We talk often on this blog about the notion of reputation management – the idea that you work exceptionally hard from a PR perspective to associate your brand with certain qualities and associated words and values.
We’ve spoke often that PR is often associated with crisis management, and that’s only partially true, because your brand is something you need to monitor and manage in good times and bad.
In terms of reputation management, the kick off of 5 AFLW practice games gave AFLW HQ the chance to hit a significant reset button after last years negativity, criticism and poor handling of promotional issues.
The promotion for the new season involved sticking a W on a wall, some skywriting, and then that was pretty much it before the season started.
Last season, faced with criticism that the season was poorly promoted (as late as mid January, the website was updated only ever 4 days) AFLW “head” Nicole Livingstone said something akin to cutting back on promotion due to increased awareness of AFLW.
The backlash to the lack of promotion and failure to engage a sense of community setback the whole season.
It put it on the backfoot to be dismissed by THOSE Herald Sun letter writers, and things never really recovered.
By the time the memo hit, the seasons positive energy from a PR point of view was long gone.
From a public relations point of view, getting active around the practice games would have been at least an olive branch to the fans, providing a sense that they had listened to their concerns.
There are esoteric concerns that can be addressed from a PR point of view, things like providing a dream team game, greater promotion, better merchandise, but simply getting on the front foot and keeping everyone engaged in the practice match schedule would have been a positive start.
This was a huge chance to create a buzz, on a weekend for the die hards, to tie into a positive weekend for womens sports.
And the thing was, things looked a little better and brighter – the club websites and Twitter feeds were trying harder, there was a teaser trailer for an ad campaign (we’ll get to that later) and a renewed sense of purpose that things could be better.
And then….officially at least…radio silence….
Managing day-to-day brand reputation means you are well prepared, that you publicise these practice matches, and then give the requisite support, through your official sports hub.
It’s unthinkable that official hub of ANY sporting league puts no thought into publicising their own matches, at any level, nor provide live updates of what is going on, not in these era….
Officially, the AFLW Twitter feed provided no updates at all, providing 1 retweet all day of a link provided by the Brisbane Lions – no scores, no updates, no sense of community by retweeting the work done by the clubs and fans.
Facebook? One score all day, the North Melbourne vs Melbourne score.
Instagram? The same singular post.
The websites? AFLW straddles two different links and websites, and neither of them were updated all day with any information at all – in an irony, the last story on the AFLW website posted was about the Crows coaching adopting a “wait and see” mantra….
Obviously within that, the “main” website featured no updates all day – a website that seems to find time to inform of new player haircuts in the AFLM game and provide a news update that Alex Rance has grown a beard can’t find space to inform people of teams or a schedule.
That mantra applies to website updates it seems as well….
And the thing with failing to manage your reputation is that from failing to pay attention, other opportunities are missed, just from sheer carelessness.
During the course of the day, Jess Duffin was playing in a WBBL semi final for the Melbourne Renegades – the simplest of simple promotion for AFLW, a chance to promote the multi sport player through free and mutual publicity.
Better yet, during the game, Duffin did an interview about the game, that gave a shout out to AFLW and her North Melbourne team-mates.
From a publicity point of view, this is easy stuff – you play the mutual publicity game, tweet out the grab, tag in the cricket and the football team, promote Jess and her story t the same time.
It’s the most basic of PR things to do on social media, and yet….
It was left to the Channel 7 cricket account to tweet out the grab, doing AFLWs job for them, and that was that….no support for Duffin, no promotion, not even typing out a good luck message.
From a PR perspective, this is as easy as your job can possibly get if you are paying attention, and its now completely passed them by.
Even more damning, Brooke Lochland suffered an injury during the Western Bulldogs practice game and no one either on the Bulldogs website, Twitter feed or any “official” channels deemed it worthy of reporting.
It’s hard to imagine any sport at any level losing their leading goal scorer (or whatever metric is used to measure scoring) without some kind of update to the progress of the injury.
Was it a knee? An ankle? Concussion?
High school games provide injury updates with more purpose and clarity than a supposedly officially funded branch of a major sporting league that trumpets once a year “this is your home”
Again, to tie it back to PR, there was no one in official capacity to provide “news” if something significant happened.
This doesn’t just mean suffering an injury – everything is taped these days, every highlight is provided, from grade school to the pros, hoping to capture that one play, that one moment that promotes your sport or goes viral.
More importantly, in building the failed sense of community from season 2 back into season 3, clips, photos of the players meeting fans, a collation of the day, these were easy things for official AFLW channels to aim for.
Instead all we got from the day was a PR disaster, more of the same apathy and failings.
These aren’t impossible goals, not affected by budgetary constraints or beyond the PR staff – it takes one committed person (and let’s be honest, there are volunteers who would co-ordinate) to strategically man the day, and co-ordinate a sense of occasion.
All it takes is for someone, somewhere, to take 5 minutes to connect the PR dots and re-establish the most basic of goodwill.
And yes, the clubs did try their best, with the Lions showing the game on their Facebook page and some teams providing updates, but the league still needs that central hub.
That basic PR respect that sports extend their participants, that central point where all information is easily accessible, or it is not truly engaging.
It’s also disrespectful to its participants that their athletic accomplishments, even in practice games, don’t receive that over-arching league acknowledgement, that their participation exists in a vaccum, a sporting tree falling in a forest with no one watching.
On a day where the WBBL Semi Final finishes went viral, AFLW fell even further behind in the publicity game, and it was another self-inflicted blow.
The WBBL knows how to play the publicity game – as soon as Ash Barty gave the Brisbane Heat a shout out, they are prepared with a retweet and the mutual publicity game.
AFLW doesn’t even have an engaged and involved social media presence – it’s terrifying that in season 3, we can’t get these PR basics right.
Failing to clear the lowest of low promotional bars is an ominous sign for season 3, and we haven’t even hit day one yet…
I’ll be something that you do
The contrast in failing to provide basic updates is in contrast to the promotional blitz that is coming and is happening around AFLX.
AFLX is already in full teaser trailer mode, and takes every opportunity to steal the promotional spotlight, even in the face of resentment and apathy.
The PR contrast is significant, given that two summers in a row AFLX has had breathless news updates centred around nothing more than the color of the football.
It was silver, now it’s pink, Stevo is outside Marvel Stadium with a live update…
In the space of just one hour, AFLX launched two teaser trailers, one showing someone drawing the cartoon artwork for the posters, then said same person showing said same artwork to a cooing Jack Riewoldt.
That was on top of endless speculation on mythical, made up teams – who’s going to be drafted into AFLX teams! Will Nat Fyfe draft Jordan De Goey!
Tom Browne has an update at 6….
It’s an interesting strategy that a mythical, symbolic team drafted for one night only with no genuine players gets a greater sense of preview and “anticipation” and discussion than real AFLW teams playing for something that matters.
AFLXs PR strategy is to overwhelm, to portray confidence in the face of apathy, to bludgeon through with noise and overwhelming volume of content.
To tie into AFLWs promotional woes, like it or not, we live in the content era, and the need to constantly provide it in a crowded marketplace is a PR imperative.
It’s one of the reasons AFLM has spaced things out across the year in order to have constant updates – even if that is as basic as new haircuts at pre season training.
AFLX has become an AFLM HQ summer filler, it’s go to content provider, no matter the little substance provided – color of footballs, the most speculative and tenuous of lists (who in your club would be good at AFLX! Tom Browne may surprise you!) and vague lists of countries that AFLX might be good for.
Any time a kid eats a hotdog at a game, you can bet there will be a photo posted somewhere.
The only people who truly support AFLX are those financially invested or within the industry, the relevant journalists or players (hello Patrick Dangerfield) encouraging people to “give it a go” or “it’s for kids, whats the harm!”
Those same players and industry involved participants of course haven’t extended that PR courtesy to any AFLW event since the All Star games.
No matter what promotional strategy AFLW adopts (save the jokes for the moment) it would still mean a lot for a male player to be vocal in support of the competition, and for that support to be vocally re-iterated by official channels.
Instead, Patrick Dangerfield is used as the vocal promoter for AFLX, the instant PR quick fix that whoops and hollers and then means nothing.
AFLX can’t ever aim to have a soul, it’s an instant hit of gratification, at best, so that makes it easy to market, theoretically.
It can be anything it needs to be in the moment, it can promote anything it wants, it can associate itself with any buzzwords it wants, it can draw on any number of resources that it wants to promote its own mythology.
AFLW is still, 3 seasons in, struggling to impart a consistent message of what it wants to be, to the point that the messaging is muddled and confused and officially no can be bothered to try at times.
From a PR point of view, AFLX will never die of apathy, because it’s going to scream its message from the rooftops, and that publicity message can be changed at anytime.
It’s going to be tweaked until someone, somewhere, some metric will be used to proclaim AFLX is somehow a success, even if it’s just one shot of a kid on a beanbag smiling.
When AFLX is getting press releases for ball color changes, and AFLW can’t co-ordinate its marketing and websites to give you teams, you have to wonder if anything has truly changed in season 3….