LEADER: Footballers’ Giveaway fascinating to watch

As listed in the TV guide, The Million Pound Footballers’ Giveaway appeared as another of those lurid, celebrity-obsessed shows that seem to plague today’s schedules.

But the programme itself, screened by Channel 4 last week, was actually a fascinating microcosm of the modern PR campaign.

It told the story of political economist Noreena Hertz’s recent attempt to convince every Premiership footballer to donate a day of their wages to the UK’s criminally underpaid nurses.

Her month-long project involved all the elements of a classic issues-led campaign: media relations, lobbying, stunts, and presentations to opinion formers. She even ­enlisted the help of Alastair Campbell to advise on her comms strategy.

And despite many moments of despair, Hertz actually managed to sign up around half the footballers in the top division.

Her campaign was not without its faults. This writer may not be alone in finding her little-girl-lost style irritating. And one wondered why, if she knew ‘nothing about football (giggle)’, that she didn’t partner with a campaigner who did. Knowing the robust nature of some of the gatekeepers of football clubs, a more heavyweight approach would ­occasionally have paid off.

Campbell himself played a rather macho self-caricature, but his advice was generally spot on, particularly in encouraging her to play the clubs off against one another.

What the programme did achieve, however, was to ­expose the reputational naivety of the footballers themselves. Most were surprisingly reluctant to donate the money, which on reflection they would not really have missed.

This is not to begrudge their high salaries – it is a punishing, uncertain and short-lived career – but the players would be advised to put things in a bit more perspective, if they are not to invite continued attack in the media.

Indeed the penny may already have dropped. Certain players, including England captain John Terry, grabbed positive headlines last weekend by announcing they would be donating their fees for England games to charity. In reality this is a tiny percentage of their annual haul, but it is the right gestures that matter.

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