Ten years ago Prince Charles hired Manchester United’s former PR advisor, Paddy Harverson. In the week that Kristina Kyriacou, known for her work with Gary Barlow and George Michael, accedes the role of royal communications secretary, one wonders whether Harverson’s former employers might need him again.
Manchester United is the sporting brand everyone loved to loathe but that strength of feeling has dissipated, replaced by a listless indifference, stretching even to pity, for a behemoth brand that has hit the buffers. And more importantly, no one seems to care.
Some say the United brand became a victim of its own success; repeated league and cup wins led to arrogance and a sense of entitlement perpetuated by a relentless manager, star players and a new generation of fans who didn’t know any different.
They would wear hatred from opposing football fans as a badge of honour, blithely singing “No one likes us, we don’t care” every week while watching another comfortable win. They would see their club voted Britain’s most hated brand, above Ryanair, Starbucks, Wonga, RBS and BP and smile, wondering if any greater compliment could be paid.
But now the Marmite taste of United’s brand has turned vanilla. No one, save die-hard rival football fans, hates them and yes, they do care; haters go with the territory for marquee brands because competitors see them as a huge threat. The alternative is irrelevance and that is the death of a brand.
During its long period of success, Manchester United used the hatred of others brilliantly as a motivation to its players and fans. The “Us against the world” philosophy was personified by Alex Ferguson, who bullied and manipulated officials, refused to speak to parts of the media and whose great success was due, in part, to the siege mentality he built around the club.
If his intention was to build animosity as a management technique, then he certainly succeeded. But that ill-feeling reached such a level that there was always going to be a problem when Ferguson handed over the reins. David Moyes has no bank of goodwill to call on, no public affection to smooth over a rocky run of results; he must build a different image for the club – and it is no quick fix that is required, but a complete restructuring. What’s more, he must do so in the face of fast receding loathing and resentment – not an easy task, by any means.
Perhaps Mr Harveson should keep his phone to hand.