A decade ago, any argument concerning corporate social responsibility (CSR) in football focused on what could or should be done by clubs and players. It’s testament to the progress that has been made since then that this discussion has largely moved on to address how much should be done.
But while the focus must remain on the work in progress and developing new programmes to ensure that the financial boom in the game benefits a wider community, greater time, energy and yes, even money, needs to be spent on publicising those efforts.
Too often I’m left pained by dry reports of worthy initiatives that struggle to convey the importance and, in many cases, the wonder of incredible work being undertaken. Indeed, the habitual use of management jargon seems to suggest that the most important part of CSR is the ‘corporate’ aspect rather than the ‘social responsibility’.
If, as we’re frequently told is the case, “football is a vehicle” to attract participants to become engaged with subjects that might be considered difficult or unattractive (for example, by using players’ transfer fees on a course to teach mathematics), then those initiatives are going to get held up in a traffic jam without the use of language that can connect with its audience.
Equally, so many programmes are ‘delivered’ (rather than organised or arranged) that it’s a wonder the Royal Mail is in the trouble it is. Such language turns people off. Where are the inspirational stories, the tales that make you feel pride to be involved in the UK’s national game beyond that of following your favourite team? They are out there, I know, but there are far too few of them in all sections of the media.
It’s not completely the fault of the charities, trusts or foundations that they are unable or unqualified to best communicate the nature of their good work. Funding is always hard to come by, and many grants understandably contain stipulations regarding how that money can be used. Of course the enterprise itself must be prioritised, so it’s natural for any staffing and equipment required to be accounted for first.
But the promotion cannot be an afterthought, not least because effective communication will extol the entire organisation as well as the initiative in question.
While some may argue that all funding should be used to ‘do good’, there is no shame in attempting to gain positive press, especially if it assists to encourage further funding for the expansion of a project or new initiatives.
Often, the best way to demonstrate the impact of CSR is to publicise the human interest stories at the heart of the work that provide explicit examples of how people’s lives are being improved.
And while it may be naïve to expect a charity to employ someone with a nose for hunting out those stories, an organisation that communicates well internally – that regularly sets aside time to listen to staff on the front line who have built up relationships with those that they are helping – will be well placed to translate that interaction into positive publicity.
These are the thoughts of Matt Wright (@mattjobob), head of communications for Back in Football.