Written by Dan George
It’s finally happened. José Mourinho has been appointed manager of Manchester United. And I’ve written the inevitable PR blog to accompany the news.
But to my mind, the really interesting thing about this story isn’t what Mourinho brings to the football team, or the comms lessons we can learn from him. Because while United hope he returns them to the heady heights of the Ferguson years, he may well have been hired for altogether more important reasons.
As Ken Early pointed out in the Irish Times, 2016 is projected to be the first year in which more than 50 per cent of United’s income derives from commercial sources – think sponsorship deals, merchandising and content.
In Early’s own words, “This is a significant tipping point. For the first time, United’s income is not primarily derived from their own business activity, but from their usefulness as an advertising platform for other businesses.”
And what better way to chase the likes, retweets and shares that their commercial partners need than with a big impact hire?
Mourinho may bring baggage – but in this case, the baggage is a boon. It generates headlines, creates debate and keeps United’s crucial global fanbase engaged.
You might think this is limited to football, and that ‘serious’ businesses won’t be turning into soap operas anytime soon. But I’m not convinced.
You can already see the basic dynamics at play with big CEO hires. Done well they can restore a sense of excitement around a brand – boosting the share price in the process. Take Tesco’s appointment of Dave Lewis as CEO; the move was welcomed by the City, thanks to his strong track record of delivering growth at Unilever.
United are just one step further along. And the tech giants aren’t far behind. After all, they pioneered the brand-as-ad-platform dynamic.
And can you imagine the likes of Zuckerberg being replaced with a humdrum hire? To remain relevant, Facebook needs to stay in the news – and a leader with a big personality is a surefire way to ensure it does.
We might even say that Apple is currently going through what United refers to as its period of transition. Following the talismanic figure of Steve Jobs is no easy task – and people may be beginning to lose interest. iPhone sales are stalling and there is talk of the brand following in Nokia’s infamous footsteps.
Jobs was clearly Apple’s Fergie – with his established fanbase, could Elon Musk be the Mourinho figure needed to retake its place as the brand on everybody’s lips?
I wouldn’t count it out. Because, as every PR knows, coverage and clicks count.