The definition of PR – Public Relations – is: “Public relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. Public relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics” (www.cipr.co.uk). Good PR is what all businesses and any organisation in the public eye strive for. Companies can spend millions of ensuring that the way they are perceived is nothing but positive.
On the 14th of January this year, Blackburn Rovers enlisted the help/services of a sports PR company to improve their media image. Since then, two managers have been sacked, a transfer window has passed, numerous players have left the club, the club reached an FA Cup quarter final, and finally, rumours have surfaced that Derek Shaw has been asked to stay away from the club. These are the tip of the iceberg. All the above can arguably only be seen as negative actions and items affecting the club – which raises the question: “what exactly are the PR company being paid to do?
The latest event at the Ewood Park circus saw rumours surface that Derek Shaw, the clubs managing director, had been told to stay at home as investigations were undertaken in to the terms of former manager Henning Berg’s contract and sacking. I heard this rumour in the early morning, yet there was no response from the club until late afternoon – to be fair, I didn’t expect to see any response, so maybe this is a step in the right direction?!
Since Appleton took charge in January he has been the main voice from the club, the way it should be. But since his sacking, Shebby Singh has been back in the frame, trying to earn his keep. Under Appleton, there was at least a glimmer of stability as he made the points the fans have known for a long time: the club is built on quicksand; some players are here for a final pay packet – to name a few. Shebby Singh stands for all the things wrong with Blackburn Rovers at the minute, and this can be summed up in one radio interview, when asked what his role was, his response was a laughing “I’m not telling” – and that is the closest we have ever got to understanding what he gets paid a lot of money to do.
Looking at the bigger picture, the role of the Venkys can also be questioned: why did they buy the club? What is their intentions for the club? Since they made the purchase the club has suffered relegation; sold its best players; been subject to mass media attention for protests against manager and owners; sacked four managers; and turned the club in to the biggest laughing-stock in English, maybe even European, football (I can’t think of a worse situation?!). I personally believe that the Venkys bought the club with the best intentions, but they have been very poorly advised, back to before they even purchased the club. The fact they have been willing to stump up the cash to bring in experienced players of the likes of Danny Murphy and Nuno Gomes, and spend £8m on Jordan Rhodes, does show that they want the club to succeed. However, on the other side of the coin, hiring Shebby Singh along with Derek Shaw and Paul Agnew, and allowing the in-fighting to take place and be pretty much public knowledge has to be put down to either poor business management, or not knowing the product and keeping an ear to the ground – from Pune, you would have to have pretty good ears. The fact that they did not make the trip for the clubs biggest rivalry, or for the FA Cup quarter finals, shows a lot about their commitment – the only time they have been to Ewood this season was when it coincided with a pre-planned holiday. I bet the hatcheries and restaurants get more direct attention. That said though, if there aim was to buy Blackburn Rovers as a means to launch the Venkys chain in to the UK, you would have to say it would be a massive failure, unless they launched in Burnley, where they would be greeted as heroes for the way they have allowed the club to tumble-down the leagues.
At the time of writing, Blackburn occupy a relegation place in 22nd – a point from safety but a game in hand. However, with remaining games against Derby (H), Huddersfield (H), Watford (A), Millwall (A), Crystal Palace (H) and Birmingham (A) – winning the next two games is crucial id we are to have any chance of survival, or it could be a local derby against Preston next year, not Burnley. The question of Venkys continued ownership is perhaps more pertinent now than ever. They have agreed to pay the current squad the terms of their contract – if they were to leave should the club get relegated, and hypothetically sell to the Supporters Trust, could they, or anyone else buying a League 1 club, afford to pay the rumoured £30-40k a week wages? I can’t help but think of the likes of Portsmouth and Leeds and their plight both on the pitch and at the banks.