After what their official club announcement describes as a “rigorous recruitment process” the Ibrox NewCo has named a new “director of commercial and marketing” this morning; he is experienced and smart, and has worked within football for a long time, most notably on campaigns and marketing for the European club competitions.
Whatever challenges he has faced before, they will be nothing on the one he faces now.
Way back in the sands of time, Fergus took over Celtic at a point where we were playing in front of crowds of 11,000 and David Murray was writing cheque after cheque at Ibrox and trying to turn his club into one of the European elite.
Fergus knew that Celtic had more potential though, and he knew what he wanted to do. His strategy was flawless.
First he started planning for a 60,000 all-seater stadium; everyone in the media said it was madness. How, after all, could we sustain that? How could we expect to grow our fan-base by such a number in the time we’d need to do it to have the stadium pay for itself?
Easy, said Fergus; it is better to sell 30,000 season tickets at £200 than to sell 15,000 at £400.
And so was born one of the finest marketing strategies of all time.
How to make it work though? Easy. Fergus understood that people were tired of standing in the cold and surrounded by the same old faces. He knew that to crack it he would have to make Celtic Park family friendly, and to expand our support base. So the marketing team he put together were briefed to tailor everything to that vision … of Celtic as a forward thinking, cosmopolitan, cultural attuned institution “open to all.”
Bhoys Against Bigotry was just one of the measures he took to present that image; the media scorned it. Others listened.
The money people paid particular attention.
Still they said he was mad, but Fergus knew better and thus was born the season ticket culture which now dominates everything the club does. Not only that, though, but our marketing and branding people operate on a global basis. The concept we call The Celtic Family was a marketing tool at the start, but it worked because it framed around simple words something we all understood in our gut anyway, something we all already believed in.
Do not underestimate the awesome power of simple words. Simple words are pulling us out of the European Union. I’ve met a handful of people who have tried to explain “take back control” as a concept and even they get themselves in a helluva mess over it. Others don’t even try; they repeat it like a mantra, one those who’ve read Orwell will recognise easily; “Four legs good, two legs bad” springs from exactly the same poisoned well.
The thing is, some of those slogans endure even when the marketing department would rather the whole institution was well shot of them. No Surrender is a particularly tough one to shift. We Are The People even more so. There has been constant chatter that the Republic element at Celtic Park – which Fergus did not manage to get rid of although he wanted to – impacts on our marketing potential, but this has been refuted again and again over the years.
The same people who sing The Boys Of The Old Brigade also raised a fortune for Palestinian aid organisations; the Provisionals might not have been terribly popular in this country but most people abroad recognise the War of Independence for what it was.
But the “PUL” thing and the ethos that goes with it, is toxic to marketing efforts, for obvious reasons. As is a club whose commercial team is constantly in court. If Ashley’s team gets an injunction against strip sales plus damages the setback will be monumental.
Last week, there was a “friendly match” in England involving the club, and it got a lot of ink in the papers up here. It included all the obligatory Ibrox paraphernalia; marching flute bands and sash patterned strips. The truth is, within certain parameters, and to a certain segment of the population, the Ibrox club has already marketed itself spectacularly well, and it has a branding every bit as distinctive to it as the red logo of Coca Cola.
Orange strips are as good as it gets.
Let’s face it, even without the liquidation of Rangers in 2012, the Ibrox operation has peaked in terms of the “global brand.” The limitations of Scottish football are obvious enough, and “the great Rangers diaspora” proved to be a red herring years ago. There is no great global community of fans out there; it’s a demonstrated fiction, as the former Rangers director Hugh Adam proved whilst he was running the commercial side of the OldCo.
His description of them as a “provincial West of Scotland football club” was apt then, and applied to Sevco it is even more applicable.
On a pre-season trip to Florida last summer, their fans were caught singing sectarian songs on the telly; the tournament organisers had to apologise over it. That is radioactive to marketing strategy; how do you sell that club to those outside its walls when those inside the walls make it abundantly clear that they exist to keep other people out?
It has been 25 years since Fergus started the process of making Celtic a global name. Recent deals prove that our club remains a competitive brand even accounting for the lack of a real TV audience share outside of the UK. We got here by opening our doors to everyone, and making sure the world knew it. The idea that we would ever have put our names towards the kind of show that went on down in Blackpool is unthinkable.
The marketing team at Ibrox can put out as many Union Jack tea-mugs as it likes; to get to where Celtic is will take decades, and in the process that whole club is going need to undergo a radical change in how it positions itself in view of the world.
Is that going to happen? Realistically, no.
I wish their new marketing guru all the luck in the world, cause he’s going to need it.