Representatives from the club’s unofficial websites and members of the club’s media team met at Loftus Road on Tuesday night to discuss all aspects of the club’s media strategy.
From the club’s media team – Ian Taylor (IT) and Paul Morrissey (PM)
From the sites – Matthew Woolf MW (WATRBS), Ian Gamber IG (QPR Report), David Fraser DF (Open All R’s Podcast), Simon Dorset SD (Not 606), Clive Whittingham CW (LoftforWords), Steve Sayce SS (Indy Rs)
Apologies – Ron Norris RN (QPRnet)
- IT gave some background for people who hadn’t attended the first meeting, reiterating the club’s desire to hold these events quarterly where possible. He added that the media department is staffed by six full time employees with further help with camera work on a matchday. That was well below average for a Premier League club but on par with other sides in the Championship. The media team will remain at six for next season. The club see the internal media (programme, official website, Inside R’s online magazine etc) as being of increased importance moving into 2013/14 with the club’s relegation inevitably bringing a drop in media interest from the likes of Sky and the BBC.
- IT said the board had made it very clear they don’t want to make drastic changes because of the relegation, which obviously wasn’t in the script and had hit the staff very hard. The club are said to be very keen to foster a stable working environment at all levels across the club and the Community Trust. IT said that he and PM had both been with the club for more than seven years and they felt the communication in the past, particularly during the Briatore/Ecclestone era, had broken down between the club and the fans. Mistakes had been made and efforts were being made to set them right – including meetings such as this one.
- New comers IG and SD introduced themselves having not attended the previous meeting. SD mentioned the sad passing of Not 606 moderator Brixton R. A gathering in his memory will be held before a match early in the season and the club has agreed to put a message in the programme on that day.
- IT says the media team is aware the site is a huge bugbear for many supporters. The club, and the board, is aware of the majority opinion on the new look site, and share many of the opinions themselves, but are unfortunately locked into a contract with Football League Interactive (FLI) until 2017. Earlier exit from that deal would cost at least six figures.
- The club has however invested a five figure fee, signed off in the last six weeks, to make various improvements. IT said QPR is the only club in the league to have taken that hit and tried to do something about the look, feel and navigation of the site. IT said that Man City and Sunderland are examples of best practise and while improvements won’t take it to that level it is hoped they will make it easier to use and navigate. The club want it to be the first source of information for supporters and that is the ultimate aim.
- PM said some changes are due to go live on June 27, the majority however are scheduled for July 11. These dates may yet be pushed back by the development company.
- IT and PM both expressed frustration about the limitations placed on them by the FLI contract which was signed many years ago at a time when football and digital media was very different. The main website is run by a company called Sapient, while the Perform Group which used to operate the official websites still run the QPR Player service. Communication between the club and the companies has been difficult at times.
- SS raised some of the small changes that he has noticed already. IT said David Scriven, formerly with Southend United, had been recruited as a webmaster earlier in the season and made a huge difference. PM said fixtures for the youths had been formatted in the same way as the first team, and the dreaded ‘read more’ facility had been removed.
- The ‘landing page’ (the pop up that appears whenever you log onto the site) remains despite the club pushing for it to be removed – PM said he believed this was an issue with the legal obligation to inform users about cookies and the club had been told it had to be there.
- PM said other clubs were watching and waiting to see what changes were made to the QPR site before potentially following suit – the club had asked if other clubs would be interested in coming in with us on the development and splitting the cost but had received minimal response, possibly because the other clubs think they might get it cheaper later by letting QPR pay for it in the first place. PM said the media team had pushed for Rangers to have the work done regardless and the board had agreed.
- SD asked if the club were considering launching their own independent site when the FLI deal expires in 2017 and IT said the media, marketing and commercial departments were all already looking into that possibility but acknowledged that would be huge expenditure, even allowing for a degree of self-funding through sponsorship.
- IT said the club had been offered three different templates for the site initially. CW said that some of the other templates being used were considerably worse.
- All reps said that general feedback from site regulars was that few QPR fans actually use the official site anymore because of its poor quality.
- DF asked about mobile access for Android users and was told it was another aspect being looked at. SS, who works in the business, said best practice at the moment was away from apps and towards HTML5.
Feedback on club publications
- IT said the club was switching programme producer for the new season. Designs are being put together.
- Financially the club don’t believe it would be worthwhile to produce an online version for tablets as yet – 400 sales would be needed at each game to break even and research into Premier League clubs that have tried it showed they didn’t get close to that number.
- Marketing and subscriptions, particularly for overseas supporters, would be improved.
- Rodney Marsh is coming on board as a columnist this season.
- The programme will return to the standard size next season and options for the format of the cover and method of binding were discussed.
- CW said he thought the programme content had been improved with Clint Hill being made captain and writing the column that comes with that. While recognising the need to be on message it was suggested that a degree of honesty rather than spin would make people more inclined to buy and read a copy.
- SS acknowledged the club couldn’t do its dirty washing in the programme but needed to find a way to produce engaging copy during tough times on the field. CW and IG both expressed frustration at some of the player interviews given during the last season which people had become bored with and stopped responding to. IG praised the change in tone of the London Call In show when it was clear the season wasn’t going well.
- PM outlined the difficult position persistent poor results on the field put the media team in when deciding how to cover and report the club. On three separate occasions last season no players were interviewed, either by the club or the rest of the media, for a full week but this had brought criticism for not fronting up, then when players were put up further criticism came from people who said they were sick of hearing it. MW suggested pieces on the players interests away from the pitch may make for better copy in difficult times but SD disagreed. All reps acknowledged a season of four victories put the media team in an impossible position.
- IT said the media team had focused more on nostalgia towards the end of the season with the 1982/83 reunion and recent interviews with Cook/Bircham/ Rowlands/Gallen for InsideR and Gareth Ainsworth for QPR Player. That will continue into the programme next season and IT admitted that the big name arrivals at Rangers had perhaps led to that side of the coverage being neglected. MW expressed a desire to see features with the 75/76 team and IG suggested Brian Bedford as a possible feature interview. IT recognised the feel good factor brought about by reunions such as the ones that happened at the end of the season, and that it adds to fans’ matchday experience.
- SD said the fans were very proud of the achievements of the club’s youth teams this season and wanted to see more coverage with the players involved. IT agreed, while saying the club must be cautious because of the players’ age. Andy Watkins joined the club as a journalist earlier this season to cover the youth and ladies teams and the club’s community work. There will be increased coverage of the youth in the programme next season. SS said the entire youth set up had been much more professional of late and was something to really be proud of and cover in more depth. IT said the Michael Harriman interview after the game at Liverpool was one of the official site’s most viewed stories, highlighting interest in that sort of content.
The InsideR, online magazine
- This will shortly be available on Apple News Stand.
- More than 10,000 hits on the latest issue which included the Bircham/Cook/Rowlands/Gallen interview and the new kit launch. Feedback had been excellent so far.
- SS said only negative comment he’d seen had been regarding accessing it on Android devices – IT said an updated version will be available shortly to address that.
- Issue one had attracted new hits after the launch of issue two and the News Stand launch was expected to boost traffic.
- PM said they were mindful of publishing more informal pieces with players in the current team and how it would be received given results.
- SD said he felt it was the best quality official output from the club.
London Call In
- IT said there was a degree of following the club party line with it being an official show but all callers are allowed a say whether they’re being negative or not. PM said he felt the Southampton home defeat had been a watershed moment for the show because the only way they could handle the situation at that point was to open the lines and let people have their say.
- SD asked about the vetting procedure for callers. PM said all callers are allowed onto the show and expressed frustration at negative comments about the show online when people can freely ring in and have their own say if they don’t like what they hear.
- IT said the show had been produced on a low budget but a sponsorship deal had enabled them to invest in top equipment. SS expressed concern that the sponsorship was rather too prominent, but it was needs must to pay for the equipment.
- IT said he was happy to make players available for interview on the Open All R’s Podcast.
Effect of relegation on club comms
- IT felt QPR Player – particularly highlights and match commentary – would grow in importance next season with far less coverage available in the mainstream media. PM said the rules on posting highlights on QPR Player depended on whether the game was played. Saturday 3pm game highlights cannot be posted until Sunday at 00.01am but midweek night highlights are able to be posted from 00.01am the next morning. Any Sunday fixtures cannot be shown until 10.00am on Monday.
- 450 supporters completed the survey and IT said the team was pleased with the feedback which was largely positive.
- Common complaints were almost all about the official website – previously discussed.
Club media messages
- SD and others expressed concern about mixed messages emanating from the club, caused by having a chairman and manager with such high media profiles. IT and PM both said this was a huge challenge for the media team, particularly with the main players often being in different time zones.
- DF asked how aware chairman Tony Fernandes was with the chain reaction his comments in interviews and Twitter could cause and IG expressed concern about throwaway lines in interviews about his other businesses that get blown out of proportion – the quote about “walking away from the club if the fans want me to” was given as an example.
- DF asked if Tony Fernandes was being supplied with clippings from the UK media regularly to give an idea of where his comments went and what was done with them. IT says previous regime wanted to know everything that was written in the media, these days the monitoring is done by IT and David Scriven the webmaster who will raise any key points with Philip Beard or Tony Fernandes and the rest of the Board.
- IT said guidelines have been put in place and advice had been given to board members, management and players. Management and board said to be ‘very much on the same page’ and Harry Redknapp was in constant dialogue with them as they try to revamp the squad.
- IT reiterated the club’s policy on announcing signings, giving a recent example where he’d been asked online why the club hadn’t confirmed the Wayne Bridge signing yet. Going back to Neil Warnock’s time at the club IT and PM gave an example of a player who had gone as far as being interviewed in the QPR shirt for QPR Player only for the deal to collapse at the last moment. Deals will not be announced until they’re absolutely done – external media like Sky are free to speculate but the club cannot announce until everything is resolved and the documents are registered with the league.
- IT and Adam Hulme from the media team are meeting members of the press team from Barcelona this summer to exchange ideas and best practice.
- IT said the media team had overhauled the way they use Twitter so that official club business usually comes from the official club feeds first.
Player Conduct on Twitter
- CW raised concerns about the conduct of the club’s senior players on Twitter after several incidents towards the end of the season that had developed into national news stories.
- Stephane Mbia has been fined and warned about his conduct on Twitter following the recent incident online which the club hoped had sent a strong message to the rest of the players.
- IT said the club only had a handful of players with active public accounts on Twitter – Jay Bothroyd, Esteban Granero, Joey Barton who was registered with Marseille last year, Stephane Mbia and Chris Samba.
- IT said Harry, Joe Jordan, Kevin Bond and Philip Beard were working hard to update the club’s code of conduct for players this summer which covers a range of aspects including dress code and social media conduct. Each player has to sign this at the start of the season with fines in place if rules are broken. A copy of the code is delivered to every player and their agent.
- IT said Twitter was a great vehicle for the club and a massive resource but player conduct was a concern. New arrivals will be made aware of their responsibilities.
- An informal education programme has been introduced in the past season for the youth players but no such session had ever been held with the senior players. DF said outside the football world every CEO in the country will have been media trained and expressed surprise that football players with millions of followers weren’t getting the same. He added that the England cricket team had been sat down as a group and gone through the dos and don’ts line by line.
- SS said that after the “season that kept on giving” the code of conduct should be taking on increased importance when new players are brought into the club and measures the club are taking should be made clear to the supporters.
- IG expressed concern that there had been no online follow up to the situation with the Official Supporters Committee (OSC) resigning en masse. The situation seemed to have been handled poorly from a PR point of view, and the club charter still mentions the OSC despite it seemingly no longer existing. The marketing team are due to meet the fans group’s reps prior to the start of the season and the issue of the OSC is an agenda point.
- The issue of the retained list was raised, with some newspapers reporting that QPR had released DJ Campbell only for the club to then run a piece about community work being done by the same player. IT said the community work had been done before the Liverpool game. DJ is under contract with QPR until the end of June.
- Streaming pre-season fixtures. This was very successful last summer with 17,000 viewings of the Wycombe game and more than that for the games in the Far East. IT said the club intend to stream games again this summer but said it was entirely dependent on facilities available at the grounds. He added that given that the home clubs will want to sell as many tickets as possible the club won’t promote any streaming until 24 hours before the games. SD praised the streaming of the recent youth game at Loftus Road, although thought it was a shame that coverage cut out before the trophy was presented.
- SD raised the issue of where complaints should be directed to. IT pointed people in the direction of customer service rep Andy Rees firstname.lastname@example.org. He can take issues and liaise with different departments and his role had taken on greater importance since the fans forum at Loftus Road last season. CW said feedback from those who had dealt with Andy so far had been very positive.
- The lack of a Player of the Year dinner was raised by SS, and how that news was distributed. IT said the club had never arranged a dinner for the season just gone, and didn’t want to attract negative coverage by announcing there wouldn’t be one. The low key approach hadn’t, however, stopped the Daily Mail running a “QPR cancel POTY dinner” story. All present were keen not to see the dinner permanently disappear from the QPR calendar, while recognising the reasons why one wasn’t held for the season just gone.
- IT said feedback from the sponsor evening had been very good this year, with every player turning up and spending good time with their sponsor.
- SS raised the global communication strategy moving forward, given the club’s relegation and potential departure of some of the international players. IT said the strategy would be driven by the type of player Harry Redknapp wants to bring in and the club had learnt lessons from last season. The ethos is now very much go global, but remember local.
- PM said the media team had noted improved relationships with the unofficial websites as a result of meeting regularly with them, the club had found the meets very beneficial and wished they’d started them years ago.