Crisis communications master class by Marcus Rashford

Manchester United and England star footballer Marcus Rashford has hit it into the back of the net when it comes to crisis communications. On Tuesday evening he tweeted that the political magazine The Spectator was set to run a story alleging he benefited commercially from his campaigning about free school meals and child poverty. It was a pre-emptive strike, a classic crisis communications technique to get ahead of the story.

The Premiership footballer has spent much of the last 18 months campaigning to end child food poverty. His campaign was so successful he forced the UK government into a series of u-turns over its refusal to provide free school meals to vulnerable children at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. He has also put his money where his mouth is as the 23-year-old footballer is the youngest person ever to top The Sunday Times Giving List which measures the generosity of those “best equipped to make a difference”.

Rashford used owned media (his Twitter account with 4.8 million followers) to get the better of traditional earned media (The Spectator with a print circulation of 88,000 and 3.8 million visits to its website).

He immediately followed up his initial tweet with a series of tweets to provide facts and arguments to support his initial key message. These facts provided his supporters with ammunition to defend Marcus and to make his case for him. It is far more persuasive to be defended by influential and powerful people than to defend yourself.

Marcus Rashford’s full Twitter thread said:

Just heard @spectator are planning to run a story on me tomorrow about how I have benefitted commercially in the last 18 months…To clarify, I don’t need to partner with brands. I partner because I want to progress the work I do off the pitch and…(1)

most of any fee I would receive contributes to that. Last summer, 1.3M children had access to food support, through my relationship with Burberry children have a safe place to be after school where they will be fed, following the November investment…(2)

vulnerable children have safe places to go this summer holiday, and due to my relationship with Macmillan 80,000 children now have a book to call their own. Do I have a larger commercial appeal following the u-turns? I’m sure. (3)

But I’m also a Manchester United and England international footballer. Why has there always got to be a motive? Why can’t we just do the right thing?

Ps I actually enjoy reading bits from The Spectator now and again but this is just a none starter… Have a good night all!(4)

Marcus Rashford MBE

The response to Rashford’s tweet was overwhelmingly supportive with a swathe of public figures springing to his defence. TV presenter and ex-footballer Gary Lineker tweeted: “Keep doing what you’re doing, Marcus, you’re an inspiration and a hero,” calling The Spectator’s article “disingenuous, spiteful and nonsense.”

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, where Rashford is born and raised said: “Honestly Marcus, Greater Manchester could not love you more. You don’t have to justify yourself to anyone here, whatever they write about you. We just have one ask: please keep being who you are and doing what you do.”

Labour shadow minister Jess Philips said: “The backlash will always come. Marcus Rashford has done nothing wrong, but he doesn’t have to be perfect to do good regardless. This kind of attack always comes for people trying to make change and be kind, it’s to try and put others off doing it.”

As Leeds Beckett University’s issues and crisis communication research lecturer Audra Lawson tweeted it was: “A nice example of inoculation theory in action! That is, arm people with the responses (& facts) and the reputational attack fails.”

Rashford’s offensive play appears to have won this match as the story is conspicuously absent in this week’s The Spectator which has been published today. I imagine The Spectator editor Fraser Nelson is feeling as sick as a parrot.

However, it’s probably too early to say Rashford’s won the tournament as The Spectator is a right-wing political magazine owned by the secretive Sir Frederick Barclay. He also owns The Telegraph which has published articles downplaying the overt racism that Rashford and his England teammates Bulkayo Saka and Jadon Sancho faced after the Euro 2020 final. Both titles personify ‘the Establishment’ and are unlikely to quit now in their attempt to destroy a working class bloke who wants to make the country a better place.

Even if a company, organisation or individual doesn’t have Marcus Rashford’s profile and Twitter followers they can still use the best principles of crisis communications to get ahead of the story.

If you need the help of a crisis communications agency or expert then please get in touch for immediate help. Last week I wrote a newspaper article with some crisis communications tips based on a series of training workshops I ran for many of the British teams going to compete in the Tokyo Olympics. If you just want a general, no obligations chat about how I can help you then you can click on book a free 15-minute video chat.