Marcus Rashford played a blinder – and PR pros can all learn something from him

From goal-scorer to game-changer, Rashford’s passionate free school meal campaign has provided a timely reminder of why we do this job.

As PR campaigns go, Marcus Rashford hit “top bins". In just two days, an inspiring 22-year-old footballer with little to no history of politics, PR or lobbying has shown how his words can be more powerful than his feet.

Yesterday, under the sheer weight of public support, the Prime Minister was forced into a spin reminiscent of Jan Olsson in 1974 after Johan Cruyff first executed his signature 180° turn.

The U-turn Rashford had called for was complete.

His activism is a timely reminder not only to recognise football’s growing positive cultural influence, but also that we all have the power to effect change.

For PR professionals, it's a call to look beyond archetypes, preconceptions and biases and focus on crafting campaigns that increase human happiness.

Rashford has proved, even in the most trying of times, that it's still possible to cut through the noise.

It wasn’t innovative. It didn’t use fancy new tech, gimmicks, puns, a stunt or ‘sticky’ content.

It was smart, simple in its design and brilliantly executed.

He started with a ‘real-life’ insight – his own. His free school meals, breakfast clubs and gifted dinners made him realise that a meal should never be left to chance in a child’s life.

It’s a story many can relate to – I, too, had free school meals, lived in a rough neighbourhood, and my single Black mother’s strength and sacrifices made me who I am today.

Then, a clear strategic direction. Unity and solidarity should be present in the guarantees that a government makes to all families, no matter what their circumstances.

Next, Rashford did his research and devised a clear, tangible goal. He chose an achievable policy aim – one already offered in Wales.

Now for a clear, concise launch plan. He mixed old and new media – a broadcast interview with a friendly journalist while simultaneously posting his open letter on social media.

The message was love, compassion, kindness and community concern. It had an easy call to action and a wealth of influential people supporting.

The rest is history.

Here’s what we can remember moving forward, as both citizens and professionals:

  • Ditch preconceptions and biases. We now rely on footballers for compassionate policy-making. The gloves, or shall I say the boots, are off.
  • Be courageous, fight for your beliefs. Don’t take no for an answer.
  • Education is no replacement for social education. A person who shares little in common with the majority of people at the top of Britain’s power structures has shown us that.
  • Be aware and authentic. Rashford recognised and acted upon a legacy of structural inequality that he witnessed first-hand.
  • Together our passion is powerful. Collective problems can only be met with a collective solution.

Collectively, we can learn from Marcus Rashford and the many activists who are striving for change right now. Ordinary measures are nowhere good enough to deal with the extraordinary challenges faced today.

We need unprecedented ambition and action to deal with uniquely demanding months ahead.

You played a blinder, Marcus. Now it’s time to up our game…

Andrew Soar is creative director at Ogilvy

PRWeek UK is committed to having a more diverse selection of commentators in our articles, and is compiling a list of BME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) PR professionals who are willing to be quoted. To be added to the list, please email and include your specialist areas of expertise, and/or preferred subjects for commentary.

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