As a Premiership manager who goes to extreme measures to avoid the inconvenience of post match interviews and who has refused to even speak to any reporter from the BBC for last 6 years, Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson would be an unlikely source of advice for PR agencies. But in a sector whose principal assets arrive in the morning and leave at night, football can provide some remarkable insights on the management of human capital, or “talent” as it is otherwise known.
The Financial Times – no less – drew attention to the techniques employed by Sir Alex in his management of highly paid stars in a recent Lex column. The piece draws parallels to the management of talent within the banking sector.
PR agencies are not protected by patented machinery, capital equipment or (as in the case of the banking sector) high speed technology and layers of regulation; all that´s required to conduct a PR campaign today is a telephone line and an email account. The performance of a PR agency really is driven by the talent at its disposal.
As in football some agencies or teams pay staff higher salaries than others, but – as with football – a higher salary budget does not automatically lead to greater team success (cue gratuitous jibe about the number of years Manchester City and Newcastle United have remained trophyless). The key is in the management.
In PR agency terms, this is typically summed up at the recruitment or review stage; does it make sense to recruit (or remunerate) the team “star” or the team “worker bee”? As Lex puts it:
“The tension is created by the conflict between bureaucracy and charisma (in the words of sociologist Max Weber). Bureaucracies are efficient, but dull and prone to run out of imagination and energy. Charisma is exciting and effective – it scores goals, both literal and metaphorical – but can be disorganised and disruptive.”
In practice, agencies need both; creative risk takers and reliable process implementers. The key is to understand which, what level of each role is required in your team and who is best equipped to play it.
The same is true of football, no team could compete if made up exclusively of charismatic stars (cue snide asides about The Netherlands never having won a World Cup); or in other words, the reason why John O´Shea has four Premiership and one Champions League medals (as this group helpfully remind Liverpool fans). You can blame it all on Max Weber.