When Liverpool fans walked out in the 77th minute against Sunderland, it was a textbook political stunt in response to a tick-box consultation, highlighting just how well-organised their grassroots campaign was.
As a life-long Manchester United fan I feel queasy praising Liverpool, but what the supporters achieved was remarkable. Owner FSG fell into its own local consultation trap by conducting it like a tick-box exercise.
In doing so it agitated and irritated the masses. Bosses met with supporter groups, but clearly didn’t listen to what was being fed back or the tone of the messages. Not agreeing with stakeholders is one thing but to actively ignore the warnings from stakeholder groups was to treat its core supporter base with contempt.
Successful grassroots movements spring up when there is a sense of injustice and an opportunity to alter the outcome. Once Liverpool fans got into their stride there was only ever going to be one outcome – FSG folded.
This is not a debate about the correct pricing structure for tickets because frankly I’m not qualified to comment on the business decisions necessary to run an ambitious football club. However, if the decision had already been made to increase prices from £59 to £77, then be upfront and honest and tell supporters why.
You’ll gain more respect and just maybe get enough buy-in from the local community to push it through. The letter to fans from FSG apologising for the distress caused coupled with a detailed explanation of its plans was beautifully written, even if it was long overdue.
The lesson here is that, from the start, stakeholder communications has to be a meaningful dialogue otherwise you are heading for failure. Clearly each situation is different – but any involvement with a local community should be long-lasting, genuine and positive.
The Government believes localism is about giving councils more influence in decisions that affect their local communities. This is true, but it also means that organisations have the opportunity to really get to grips with local areas, engage early and often, get under the skin and become a part of the fabric of the local economy. Celebrate your successes with them.
If you are a retailer doing well it means more shoppers in the high street and every local business has the opportunity to benefit. If you are a house builder, it means providing the tenants needed to support the local economy for the long term.
Everybody wins. Not every planning application or local communication campaign will get the desired result. The law of averages coupled with the strange world of local politics and the power of the planning inspector can throw you off course. However, if you are open and transparent in your desire then you’ll win more than you lose.
Finally, if like FSG you have to make difficult decisions that affect your local stakeholder base, it is best to do more than just a tick-box exercise to bring people with you. Otherwise you’ll be walking alone.Simon Petar is associate director at iNHouse Communications
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