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“And the ref’s reaching for his red card… no, wait, he’s going to the VAR” 

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“And the ref’s reaching for his red card… no, wait, he’s going to the VAR” 

As the introduction of video assistant referees starts to reduce the number of irate football managers’ post-match rants about the ‘shocking decisions’ of on-pitch referees, we discuss what communicators could learn from such collaboration.

In the first few weeks of VAR deployment, we’ve heard Premiership managers saying that they should be used more, should be used less, should be compulsory and should be done away with completely.

But any technology imposed upon the multi-billion pound football industry, where a wrong decision can be worth or cost millions, ought to be analysed to see if it has lessons for other sectors.

VAR basically links the on-pitch referee with remote colleagues who have sight of monitors that scan the game from every angle. They can notify the referee if they consider that he or she has made a major error.

In other words, the man on the ground (the ref) has access to a network of information and advice.

In business, this could be likened to communicators linking themselves to a network of contacts across the organisation – in a variety of roles and at different levels – who can use data to inform them about actions, discussions and opinions on the ground. And any move to make comms more connected, more transparent and better informed will always be a positive one.

We’ve been taking a look at some of those silky skills and tactics that match-fit comms pros must possess to position themselves as key players…

“It’s an awe-inspiring line-up” – building an effective network

The referee has to adopt a much more collaborative style than is traditional in the antics of the watching football managers. Their dressing room manners have ranged from the teacup kicking of Sir Alex Ferguson to the more cerebral criticisms of Arsene Wenger.

And the comms pro who understands the futility of such approaches in business could also take a leaf from the VAR book, in seeking to build, nurture and utilise a wide, deep and strong network of advisory relationships. This enables them to keep abreast of developments in other areas, to understand the implications for other departments of comms initiatives, and to involve others in the decision making to ensure that activities happen as planned.

“A change in formation” – being adaptable

These relationships must be able to survive changes in direction, seniority and personalities. Flexing their style between directing, advising and coaching will also be required when circumstances and priorities are constantly being revised.

“Great vision from the midfielder” – being a respected adviser to your leaders

In the same way that the on-pitch ref calls on the expert eye of their off-pitch colleagues, the internal communicator must be relied upon to provide sound communication advice and expertise to their senior execs. Providing a fresh perspective can be a vital way in which comms pros can build and nurture their super-team.

“They’re surrounding the ref” – standing your ground

In the heat of the game, decisions aren’t always going to be popular. Internal communicators too can find their choice of direction being tackled, particularly if they don’t have data available to back them up. Supporting decisions with reliable, accurate data in the boardroom, as on the pitch, will always add credibility and strength to the comms Captain’s argument.

“They’ve gone to 3 at the back” – seeking ways to improve

You only need to take a glimpse at the sporting headlines to see the controversy that surrounds VAR. There have been numerous incidents where, even when the VAR stepped in, it has still not delivered what some considered to be the correct decision. But with many hailing it a positive step, lessons are being learnt about how best to bring the new technology into play.

Applying new practices, developing fresh thinking and looking outside internal communication for inspiration are core competencies that all premier comms pros should keep up.

Communication is a constant challenge. At Alive, we’re used to facing and overcoming those challenges for our clients. 

Get in touch if you feel we could be on your team as an objective adviser, a source of innovative ideas, or by delivering premier communications-enabling projects.

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