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Marcus Rashford – A lesson in momentum

by Matt Sullivan

25 June 2020 10:08am

The importance of momentum is something that all footballers understand. But in the world of communications, it can often be overlooked.

On Wednesday 10th June, Marcus Rashford publicly set his sights on challenging the Government’s provision of school lunches, tweeting: ‘Anyone know who I can talk to about the Government food voucher scheme?’ The Manchester United bagsman had already helped food distribution charity FareShare to raise £20m.

In the week that followed his tweet, he wrote an open letter to MPs, penned an opinion piece in The Times sharing his own experiences of childhood hunger, and built support from the Mayor of London to his rivals at Liverpool FC. Just six days later, Downing Street’s Number 10 bowed to the pressure built by United’s Number 10 and announced the extension of the Government’s free school meal voucher system throughout the summer holidays – a major U-turn.

There’s no question momentum played a huge part in Rashford’s success, what a shame that so often progress is stifled by process and caution.

Process that enables progress

Culture in the UK is changing at an unprecedented rate right now. Without speed, even the greatest, most culturally relevant idea, can be completely out of date by the time it goes live – if it even sees the light of day at all!

Accountability and good counsel are important, however the more time spent in the feedback and signoff phase of any new campaign, the greater the chance that an idea will be diluted to allay the smallest of fears. It’s not just to do with the amount of internal stakeholders/decision makers involved; if something is shared for review, there can be the unspoken expectation that to fulfil their role, all players are obliged to ‘flag’ a potential issue.

The truth is, we’ve all allowed that to become part of the process of marketing. And for the sake of progress, we need to stop. We need to feel just as responsible for the swift progression and protection of a good idea as we do for sharing its potential pitfalls.

The risk in being risk-averse

This caution often comes from a fear of criticism, but Rashford again showed that amazing things can be achieved when this barrier is overcome. It’s easy to forget that the UK Government had publicly called out Premier League footballers just weeks earlier, implying they weren’t ‘playing their part’ in the nation’s Covid-19 efforts.

There’s also the toxic aspects of social media; online ‘commentators’ desperate to appear relevant by criticising everyone and everything; keyboard warriors on the virtual rampage. In such a fevered atmosphere, being silent can be quite appealing. Criticism can be avoided, and we can avoid putting our ‘necks on the line’.

But when it comes to building a brand that resonates, the impact of a risk-averse strategy over time can be far more damaging than facing down the criticism of a powerful idea that moved fast and got noticed. Overly cautious brands will slip to the back of people’s consciousness; their businesses and products, forgotten. By contrast, a brand that allows itself to be vulnerable and seemingly unfiltered can be really attractive.

While process and caution of course play a role in communications, it’s time to appreciate the value of momentum too, so that we can protect this powerful force in making things happen.

Paul James is Associate Director at Cake, Havas UK

If you would like to support Marcus Rashford and Fareshare in fighting against hunger in the UK, visit https://fareshare.org.uk/get-involved/


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