Have you ever watched a magician?
No? You’ve done well.
But, just imagine you had. And before the show had been an hour long seminar on how the magician’s tricks worked. You’d know what was coming and how it all played out.
And then, when presented with something you knew was fake… the magic would be lost.
This, as it seems, is Ed Woodward’s approach to PR at Manchester United.
Appoint Neil Ashton, chief sports writer for The Sun and head croissant ignorer on Sky’s Sunday Supplement. That’ll fix it.
Poacher turned gamekeeper can work, especially if the poacher has no record of encouraging poaching of the landowner’s animals he’s now supposed to be protecting.
Of course, there’s a problem when your new gamekeeper has a record of ravaging the estate’s stock and placing the glories of which on the wall. Maybe hanging the odd coat on a decapitated stag’s head.
But, stupid, that was the job. Poachers are gonna poach.
Those nasty hunters are going to say things like: ‘Backing them is Woodward, with his disastrous record of squandering United’s gazillions on below-par players.’
AND: ‘The top clubs have ever-sophisticated recruitment operations in place, with men of standing travelling the globe, tapping in to all the latest info.
Pavel Nedved (Juventus), Txiki Begiristain (City) and Emiliano Butragueno (Real) are three men in powerful positions. Their names carry weight, along with the deep wallets of their clubs to provide additional ammunition when it comes to player negotiations.
Woodward, who has always struggled to adapt to the unique demands of recruitment, increasingly uses his sidekick Matt Judge.
No, me either.’
So Ed Woodward employs someone to improve his PR. And that someone just happens to have made clear his feelings on Woodward’s incompetence on at least one occasion.
Really, there’s no need to look for the more which may well be there, sometimes enough is enough, and this is one of those occasions. The stag, having been decapitated and used as an ornament, is now grateful that he’s not going to be hurt any further.
More so, he’s hoping that those others who went hunting for him now relent, because fans.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if fans could be told, no, encouraged what to think. If Ed Woodward could just persuade United supporters that he’s not really so bad, he’s just cuddly Ed, held back by other, less pure, people.
Above and below, they all distract from Pure Ed. He’s trying. Very trying.
Even on the early commercial deals, it wasn’t Ed solely leading it, it wasn’t him going and getting all the deals which the new football world allowed. He rode on the wings of people, who to be fair he employed, long gone.
The idea of him being a commercial genius is almost certainly overplayed. This week has seen amateur stock-market analysis present figures which make the situation look good, without any explanation that other factors have had more influence on the MANU PLC share price.
A share price which has been on a slippery slope over the past few days.
Whether it be audacity, ignorance or incompetence, Manchester United have managed to turn a PR appointment into a PR disaster. Surely this is one thing which can’t be the fault of the Glazer family (and, no, we’re not doing PR for them).
Leaving Sky, and doing so on-air whilst making it clear a United conflict of interest was the reason, Neil Ashton started his PR career with a mountain to climb.
Someone wise once said journalists should never become the story, and they were right, perhaps they should have gone on to say that counts several fold when it comes to PR.
This may quite possibly go down as one of the greatest PR own-goals in sport history. Manchester United supporters aren’t quite as lacking in intelligence as some clearly feel, and immediately they made the connection.
Briefs would be more common and more pointed to defending Woodward, and if by coincidence or design it’s happened. The backlash will now go to such a stage that anyone with any remote connection to Ashton will be perceived as parroting PR for United.
To be ‘on the payroll’, whether that be right or wrong. The anti-PR is now so strong it doesn’t really matter who gets the briefs, any positive United news will be seen as a tactic.
And it’s not restricted to the UK. Ed’s foray into PR has seen his reputation spread throughout the world. Manchester United appointing a well known journalist to soothe their PR has been a story in all the major football countries.
It’s presented as the club’s first signing of the January window, and foreign media outlets which didn’t really cover the strength of fan feeling against the club’s executive vice-chairman are now doing so.
The backlash, which should have been so obvious, is glaringly present.
If that’s what the PR was intended to do, it’s worked. But it wasn’t, was it, it’s been a complete disaster. That people from Manchester to Mumbai are mocking it, and social media is in full swing, is a mild demonstration of the backlash.
The real harm, perhaps, is that journalists will now be considered mouth-pieces for a United ‘regime’. Maybe it’s time for the best among them to prove otherwise, or f*** it and start a PR agency themselves.