What has football got in common with the beautiful game, communications? More than you’d think when a charismatic, insightful German manager is involved…
by Ben Capper
I’m a Liverpool FC fan. And right now, things are pretty OK. They’re in the Champions League Final, and I’m enjoying watching them play at the moment. They play an entertaining, swashbuckling game that takes my mind away from the daily grind, and gets me immersed in the drama, the excitement, and the last minute defensive calamities.
For all the plaudits received for certain key players: the real star of this season’s epic stride towards the Final in Kiev has been the incomparable, gregarious manager: Jurgen Klopp.
It hasn’t always been like this. Over the past 28 years, there have been highs, lows, and a lot of “meh” in between. There have been lots of discussions about diamond formations, transfer windows, net-spend, zonal marking; you name it. And often, the core fundamental reason of why you become a football fan in the first place had been lost: i.e. to enjoy watching football.
In Klopp’s first interview on being appointed in October 2015, he was asked to describe the intricacies of his playing style. He quite simply said; “we have to make their (fans’) life better.”
He might have used this simple phrase at the time because his grasp on English (whilst far superior to my grasp on German) isn’t what it’s become – but still, this really spoke to me.
“We have to make their life better”.
Think about that for a minute.
For a football fan that means certain things:
- Fewer instances of having your entire weekend ruined by a dispiriting 1-0 defeat to a newly promoted or soon-to-be relegated team.
- Not coming away from a match £50 worse off, having been bored to tears for the last 2 hours.
- Feeling pride in your tribe
- Leaving your worries and real-life stresses behind for 90 minutes and getting immersed in something exciting
“We have to make their life better”. Having a leader that understands this simple idea has re-energised a dispirited and dis-engaged fan base, and “change[d]…doubter[s] into believers”.
Even if you know nothing or care even less about football, this is a phrase that we all should come into work with in our heads every day.
Working in or serving the not-for-profit sectors means that the simple idea of “making their life better” is what we exist for.
“Better” can be “healthier”, “more educated”, “less lonely”, “more connected to people and opportunities” or just “happier”. But whatever it is, our core purpose as organisations, and the reason that we (for better, for worse) have chosen to work in this sector, is focused on the very simple outcome of making “better lives”.
And it’s not a choice. It’s not a nice-to-have. As Klopp says, this is something “we have to” do. It’s an obligation, a responsibility, and a great privilege.
As communicators or marketers, especially working in public institutions, we get asked to do a lot of “stuff”. Whilst we do all of it with passion and great skill, how often do we push-back and ask the question: is this going to “make their life better”?
I’d say that the failure of organisations to remember this maxim, and along with our understandable timidity to ask it does lead us to take on work that just doesn’t add an awful lot of value or drive particularly important outcomes – and in these austere times (how long have we being saying that for now?), producing publicly facing communications that don’t meet this measure is having tangibly negative effects:
Just imagine what would happen if we challenged every request by reminding our superiors that “we have to make their life better”:
- How much time would be saved on not going through with annoying Executive Board vanity projects?
- How much money would be saved on producing multiple hundred page-long annual reports with glossy covers with embossed metallic print?
- How much less negative social media heat would you be dealing with if you didn’t spend months, and thousands of pounds of your users’ money doing various “anniversary celebrations” campaigns?
This comes down to remembering and being confident in expressing our purpose; our “why” if you prefer.
This is about knowing what our mission is, and using it as our North Star every single day. It’s about making sure that every operational decision is focused on it, and where necessary arguing passionately and constructively for it.
I’m not that interested in the intricacies of zonal marking. I just want enjoy watching my team, and (win, lose or draw) be satisfied that they gave their all.
Similarly, your patients, tenants, students, tax-payers aren’t interested in your 10th organisational anniversary. Most of them aren’t super interested in your Annual Value statement either. They want to know what you’re doing to make them healthier, safe, more educated and happy in their communities. These are the things we need to remember, and focus our energies on telling stories about.
As the organisational window on the world, and the main interfaces between us and our users, Comms and Marketing teams are uniquely skilled, and therefore have a unique responsibility to remind our organisation of this; and to use our creativity and human-focus to tell resonant stories about the real-life impact of our work.
In a world of limited resources, but unlimited enthusiasm and creativity, prioritisation is key. How we prioritise must be based on that simple measure: a reminder that whatever we do, whoever our users are:
“We have to make their life better.”
And so on to Kiev…
Ben Capper is director of marketing at Liverpool Students’ Union
Image via cchana