New comms signing is perfect timing for Wayne Rooney
Football agent Paul Stretford’s new signing couldn’t have come at a better time for Wayne Rooney and arguably could have a bigger impact on his career than any other teammate. I'm not talking about a player – I’m talking about his new communications chief, Mark Whittle.
The former FA media mogul has joined Stretford’s Triple S agency at a time when Rooney’s career is very much under the media spotlight. He now has a communications chief with the experience to challenge the leading football voices and counter the news agenda which has now seen him being dropped by interim England manager Gareth Southgate.
Wayne Rooney with Mark Whittle
It was just over 12 months ago that the great and good of English football media were championing Rooney’s status among England’s elite as he became the nation’s most capped outfield player and its leading all-time scorer with 50 goals.
This is a blog about sports marketing – this certainly isn’t the platform to discuss Wayne’s performance on the field. Whittle is very much starting in crisis communications mode as he tackles a media landscape with a very clear strategy: Wayne’s the footballing equivalent of clickbait driving clicks, comments and commercial revenues.
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I imagine Whittle’s strategy will be very hands on to start with, managing personal briefing sessions with the influential commentators, pundits and journalists that are shaping the current message. Whittle will need data to support his briefings and will be looking at statistics that endorse his leadership on and off the pitch as opposed to just goals.
Rooney should be applauded for his maturity, it’s a lonely place sat in a press conference eyeballing the same people that are insisting your career is over. He has demonstrated strong leadership throughout, he understands the importance of delivering the key message and is not afraid to address topics outside of football like the recent Paris attacks.
And the power of Rooney’s brand shows no sign of waning, with 47.5 million social media followers (the third most followed Premier League footballer according to Brandtix) driving on average 2,600 daily mentions (that’s more than Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Mesut Ozil who hold places one and two in the Brandtix chart).
Rooney was the most searched player on social media when analysed against #FIFA17 despite his teammate Anthony Martial appearing in the TV campaign. The big question is whether brands will be brave enough to make a commercial decision based on statistics rather than subjectivity?
This only becomes a consideration for brands on the basis that Rooney is front of mind when it comes to consumers – he needs to be playing regularly to maintain relevance. With a dedicated commercial consultant working exclusively for Rooney at Old Trafford, he needs goals to maintain his on and off-field performance to deliver brand opportunities.
Whittle is an experienced media operator though and will have a clear strategy to deploy. As Mark knows himself, if Rooney was to come off the bench against Slovenia tonight and score a 30-yard winner, that would be the most successful communications strategy of them all.
Dan French is co-founder of sport and entertainment communications agency Clifford French