Why Gareth Southgate is a PR Dream

This year’s World Cup has been full of surprises: defending champions Germany made a swift exit after losing to South Korea in the group stage; Brazil got knocked out by Belgium; and Lionel Messi’s Argentina crashed out in a thriller against France. But the biggest, and most welcome surprise has been the success of the England team and the meteoric rise in popularity of England manager, Gareth Southgate.

Waistcoat-wearing Southgate has helped England rediscover its footballing mojo, leading the young, inexperienced England team to the semi-finals for the first time in 50 years.

The man behind the waistcoat

Leading up to the World Cup, expectations were at an all-time low. This was a tournament to which the media already knew the ending. If they were lucky, England would make it out of the group stages. If they did, they’d lose on penalties in the first round of the knockout matches.

No-one expected much of Gareth Southgate either. Notorious for missing a penalty in the 1996 Euro tournament and being sacked as manager of Middlesbrough, he was hired as a temporary stopgap. And yet England are now two games away from World Cup victory, Marks & Spencer has seen a 35% increase in waistcoat sales, and Southgate has his own theme tune.

It seems the England manager can do no wrong. But how has he changed the fortunes of the English squad and gone from penalty loser to World Cup hero? With the help of some clever PR and comms. Here are four strategies he’s used to lead his team to the semi-finals and get the public and media on-side:

He’s banned egos

Football has traditionally celebrated individual players and their moments of genius. But it’s the selfless play, passing and team work which wins tournaments. Southgate has instilled a team-based mindset which values the interdependence of players rather than their individual brilliance.

In every post-match interview, Southgate has paid homage to the whole team, rather than pick out individual players to praise. This approach to comms is a great way to make every squad member feel equally valued and stop people from developing egos.

He’s allowed his team to talk openly to the media

Rather than banning players from speaking to the media, or asking them to be guarded in interviews, Southgate encouraged them to talk openly. There were no rules on what was or was not fair game to ask or discuss. During one press conference, defender Danny Rose spoke about the mental health problems he overcame to make it to Russia. By doing this, Rose showed his human side and endeared himself to the public in the process.

Some of the media were also given the opportunity to play darts with the team, enabling them to build a camaraderie and mutual respect.

Given how players have closed ranks and clammed up during interviews under previous regimes, this honest and open approach to communications has done wonders for the reputation of the team, and provided great fodder for PR stories.

He’s empathetic

Gareth Southgate is down-to-earth, likeable and kind, which is reflected in the way he’s treated his players and their opponents. Following England’s win against Columbia, the first thing Gareth Southgate did was find and console Mateus Uribe, the Colombian player who missed the penalty that ensured their defeat. This wasn’t a random act of sensitivity, but one of empathy. Southgate knew what it felt like to be the man to dash a nation’s dreams.

This act of kindness spurned an outpouring of memes, tweets and posts on social media, with the hashtag #GarethSouthgateWould going viral. Fans have used the hashtag to list acts of kindness Southgate would make in various scenarios. For example, ‘#GarethSouthgateWould pay for drinks at Club Tropicana even though they’re free, as he wouldn’t want to see the owners out of pocket,’ or ‘#GarethSouthgateWould buy a bottle of water and set it free in the ocean.’ These affectionate messages show how much the country has taken to the unassuming manager.

He’s focused on the process, not the outcome

Sport is emotional and unpredictable, and that’s why we love it. Southgate has recognised that his team can’t control the outcome, but they can focus on their preparation, mindset, communication and collaboration.

These things are in their control. This preparedness has helped build the courage that’s been central to the team’s winning mindset. This is as relevant for business as it is for sport.

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