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Comm as you are

It almost went under the radar, but last week the club finally announced that it was after a new Communications Executive. A poshe, some would say grandiose way of saying “Press officer”, but makes a bit more sense than the strangely titled “club journalist” role of years ago…

Position wise, it’s something we’ve never quite been willing – or able – to deal with properly until now. Press interest was reduced to local and occasional national media, the press box was usually half full, and it just seemed an expense we didn’t want to pay. The aforementioned club journo role never seemed to be one thing or the other, and was jettisoned rather quickly.

Things are different now, especially as the press box is 90% full at least these days. Like so many other things at AFCW, the size of the operation needed has outgrown the size of the operation we have. One only needs to pop into the club offices during the week to see how undersized it is, and we’re even now having to pay for turnstile operators.

Or to put it in the words of a local journo who SW19 was speaking to at a pre-season game, it’s surprising AFCW doesn’t have a full time press guy…

We will now. First things first, and let’s get all disclosures of interest out of the way first – your editor won’t be applying for the position, even if it would make match reports far more interesting 😉 It is, however, an important position, and something the club will soon realise why it did without one for so long.

Before we go on, what exactly is a communications executive? What is comms? It’s “selling” the club to the outside world, including its own supporters. It won’t just be writing match reports and getting TB’s comments, something that is currently a bit underwhelming at times . It will be finding 100 different ways of selling the carvery pushing marketing opportunites that may come up, be it from the club shop or sponsors or whatever.

Which is effectively what comms is – a mixture of advertising and journalism. You need to know how to write and edit copy so that it’s interesting and relevant, but you need to sell the other stuff that pays for it. And in the case of AFCW, there’s also the preference to keep people updated on the Dons Trust, at least for those who can keep awake during meetings…

Actually, it’s also a lot of admin too – making sure that whoever writes copy up does it to a strict standard (you should see some of the crap that an average editor’s inbox can get), keeping tabs on something called a “press library” (keeping newspaper articles, presumably), making sure the programme is delivered on time and accurately and with stuff you actually want to read, the usual Facebook/Twitter stuff, and a newsletter that puts anyone out of the loop back in it.

Oh yeah, and be the go-to guy whenever the press want to send people down, or arrange an interview with a player, or arrange and mediate press conferences. Although I can’t think of many occasions we’re ever had a press conference. At the moment, you send it through to David Charles, who clearly doesn’t have 1001 other things to do. Honest.

You can therefore see why the speci states (and I quote verbatim in italics) : Flexibility is needed. You are likely to be involved every weekday, plus all home and away match days. And why you need to be able to work under pressure – unflappable.

So, who would wish to take it on? It won’t be a job for anyone who hates football, that’s for sure. And it’s the sort of job where you’d need to be a strong character and not one easily intimidated. Maybe a non-AFCW fan should do it? Preferably one with a contact or two to push the club in a new (and fresher) direction, and to stamp their authority on the position quickly?

The old approach to comms was finally shown up in the buildup to the playoff final. Currently, the update of the OS is done “in house”, more often than not updates from Erik Samuelson and David Charles. Match reports are sourced from elsewhere, as and when they get written, which are then edited and checked by our new Operations Manager, while Radio WDON do the uploads of any post-game player interviews. All this effectively in everyone’s own time.

Before Eastlands, there was hardly any buildup to the biggest matchup since the first AFCW game, and the most internationally recognised one since 14/5/88. I won’t mention the “Div 2” t-shirt fiasco, but there was hardly  anything to get you interested in the game from the AFCW end. In fact, a couple of non-AFCW affiliated journo types commented beforehand whether AFCW were actually playing in an important game…

But that doesn’t really matter, right? Actually, as we compete in a harsher and more competitive environment, and as we go through the football club equivalent of puberty, we will need to be more pro-active as a club in selling ourselves. Fighting for attention against the likes of Chelski and Fulham isn’t easy, but we also have to gain visibility against the likes of Brentford too. The days of substaining ourselves simply though 2400+ crowds and little publicity are long gone.

Often, this is done through the media, and the media itself has changed in its style. If you want a good example, you’re reading this on a computer screen or a smartphone rather than a piece of paper. SW19 couldn’t have existed in the pre-internet age, but the way you read this is much the same as you read any other news/opinion site.

With blogs, Twitter, Facebook and the general all-round maturity of the internet as a concept (although maturity isn’t a word that describes many an internet user), the way we consume info has changed forever. It’s instant, and we collectively expect it to be as instant as humanely possible. As an example, there is no excuse these days for a professional football club not to have a match  report up on the final whistle for a game – the technology is there, relatively cheap and readily available, and all it requires is a bit of journo knowhow and discipline to do it.

The concept of going to a newspaper to read old news is, well, old news. And it has been since the advent of Ceefax and Oracle/Teletext. You simply don’t go to the Wimbledon News on whatever day it was that it published, or the South London Press on a Tuesday any more. You want something up by Saturday evening, as you go down the pub with your smartphone…

That newspapers made a big mistake by having their content online for nowt for so long has helped contribute to their decline, but these days, you find out that Danny Kedwell has put in a transfer request within an hour or two of it happening, rather than being shocked the next day.

(as a quick aside, and for those who live in SM4/SW19/SW20 – do you bother reading the old content of the Guardian or the little bit they give us in the Palace-centric Informer? If you don’t, this helps explain why your local paper probably won’t exist in its current form by 2021. But that’s the vicious circle of local print these days).

Media outlets who aren’t the national dailies, especially those with an online presence, often don’t have the resources or time to sniff round for original stories. Your editor used to work on the “grass roots” section of the Fulham Chronicle sports desk (yes, it was as good as it sounds), and the best people to deal with were the ones who typed up their copy and sent without needing too much effort. The worst ones were the ones you spent all afternoon trying to find out where their shitty Sunday team played that weekend…

And I think that’s what’s been the problem with AFCW’s comms up until now. It’s always had an afterthought to it, it’s had the air of a weekly newspaper roundup. It has never “sold” the club, and make it feel particularly pro-active. Although it’s slowly changed in the last year or so, there’s still been this sense of, “if you want to find out anything, it’s up to you to contact us”.

It might have finally twigged that people don’t spend their waking hours following AFCW to the nth degree .  That’s why the job speci is stating that two of its five inputs are (and I quote again verbatim) :

  • “Commercial” – Work with them on marketing of club events and also on joint ventures with media or commercial partners. Also work with club shop and online shop to publicise any offers / launches etc.
  • “Community” – Publicising courses, community work. Making sure any events are publicised both to Wimbledon fans and the wider community.

Those two have never felt like they’ve been properly exploited, which is ironic when you consider how often the club makes a big deal of the latter.

To conclude, a little challenge for you. If you’re not going on Saturday, and you’re not online during the game, do yourself a favour : try to find out how we played, our team, any semblance of a match report during the Saturday evening. Just stick to official channels and the local press, and see how difficult it is to find out anything that evening.

We have a very IT literate fanbase, if the amount of people checking scores on their smartphones (and the amount of people who read SW19 on a Saturday evening) is anything to go by. There shouldn’t be this “disconnect” of info that will keep people involved – did you know we played a development game against Charlton yesterday? The Addicks did, but I bet most of you wouldn’t have known anything about it until just now…

Hopefully this new position will make us more like a Football League club rather than the current approach, that does make us look pretty much Ryman Premier. We’ve deserved better for a long time, and while it took promotion to the 91 Club to get it, it’s better late than never. Now of all times, you need people more “involved”.

And if anyone on here gets the job, I’m often free on Wednesday afternoons……. 😉