Seven lessons from Mark Sampson and The Football Association affair

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Earlier this month, England Women’s football coach Mark Sampson was dismissed from his role by the Football Association (The FA) after evidence emerged about ‘inappropriate’ behaviour in a previous role.

Sampson, hired by The FA back in 2013, had been initially investigated in 2014 but, deemed not seen as risk.

As a PR crisis manager, I’m always keen to see how businesses, organisations or individuals manage their reputation when a crisis breaks for best practice

1. Why keep calm?

This is a fast moving situation. One needs to move quickly but, must have all the facts to agree a unified message.  One or two sport or football reporters grumbled about the two hours notice to get to Wembley Stadium for the press briefing. As mentioned, time is the factor. Clearly this is a big story (following on the Sampson/Aluko investigation).  The FA needed to be on the front foot: be quick, be accurate and be consistent.

2. Gathering the troops – who is involved?

Chief Executive Martin Glenn raised his concerns with the FA Chairperson Greg Clark and the Board, when evidence emerged. Glenn’s team devise a plan to share the breaking news to the football industry and public. For example, comms team drafts full statement for review and sign-off. Legal team consulted. Social media team briefed on messaging too.

3. Who is your spokesperson?

Martin Glenn acted as spokesperson when Sampson’s sacking hit the headlines. He gave interviews to the main media outlets as well as recorded video.

4. How did the news break?

Rumours circulated on social media from some journalists. Then, media outlets summoned to Wembley Stadium. Again, some journos gave updates. Initially, one or two people assumed the sacking related to the Sampson/Aluko investigation. Until the FA issued a statement via online and social media.

This served to get the message out quickly and to as many people as possible. And, the lesson? Don’t jump to conclusions. Establishing facts are important.

5. What about key messages?

Difficult one to answer without being in the room, so to speak. Ideally, you need to decide what type of information needs sharing with stakeholders beforehand. Keep it simple. I suspect audience-specific messaging for individual groups used in this situation: the Board, employees, media, sponsors, legal team and the public.

6. How will this episode affect the FA’s reputation?

The FA has a history of crises: Sam Alladyce sacking, Sven-Goran Erikson/Faria Alam affair, non-recent of abuse of adults as children and so on. No doubt leading to intense level of reputation damage.

Lessons learned designed to protect the governing body’s reputation will help to reduce negative effects.

7. What about the post-crisis phase?

In a post-crisis phase, things return to ‘normal’. The crisis is no longer the focal point and one moves into the follow up phase.

Yet,  this explosive crisis is not over the governing body. The FA are due to appear in front of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee chaired by Damian Green MP on 18th October 2017 to answer questions on Mark Sampson/Eniola Aluko investigation. England players Aluko and Lianne Sanderson will appear too.

Stakeholders need to be kept up-to-date and deliver information as soon as it is known. There are more unanswered questions on the sacking and Sampson/Aluko investigation.

This episode needs careful dissecting but, can it be chalked up as another ‘lessons learned’ given past history? Can the Governing body will emerge stronger after yet another crisis? Crucially, will anyone lose their job?

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