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Failing the test: What the doping scandal teaches us about PR in elite sport

Corporate Reputation, Crisis
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In the wake of yet another doping scandal, the athletics and competitive sporting sector will need to work to rebuild its public image. In an era of all-pervading news media and informed publics, it is no longer sufficient to simply claim that drug testing is applied and that the sport is fair. The process must be completely transparent, explained in both scientific and layman’s terms to restore confidence in the authorities.

Back in May, I wrote about the communicational failings of individuals and organisations in football, the world’s most popular game. Three months later and scandal has hit another international sporting body.

This weekend, The Sunday Times claimed to have gained access to the results of 12,000 blood tests from 5,000 athletes between 2001 and 2012. According to the newspaper, this evidence uncovers the “extraordinary extent of cheating” at the world’s biggest and most prestigious athletics events.

The files belong to the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Foundations), another world governing body now under the public spotlight.

Calling up to ten medals at the London Olympics into question, the allegations threaten to bring the entire sport into disrepute.

Of course, this is not the first incidence of doping in competitive sport. Lance Armstrong’s confession on The Oprah Winfrey Show sent shock waves through the cycling community and acted as a catalyst to uncovering a deeply rooted culture of drug taking.

The history of athletics is littered with drug cheats, from Ben Johnson to current 100m competitor Justin Gatlin.

This scandal flies in the face of athletics’ traditional values. The idea that the physically and mentally elite battle it out on the world stage, while maintaining principles of fair play and sportsmanship appears to be slowly eroding.

While it is no stranger to reform (the IOC experienced a complete overhaul after the 1998 bribery scandal), with the 2016 Olympic Games fast approaching, athletics will have its work cut out restoring trust.

From a reputational perspective, the IAAF, and more widely, the athletics and competitive sporting sector, will need to focus on communicating honestly and transparently in order to rebuild its public image. In an era of all-pervading news media and informed publics, it is no longer sufficient to simply claim that drug testing is applied and that the sport is fair. The process must be completely transparent, explained in both scientific and layman’s terms to restore confidence in the authorities.

From a more general perspective, it is important that world governing bodies are more in touch with supporters. At present, they appear as distant entities, ruling their respective sports from an ivory tower in Monaco or Zurich. By engaging more closely, these authorities can build trust and favour among stakeholder groups.

The upcoming election for IAAF president ought to be a pivotal moment, representing the best opportunity to restore confidence. Fifa missed their chance with the recent re-election of Sepp Blatter – let’s hope IAAF does better.

Written by: James Shapland, Assistant Account Executive at Edelman

Millennials and Brands: The Relationship That Keeps Getting More Important

Consumer Trends & Insight
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It’s a widely accepted fact that millennials provide significant opportunities for brands, services and organisations. They spend £128 billion per year and are the largest generation the world has ever seen. So why do we care? What difference does it make?

It’s a widely accepted fact that millennials provide significant opportunities for brands, services and organisations as they are a generation who act and react differently from those who came before them. If that wasn’t enough, millennials are also expected to spend £128 billion annually from 2017. Yes – over £120 billion every year.

So who are they, and why do they have money to spend?

Millennials arguably make up a larger generation of people than the world have ever seen before. They have grown up in a period of unprecedented change with a digital revolution, an economic meltdown and the end of Top Gear as we know it.

Joking aside, an upbringing in a world of change means they have developed a resilience to difficulty and an ability to embrace change. A significant proportion of this generation are underemployed, and many millennials become boomerang children (and return home after university), which has arguably resulted in an ‘access rather than own’ attitude.

Not only do millennials often rent rather than buy, they also car share and are more likely to sign up to streaming and sharing platforms.

Millennials also have extra time, they have managed to add two hours to the regular 24 hour day, utilising 26 hours as they multitask across several devices.

So why do we care? What difference does it make?

Ultimately, this means there’s more time for organisations, brands and services to hook in an innovative market with money to spend.

But when it comes to marketing and advertising, millennials have a new set of expectations. They want to be involved, have their voices heard and interact.

Surprising, as this generation is often condemned as being unsociably glued to devices.

However, being raised on social media means they are always looking to connect to a community of people who share their interests – and those communities can be businesses, services or organisations. An example of this is the way the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge took social media by storm – a desire to be a part of something and to share ideas and actions with friends and family raised more than $100 million for charity.

Time, money and a desire to be involved create a powerful mix – millennials really can be gold dust for brands, institutions and services when they are engaged in a meaningful way.

Written by: Sophie Menzies, Assistant Research Executive at Edelman

Shoes: Pleasure & Pain at the V&A Museum

Culture, Entertainment
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The Oxford English Dictionary describes shoes as ‘a covering for the foot, typically made of leather, having a sturdy sole and not reaching above the ankle’. However, if the V&A Museum’s Shoes: Pleasure & Pain exhibition taught us anything at all, it’s that there is much more to them than that.

The Oxford English Dictionary describes shoes as ‘a covering for the foot, typically made of leather, having a sturdy sole and not reaching above the ankle’. However, if the V&A Museum’s Shoes: Pleasure & Pain exhibition taught us anything at all, it’s that there is much more to them than that.

The exhibition showcases extreme footwear along with the people who have owned, collected and, in some cases, endured them through the ages and across the globe. Focusing on the main themes of status, sex and seduction, the cultural significance of footwear is brought to life by hundreds of pairs on show.

David Beckham’s Adidas football boots with “Brooklyn” embossed on the tongues sit alongside the glass slippers created for Lily James in her role as Cinderella. Both are examples of footwear’s storytelling capabilities for marketers: while Beckham’s boots can make young boys feel like sporting superstars, Cinderella’s slippers depict the classic rags to riches story with no introduction needed.

Throughout history, footwear has had the ability to affect a wearer’s movement and pairs from centuries apart can be strikingly similar. Shoes from seemingly different worlds – platforms worn by a geisha, silver sandals gifted to an Indian princess, miniscule shoes from China for bound feet – would ultimately serve the same purpose. In this case, to slow and restrict the movement of the women wearing them.

The exhibition explores the often perverse relationship people have with shoes. The set-up is reminiscent of a boudoir with its dim lighting and dark velvet. Walking around feels voyeuristic yet fascinating in equal measure, particularly in the ‘seduction’ section where a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes are at such an extreme angle, the wearer has no choice but to crawl. You get an insight into a dark and mysterious world you may not otherwise know.

The V&A has created a truly comprehensive and global retrospective of shoes. Not only is there an even split of men’s and women’s footwear, relatively new designers such as Sophia Webster have their work displayed alongside industry heavyweights like Manolo Blahnik. Each shoe has a story and the craftsmen are given a voice – a big screen encased in shoeboxes shows designers and shoe makers talking about everything from their inspiration to the intricacies of the design process.

We left the exhibition inspired, excited and fascinated by the vivid and creative stories that footwear can tell. Certainly something to think about next time we’re looking for unexpected brand communications ideas for a client – or, of course, when we’re struck by a craving to buy a really great pair of killer shoes.

Written by: Ellie Heatrick and Simrata Bhalla

Shoes: Pleasure & Pain is on at the V&A until 31 January 2016.

Image: Wedding toe-knob paduka, silver and gold over wood, India, 1800s
Shoes: Pleasure & Pain at the V&A, 2015
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

What does the FT do for Nikkei? English language with a British accent.

Corporate Reputation, Media
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Some will share the unease voiced by Will Hutton on BBC Newsnight that the Financial Times has passed into overseas ownership, especially in the scenario he painted where other media assets such as ITV and Channel 4 are targets for global players such as Comcast of the US.

Some will share the unease voiced by Will Hutton on BBC Newsnight that the Financial Times has passed into overseas ownership, especially in the scenario he painted where other media assets such as ITV and Channel 4 are targets for global players such as Comcast of the US.

Having worked at the FT for six years and been sinfully proud to be one of its reporters, I know what Hutton means, but we Brits should analyse more closely why these assets are so much in demand.

We should see why it represents opportunity.

The Financial Times is unique. The benign ownership Pearson exercised for 58 years has kept it sharp, forward-looking and independent. From time to time it flirts with general news, occasionally even with sport, but it always comes back to its business focus, its homeland.

It has become a global newspaper by virtue of digital distribution and its sense of itself. What the FT thinks increasingly matters. It has clout. That’s why it is so attractive to Nikkei*.

Where does that clout come from and why doesn’t Nikkei, a much richer and more successful business, already have it?

Partly it stems from the FT being more digital. On the face of it, Nikkei is a very similar business – a powerful and highly influential main newspaper title (with a circulation in print of 2.7m, 10 times the FT’s global physical sales) and a host of subsidiary businesses. Both have market indices with their brand name on.

Yet Nikkei has been less of a digital experimenter. Its core title has 430,000 digital subscribers which is only about 16 per cent of its total audience. The FT, with 500,000 of its current 737,000 subscribers online, has made more progress in the transition to the digital-only (or at least very limited print) future where future-gazers say that sustainable profits lie.

The other reason Nikkei has found it more difficult to spread its influence (and the FT has found it easier) is the unparalleled advance of the English language. Launching its Nikkei Asian Review magazine in 2013 was a step in becoming global; not its first English-language publication by any means, but a bold expansion of ambition.

However, the native English speaking FT is on a different scale in the way it changes the footprint of Nikkei.

Here is where opportunity lies for other Brits: it is not just the language, but the accent that the FT brings which makes it such a catch. Like the rest of the British press, the FT is a bit more irreverent, a bit less deferential, a bit more cheeky and candid than US equivalents. Like the baddies in Hollywood films, its British accent makes it stand out.

The FT thinks of itself as global, and in many ways it is, but its Britishness has made it global, made it distinctive and desirable. Personally, I believe Nikkei, who are smart operators, know this and will recognise that to change that character defeats the purpose of buying the pink paper in the first place.

*Nikkei is an Edelman Japan client. Ben Fenton has previously worked for the Nikkei Asian Review in London. 

Image: GongTo / Shutterstock.com

A version of this post originally appeared on City A.M.

Written by: Ben Fenton, Senior Consultant at Edelman

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