Top of the month: England and Southgate play a blinder in the press room

Thanks to show-stealing WAGs, a disgruntled John Terry in South Africa, Roy "I don't really know what I am doing here" Hodgson, Gazza's infamous dentist's chair and more, the terms 'England football team' and 'good PR' are rare bedfellows at major tournaments.

Bullseye: England players' interaction with the media has hit the target (image via @England on Twitter)
Bullseye: England players' interaction with the media has hit the target (image via @England on Twitter)

This World Cup in Russia has (as of PRWeek going to press) bucked that trend; the team has enjoyed a positive relationship with media.

That has both played into the Football Association strategy of increasing fan engagement, and appears to have helped players feel more comfortable and able to do their jobs.

Tactics have included a Super Bowl-style open press event in England prior to flying to Russia. Media remarked on how enjoyable and unusual it was to get such free access to multiple players, and the event saw defender Danny Rose speak for the first time about a depression diagnosis. Having had an environment that allowed Rose to talk about this will surely be of benefit to the man himself - and his teammates.

Since flying out, players have fraternised with the press pack in darts and pool tournaments at the team hotel, manager Gareth Southgate has cut a venerable yet amiable figure in media functions, and the FA has filmed a daily #LionsDen show for social media.

It appears that the players, believe it or not, are enjoying their media commitments, and that journalists are no longer seen as the enemy.

Line-up

The FA is well staffed in Russia; its media team overseen by Robert Sullivan, who is currently director of strategy and comms, but is being promoted to a more senior role in the Autumn. Underneath him, Greg Demetriou leads comms for the team, with senior comms manager Andy Walker and comms manager James Webb working for him.

Also on the ground in Russia is Jim Lucas, a senior social media manager working closely on the #LionsDen, as well as the show's presenter, YouTube star Craig Mitch.

The media team has professed slight embarassment at the praise and attention (including a lengthy article on Walker in his hometown local media) they have garnered thus far.

Meanwhile, sources close to the camp have suggested that the press team has benefitted from a good relationship with Southgate, who has trusted them to innovate. The manager is said to "get" the importance of press and media relations in a meaningful sense, in part thanks to having had a career as a commentator and broadcaster before stepping up to management.

Lucky?

One might argue that England has been fortunate thus far – expectations on the team were relatively low, there have been few off-pitch problems in the host nation, and the schedule has been kind to England in ensuring there were no high-pressure moments in the group stages.

Even the two minor media storms – the surreptitious photographing of a potential England line-up by paparazzi, and a Sun-fuelled hoo-ha over Raheem Sterling's large new tattoo of a gun – were allowed to blow over quickly.

Lucky? Perhaps; but then as they say in sport, you make your own luck.

A final caveat; this 'Top of the Month' award is for the month of June. It may be that now July is here, all hell breaks loose and PRWeek becomes a national villain for having tempted fate. But PRWeek is confident that with a smart media team and strategy, England should keep on impressing off the pitch, regardless of what happens on it.

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