By Bekki Bushnell, Head of Business Development
Liverpool wonderkid Raheem Sterling’s decision to speak to the BBC without the consent of his club last week was branded a “PR disaster” by a collection of the UK’s leading sports journalists.
Speaking on Sky Sports’ Sunday Supplement programme, the 20-year-old was chastised for the interview, which sought to dispel rumours he is a “money-grabbing teenager”, but instead added a huge drum of kerosene not only to that belief, but worse, his entire future on Merseyside. Turning down £100,000-a-week before your 21st birthday won’t help in that regard.
Worse still, Sterling admitted he was “flattered” by reports linking him with Arsenal, the very team Liverpool were preparing to face a few days later. Sterling and his team subsequently lost 4-1.
As a Manchester United supporter, I can sit back and laugh as our bitter rivals fall off the pace but as a PR man, it is hard not to wade in on the debate.
While I am sure Sterling has been media trained, there has clearly been a breakdown in messaging – the bedrock of any successful media briefing.
Under the Whiteoaks method, Sterling would have been fully briefed as to the goals of the interview (always supported the wider business objectives), be well versed in the key messages he is to use, ensuring continuity for the brand and, of course, be supported by a capable member of the Whiteoaks team.
Is it worth using Mr Sterling as an example of how not to handle a press briefing? He clearly had set objectives, which is fair enough, but no consideration as to how that might be twisted and altered by the UK press. At best it was ill-timed, at worst it has alienated the brightest star from one of England’s truly great clubs.
Rather than generate positive publicity for himself or his business (club), Sterling has dug a far deeper hole. Perhaps he should look to a PR agency with a track record of success for some crisis communications training…?