Can sports organisations learn from Jeremy Corbyn?

When Jeremy Corbyn stood as a candidate to become leader of the Labour Party earlier this year, few gave him much chance of success.

As the campaign went on, it became clear that Corbyn was in a strong position and his appointment as party leader came as little surprise in the end when the votes were cast last week.

If he expected any sort of honeymoon period, though, he was very much mistaken.

He’s struggled with the media spotlight and given more fuel to those already keen to criticise him.

But there is plenty that sports organisations can learn from Corbyn’s experience to maintain a positive public and media profile.

Use social media smartly
#JezWeCan was used once every 25 seconds on Twitter at the height of campaigning, giving a younger audience the opportunity to feel a part of an event which was usually the preserve of older generations.

Sports organisations have a variety of stakeholders, many of whom can be reached on social media platforms to share news and information and create advocates in those who engage with you. 

Do not attack the media 
Corbyn was initially written off by the media, his friends and family chased for any information, while views he expressed in the past were highlighted as reasons why he was unsuitable to lead the opposition. He used his victory speech as an opportunity to criticise the media for their conduct and he may well have been justified in doing so.

Some argue that traditional media no longer wields the influence or power that it once did, but that ignores the fact that millions still read newspapers and watch or listen to broadcast news.

Lambasting those in the media who have criticised you is never likely to positively improve the tone of their narrative, which can have a bearing on the views of even your staunchest supporters or customers.

Have a robust communications strategy in place as soon as you can
Corbyn has come across as straight-talking and honest – but his interaction with the media has been nothing short of a disaster so far.

He and his team should have waited until their entire shadow Cabinet had been confirmed before sharing the news with the media, even if leaks might have occurred.

Senior appointments – mostly men – were announced before any women were handed important roles, giving the media time to shape the narrative that this was a male-dominated team.

The irony was that Corbyn appointed more spokeswomen than men including the first female shadow Defence Secretary but with deadlines to meet, those announcements came too late.

Controlling your message and communicating the bigger picture gives you a far greater opportunity for balanced media reporting.

It would also avoid headlines like this: 'Does Jeremy Corbyn have a woman problem?

Establish a solid communications team
Most sports organisations and related businesses will not experience the relentless criticism that Corbyn has already endured.

But while the spotlight may not always be so strong, there will still be times where smart communications counsel and sports crisis planning could preserve your reputation.

A strong communications team can act as a go-between with media, clarifying your plans or movements to again avoid criticism.

A quick media briefing to explain that Corbyn would be silent during the national anthem so that he could show respect, for instance, would have gone some way to averting the barrage of front page headlines and criticism for appearing to dishonour the dead from the Battle of Britain.

Even his own newly-appointed Shadow Cabinet colleagues criticised him, hardly giving the impression of support even at this early stage. 

Sports organisations have to consider every possible pitfall when deciding on a course of action. 

Criticism is more likely to make column inches than praise, so be prepared for every interpretation of your actions and be mindful that many of the audiences that matter to you are quick to be offended.

Don’t run from the cameras
Corbyn’s success has come in some respects from his willingness to be different, to eschew the polish that so often frustrate the electorate about politicians.

But now that he is in office, he can no longer dismiss media interest with quite the vigour he had before his appointment.

Walking away from cameras in silence, as Corbyn did the day after he was elected, gives the impression of someone with something to hide.

Ambush interviews do occur when organisations dominate the media agenda. The key is to be prepared and to address the media courteously so that your words become the story rather than your attempts to evade engagement. 

Running over a cameraman a few days later probably doesn’t help! 

Remember that the media is ‘always on’ 
Last week the Prime Minister, David Cameron, made an ill-judged joke about Yorkshire which created a small media storm. He was unaware at the time that a microphone remained on and his conversation could be overheard.

Former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s 2010 election was finished by criticism of a voter who spoke to him on the campaign trail.

Corbyn’s team were overheard by broadcasters having private discussions about the make-up of his cabinet and panicking over criticism, providing yet more negative reporting.  

It’s important for sports organisations to never think that anything they say to the media is off the record, because the journalist’s job is to get a story and they don’t need a tape recorder or a notepad and pen to remember the facts.

And always ensure that phones have been hung up properly or the media are way out of earshot before talking about anything you would consider sensitive.

Engage with the media
Corbyn may have trouble turning around the media agenda which seems so set against him.

But pulling out of high profile television and radio interviews, which would give him the opportunity to share his thoughts and set his own agenda, are ill-judged to say the least and erode sympathetic elements to reporting. 

Voters may have tired of slick politicians who speak only in soundbites, but if politics is about policy, it takes more than a robust social media campaign to win over the number of voters Corbyn needs to reach.

Some professional media training may help but avoiding media engagement further promotes the view that Corbyn is unsuitable as a leader. He cannot be so selective with the audiences he seeks to speak with in the hope that negativity will somehow be overshadowed by a vocal minority.

For most organisations with an interest in sport, there are few such moments when the spotlight will be so firmly and aggressively on them.

But collaborating with the communications channels that can speak clearly to your audiences is always more likely to produce winning results than avoiding those who are interested in what you have to say.