I’ve just spent 45 mins-or-so in the company of Brighton and Hove Albion Chief Executive, Paul Barber, who I was interviewing for the ‘personal project’ that brings my Diploma in Public Relations to a close. I’m also interviewing supporters’ representatives, journalists, officials and other CEOs.
The subject I’m looking at concerns two-way communications between English football clubs and their ‘stakeholders’ – ostensibly supporters. One of the things I’m curious to understand is why so many clubs appear to have difficulties with concepts of openness and particularly of ‘dialogue’ – two way communications where both supporters and the club seek to understand each others positions, and are prepared to adapt and change as a result. I’ve seen far too many cases where discussion is closed down when times get tough, the issues are difficult, or what’s being said not to your liking. I’ve always advised an open approach – both when advising clubs and fans. Even if you can’t answer the question, ducking it should never be an option.
Brighton & Hove Albion have since the 1990s fascinated me, partly because I was a student at Sussex University and Brighton resident for a period too (I voted in the Falmer referendum too), and partly because I always felt an affinity with them as a fellow club in crisis: being a Wimbledon fan it’s something I was all too familiar with.
As with all academic interviews, the specific contents are strictly for my project (although I suspect a lot of what Paul talked about wouldn’t be off record anyway, given his general approach.) The thinking of his that I am prepared to impart is this: at a football club, when things get tough, or times are hard, that’s when you need to be visible, and that’s when dialogue with fans counts the most; and also that you might have rules and processes underpinning what you do, but culture counts at least equally.
To have the Chief Executive of a club vying for a spot in the top flight of English football – and someone who has been in a number of high-profile roles in both clubs and the governing bodies – echo the same views I’ve been espousing for many years is as pleasing as anything I’ve ever heard from someone in the game.