Media, Scottish Football, SPFL

Chinese Walls

What other picture could I use to illustrate this particular blog?!
Good Morning (and please vote ‘Clumpany’ by 30 October! I promise that the end is in sight!).

Following on from this morning’s earlier piece, The Clumpany would like to draw your attention to this thought-provoking article from the always-interesting ‘Celtic Quick News’.

Ladbrokes SPFL use Level5 to dig into Celtic

Paul Brennan explains that:

“Level 5, the PR company born out of the need to convince Newco fans to back one specific camp, have been given the Ladbrokes SPFL contract. Promotion of the SPFL is the responsibility of sponsor, Ladbrokes, who also pay for PR, this was not a decision by the league or member clubs.

Their brief is to manage the news and keep the words Ladbrokes SPFL in the news. Recent coverage has been a case in point.”

Paul then goes on to illustrate the possibility of conflicts of interest between any activity to promote the interests of one member club, and promoting the League as a whole. I recommend reading it in its entirety. It is worth reiterating that this appointment is apparently Ladbrokes’ responsibility and not the SPFL’s.

Of course, potential conflicts of interest between the League sponsor and member clubs has been a very hot topic in recent times. Ladbrokes received a hostile reaction after suspending betting on Derek McInnes being the next Premiership manager to leave his job, and prior to that Neil Doncaster had felt the need to defend their right to take bets on Ronny Deila getting the sack.

Some commentators have queried whether there is an even more fundamental conflict of interest in having a bookmaker sponsoring the league when Scottish football has such strict rules on player betting, and when there have been a number of high-profile breaches of them in recent years.

So it will be interesting to see whether the mainstream media or individual clubs (including Celtic) pick up on the potential for conflict of interest in Ladbrokes appointing Level5 to their SPFL contract.

Of course, just because there is a possibility of conflicted interests doesn’t mean that these will necessarily transpire into actual conflicts. Various businesses and public bodies are often faced with situations where two or more of their clients might have diametrically opposed interests, and they have to deal with it.

In some professions, conflicts of interests are simply not allowed and clients can’t be taken on if a conflict would arise. But elsewhere the conflict is managed. In the case of the situation raised by CQN, one way of trying to do it might be for the PR company to erect a ‘Chinese wall’ between the work done for the SPFL and that done for one of its member clubs.

Our good friend Wikipedia defines a ‘Chinese wall’ like this:

“A business term describing an information barrier within an organization that was erected to prevent exchanges or communication that could lead to conflicts of interest. For example, a Chinese wall may be erected to separate and isolate people who make investments from those who are privy to confidential information that could influence the investment decisions”.

So, in short, you probably need to have different people working on different contracts and not sharing information about them – either amongst themselves or with clients. Or (at the very least) have people who work on both treating the two strands completely separately, and being extremely self-disciplined about it.

Of course, this isn’t always going to be easy. Especially in smaller organisations.

Imagine a situation where the member ‘club’ in question was facing sanctions from the League, which the ‘club’ felt was unfair. On the one hand the PR operation has a client that wants to publicly challenge or criticise the League, and on the other it has a client who wants to promote the League. The most extreme example of this might be a 2012-type scenario where Sevco’s place in the league structure was under heated public discussion. Had a PR company been charged with promoting both league and Sevco at the same time, it would have been in an ‘interesting’ position!

And how does the PR operation manage any potential conflicts when dealing with the media on behalf of its two clients? Does it have one phone call with a sports journalist to cover matters relating to both clients? Or does it have two separate calls and insist that what is said in each call must have no bearing on the other one?

The journalist will probably (and rightly) not care either way, and will just be interested in the most juicy story. They might even offer to horse-trade: “I will cover x and y about the League, but I’d like you to give me something on your club client in return”.

This would just be human nature. But immediately the pressure is on to break down the Chinese walls!

Hopefully these kinds of issues have all been thought-through and any potential conflicts of interest will be managed serenely.

I am sure that fans of 41 senior Scottish clubs would appreciate some reassurance about it.



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