I’d wake up one morning and find nothing to rearrange…

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As AFLW season 2 ticks towards the Grand Final, the sense of a wasted season tangibly in the air, it seemed only fitting that even in Grand Final week, AFLW had to fend off a mess at least partially of its own making. If there’s one thing we’ve talked about a lot, it’s been a failure of AFLW to properly plan and strategically engage for this season.

Working in marketing and PR, it’s easy to be very wise in hindsight, the truth is we’re at the mercy of public reaction more than we’d care to admit. Carefully crafted marketing plans can fall apart at the first hurdle, what sounds good in a boardroom is rejected by the public.

All we can do is plan, and plan well. PR is about managing public reaction, controlling it to an extent. Reactive organisations can’t survive in today’s world, they are always chasing their tails in a crisis. Sure, for, say United Airlines, once you’ve had a horrendous viral passenger experience, a reaction is needed.

But proactive PR? Proactive marketing? There’s been none of that from AFLW, everything this season has been responsive (if anything happens at all), and nothing is thought through. As we meander through Grand Final week, where has the promotion been? The special shows? The media events? The sense of occasion? It hasn’t been evident from the league.

When Nicole Livingstone muttered and mumbled something about “we had a social media strategy” at the AFLW launch, it was clear a failure to plan was unfolding. Again, a Twitter account is not a social media strategy. We’ve spoken a lot about the failure to plan an advertising campaign, about not using the viral clips of kids at games to market the product.

At its worst, AFLW marketing has been non-existent, at best poor and basic, failing to understand the humor and rhythms of the league or the women who play it. To tie everything into strategic PR planning, they can’t tell you how they have engaged with the fans, because they haven’t done it…if you don’t do the work, fixing and re-engaging with fans lost to the product becomes impossible.

It is of course not just an AFLW problem: while chasing big dreams and Zooper goals overseas, AFLM is now scrambling to try to fix years of neglect and dis-interest in Tasmania. How do you claw back a lost generation of fans? How do you re-invigorate a sport that’s basically had its community structure taken away from it? How do you now show you care?

With a 3 hour visit? With money? With PR clichés? We’ll leave it up to more scholarly Tasmanian football experts to work that one out…

That digression aside, AFLW though clearly hasn’t taken care of these eventualities, and out of a lack of long-term planning, they are now messing up the basics more and more. To an aggravated fan base, they could never get the Grand Final venue right, but putting the start time back 1/2 an hour after flights are already booked? No planning, no thought…

In the past round  no fewer than two tweets from the official AFLW account tweeted out incorrect start times (in the case of Collingwood vs Adelaide, the wrong day entirely) and in another tweet they tagged the wrong Western Bulldogs account into a promotion. In Round One they tweeted out the teams without numbers. There’s a hidden AFLW website that looks much nicer but is buried behind a tiny Erin Phillips splash banner. Why?

On a side note of course, this failure to think things through extended to Fox Footys coverage of the Adelaide vs Collingwood game where the best player on the ground, Chelsea Randall, left the ground and no one noticed on commentary for nearly two quarters.

This occurred even after Randall had been physically restrained by trainers from going on the ground and at least 4 Twitter accounts had officially tweeted out she had left the game with a head knock…

Kate Sheahan was probably too busy explaining irony….

It’s impossible now for anyone in AFLW to truly explain what the strategic plans of the league were, what they wanted people to think of the organisation, what their relationship with the key stakeholders and fans were supposed to be? They can’t tell you, because they didn’t do the work in the first place…

And the consequences of that? Well….

Oh well, oh well, we’ve guessed the end

Occam’s razor is the problem-solving principle that, when presented with competing hypothetical answers to a problem, one should select the one that makes the fewest assumptions, or as its oft broken down, the simplest explanation is usually the right one.

For all the theories about AFLW and its relative failure in season 2, from sabotage to Channel 7 pushing the TV rights value down, we tend to be (in the PR field) of the opinion that Occam’s Razor is in play, particular with our “leader”: the job is too hard, and she couldn’t be bothered to try. No one could…

We would tend to, strategically, put the Katie Brennan fiasco as the law of unintended consequences though, rather than an outright failure such as the memo leak. To wit: Katie Brennan was charged with rough conduct by the strange singularity that is Michael Christian as judge, jury and executioner (hope he isn’t having a bad day) and received a 1 game suspension, following her tackle on Harriet Cordner. Yeah, about that…

So Brennan is now out of the Grand Final, after the Bulldogs royally messed up the appeal, by arguing not against the classifications, but on a basis that seems to be “Oh go on, it’d be grouse eh!” and something about Bob Murphy, like the Chewbacca defence from South Park but with more bits about knee injuries.

However, this is the science bit (concentrate) – had Katie Brennan been a male player, she would be playing in this weeks Grand Final. Why? Because for a second offence under the rules of Male football, this would be a second fine (3K for the first, 5K for the second). Under Womens football, because the girls aren’t paid very much of anything (Emma Kearney suggested it was under 5K for the whole season mostly) a fine was ruled out: in womens football? First offence is a reprimand, 2nd offence a suspension.

As articulated by far more learned people than ourselves, this has now become a significant issue: while you can’t fine a female player her entire salary for the season, or combine two fines for 8K to put a player into the red, creating a natural injustice in the penalties is grounds for appeals and challenges and seems to fail any kind of natural fairness test.

Judging the levels of gender inequity in this, that’s perhaps for other people. We will say this: there is no AFLW equivalent of the “good bloke” card played in these situations, which on face value seems as ridiculous as arguing about Bob Murphy (circuitously, a good bloke) but somehow carries an intangible weight with tribunals.

However, what we can say is, again, the rules in this situation haven’t been properly thought through. It’s only when something happens that officialdom struggles to catch up. Planning and forethought isn’t something AFLW is bringing. Out of that has come a systematic inequity in the rules that people have thrown their hands up about and promised to “fix later”…

And out of that, Katie Brennan can’t play in the Grand Final, pending another long shot appeal. And again, we turn to Occams Razor: no one looked at the rule and thought it through, what could happen.

There is no planning in this league, no committee overseeing it. It’s strung together random happenings. To believe else just simply doesn’t seem right….

Are you positively certain that you know what you’ve been shown?

One of the reasons for starting this blog was a life long fascination with marketing and PR, and trying to find the reasons why things are promoted a certain way, why certain stories become ingrained in the public consciousness and some don’t.

We’ve touched before that this is the content era, and quoted Colin Cowherds theory that social media has ignited little more than media firework shows, little flare ups that subside until the next one starts.

Should you choose to test this theory, check an old episode of a sports show that specialises in talking in opinionated ways, or check Kane Cornes twitter feed for the take of the day from a few months ago.

You will find things that you once passionately cared about that became media flare ups and then faded away: Taylor Walker having a beer? Scott Pendleburys old tweet? Jack Riewoldt/Jesse Hogans poor body language?

It’s all soon to be joined by Collingwoods lax training session and the Melbourne “mutiny” and training camp (somehow spoken of on On The Couch as the “biggest story of the summer”)….

One of the most interesting things that has happened in the summer, in regards to media monitoring, is that AFLM has “encouraged” its players to attack media speculation and articles that can’t be justified by facts, in other words the kind of things that encourage clickbait, articles that feature “the answer might surprise you” as a teaser…

To be clear, this is an attack on mostly print and online media, because TV is the great inoculator of the AFLMs future. One of the suppositions about why the pre game warm up is happening in the rooms is that it has been done to create better access for TV and the cameras and “Roaming Brian” types. It’s unlikely the encouragement went onto reckless TV news stories and speculation on Talking Footy style shows…

AFLW of course can stay in its own realm, shoved to 7Mate while the Jungle Book is on the main…I mean Baloo IS a cheeky bear, but…

The test case to this was the purveyor of uncomfortable, Jon Ralph, who in writing an article about Josh Kelly sticking with the Giants instead of going to North Melbourne, mused about cocaine sniffing nightclub hopping players as an opening gambit, and was smacked down by Jack Riewoldt and Patrick Dangerfield for it.

As a response, the article was edited. This all played out in around 2 hours across Twitter, almost like a pre-emptive player strike on the print media.

One of our coming fascinations then is who or what is going to be targeted by this player “encouragement” – Sam Newman after all on live TV said Suzie O’Brien would never be troubled by the Me Too movement and it didn’t even make the papers, let alone have a player speak out in criticism.

Dermot Brereton questioned Gil on whether women footballers were grooming at the start of the AFLW Season 1, and no one took any notice. These seem more weighty, important issues to speak on than Luke Dalhaus trade rumors, but here find ourselves.

Both Dangerfield and Riewoldt have taken media stances before without support. Dangerfield took on Sam Newman to very little support in hindsight, then backed down ultimately, while Jack Riewoldt was the voice of a post Caroline Wilson Richmond boycott of Triple M that lasted a week. Media revolutions fizzle out, and nothing changes.

There is a lot to be said for taking back the narrative from the drip feed of trade rumors, ugly coaching stories, “bad rumors” about Gil McLachlan (thanks Robbo) and a system where the AFLM Premiers don’t even get a day to celebrate before Trade Radio starts. Ralph’s article was horrendously written, no question, and worthy of approbation, of that there is no question.

The issue though is what the players will choose to tackle, or whether it’s just Jack Riewoldt tweeting doing the heavy lifting, and it will be interesting to see if there’s a tipping point.

The usual media monitoring shows the way these things go, a short burst of activity and then things retreat back to normal, and people are clicking on articles where the 7th item on a list “may surprise them” like nothing has happened…

 

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