake in the modern game, "there is understandably a tendency for some clubs to protect players from the spotlight". He said this was particularly necessary in the "blood and thunder" aftermath of a game when tensions were running high and a misjudged comment could fuel an already tense situation.

Soult said: "With social media ready to pounce and pontificate on every quote that comes out of a player’s mouth, it’s understandable and correct that clubs carefully and tactfully choose their public spokespersons in these circumstances."

However, he added that rather than shielding players from the spotlight, clubs should try "to push players to media on the proviso that the journalist includes some of the club’s key messages". He said this type of situation would be "win-win" for both parties.

Winning back trust

Paddy Hobbs, head of sport at London PR firm Pretty Green, said "it’s hardly surprising that players and clubs are defensive" - particularly considering some of the reporting around Aaron Lennon, who was recently detained under the Mental Health Act, and Ross Barkley, who was referred to as a gorilla by former Sun columnist Kelvin Mackenzie.

Hobbs said: "In the clickbait age, headlines have become more sensationalised, quotes taken more out of context and story narratives focusing on superficial elements of a player's lifestyle, such as their age or wages.

"The media needs to be joined up if they want to win back trust. There’s no point the back pages doing a brilliant in-depth interview with a player if the front pages are releasing stories on who the same player recently had a threesome with."

Media training is vital

David Alexander, founder of Calacus PR and former football journalist, said that before the proliferation of smartphones and when the internet was in its infancy, footballers were a lot more relaxed whenever they were in the public eye.

Alexander said: "I used to go and watch top clubs in training, I used to go to nightclubs with the players and while the thirst for sports news was as strong back then, there was a bond of trust around what would or would not be reported."

He said young footballers at the major clubs typically have more money and adoration "than most people could ever dream of", adding that at such a young age "it is hard to be thoroughly prepared for the challenges that such a high profile can bring".

As a result, Alexander said regular media training was vital, "so that players can be best prepared for interviews and learn how to show their personality without courting controversy that is likely to get them into trouble".

PRWeek contacted a number of Premier League clubs for comment.

Read next: From President Trump to Liverpool FC: is it ever right to shun the media?

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