The article below is taken from PPSinPrint, a quarterly magazine published by our sister agency PPS Group.
Red Devils left Red faced after Van Gaal sacking disaster
The fact that football fans worldwide knew of former Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal’s sacking before he did was bad enough (his wife, herself having seen the story break on BBC Online, eventually told him). That a similar saga unfolded only a few seasons earlier was unforgivable.
As news spread, predictably via Twitter, that the Dutch coach would be fired within hours of winning the FA Cup, former headlines must have flashed before Chief Executive Ed Woodward, who oversaw the equally disastrous dismissal of David Moyes less than three years earlier.
This was a major PR own goal from one of the world’s most recognisable brands. So what did United do wrong (again) and what could they have done to minimise reputational damage?
- Keep stakeholders informed
United’s arch rivals Manchester City didn’t just outperform them on the pitch this year; they outdid them in the communications game too. In February City confirmed Pep Guardiola would be succeeding outgoing manager Manuel Pellegrini. The media were satisfied, the players and fans understood the direction of the club, and Pellegrini was left to concentrate on footballing affairs for the rest of the season, steering the team to a top 4 finish and signing off with dignity.
Meanwhile the spectre of Jose Mourinho had been lurking around Old Trafford for months before Van Gaal’s sacking was confirmed. Every weekend Van Gaal faced a barrage of questions regarding his future, and he was regularly forced to defend his embattled position. If, as the press was widely reporting months ago, United knew that Mourinho was a done deal, they should have followed City’s lead.
- Plan your communications
However, Mourinho arrived at Old Trafford four days after Van Gaal’s sacking, following a number of protracted days of negotiations that suggests no deal had been done in advance. If that were true, then the timing of Van Gaal’s dismissal is all the more appalling. United should have delayed the Mourinho announcement, allowed Van Gaal to enjoy his (albeit short) period of success, before officially announcing his departure which would have been easily explained by a failure to capture Champions League football, bringing Mourinho in later.
- Respond quickly to breaking news
As fans strolled out of Wembley that Saturday evening, the rumor mill in overdrive, United said nothing. Headlines appeared worldwide within hours, and the club lost all control of the media agenda. There was a tiny window of opportunity for the club to get an announcement out clarifying the situation, but they missed it (potentially because no deal with Mourinho was in place).
The next 24 hours of radio silence served as greater insult to Van Gaal, and made a bigger mockery of United’s communications. When the announcement was made the following Monday, the headlines had already been written, and United were simply responding to old news.
About the author:
Alex Reid is an Account Director at Newgate Communications sister agency PPS Group working in the Reputation Management Team. Alex specialises in media relations and corporate reputation, advising clients on wide ranging external and internal communications issues.
Some of the services that the Reputation Management team provides include: media relations and strategy, crisis communications, stakeholder and influencer relations, media training and messaging and content marketing.