The Role Of A Publicist & Agent: Dean Eldredge
In the latest instalment of Managing in the Modern Game, a series of interviews looking at specific elements of football management through the eyes of those involved, Aaron Gourley speaks to Dean Eldredge of Oporto Sports Management about working with football managers to support their media commitments, what a publicist does, and whether PR firms are a legitimate option for social media communications…
What is the role of a publicist?
Ultimately, I feel it’s about gaining positive publicity and relevant opportunities for your clients. Each person has a different story to tell, or a different motivation, and it’s about taking the time to discover what they are and then match them to the right media outlet, at the right time. That’s a very simplistic view, as the reality is sometimes you need to be reactive to something out of your control, but the principle is still to help present your client as well as possible and to help them to realise their potential.
How has the role changed over the years with the increased media and social media platforms available?
I’d like to think that it’s made the industry more competitive and helped to raise standards. For example, ex-players don’t get given high profile media roles unless they are good, engaging, knowledgeable speakers. There is more scrutiny on what people do, and working in the media is potentially a quite fulfilling career now, so you have to help prepare your client to best meet those standards. Social media has given people a direct voice, an opportunity to put their opinion across unfiltered. I think that’s increasingly important today, given that club’s media channels often have greater power than say, a local newspaper sports desk. Can you help your client to stand out and to get their voice across without appearing to be too media trained and guarded? In terms of my role, there is a greater range of options for clients to express themselves, like podcasts for example. I have clients who use social media, and clients who don’t. Some have an account that I help to manage, but the words absolutely always come from them. Authenticity is a big thing for us.
What type of work do you do for clients?
Predominantly, we help our clients, a mixture of managers, coaches, players and broadcasters, to find roles in the media for paid work, or to get their messages across via our contacts for unpaid media.
Some of the work is quite self-explanatory, such as watching a game on Sky Sports News, being a pundit for a live game on TV or radio, contributing to a podcast. For some of our clients, this is now a big part of their career. Having said that, I’m also a huge fan of our clients doing big feature interviews with broadsheet newspapers. I guess I still see the importance of traditional media, matched alongside contemporary methods. I love our clients to talk about their lives as well as their careers if they feel comfortable sharing that.
I think it’s important to humanise our managers, as often all we know about them is what they say in a press conference and what they do pitchside. What are they like away from football? What motivates them and what do they do with their spare time? Who inspired them to be a manager? I’d never dream of telling a client what to say. I may remind them of something important coming up, or brief them on what the journalist might like to ask them, but it’s their interview not mine.
Whilst I think it’s important for clients to gain paid work in the media, I love websites like The Coaches Voice, for example, giving a manager or coach the chance to tell their story in their own words. For me, one feature with them could be worth far more in the long run than being on TV for an evening. There’s a longevity to those features, reading about someone’s coaching journey, their influences, their key moments and achievements, why they do what they do. For me it’s always about trying to peel the curtain back just enough to give the reader or the viewer some access they wouldn’t otherwise have.
Any publicity is good publicity – is that true?
In my eyes, absolutely not. Publicity for the sake of it is simply not sustainable. If you do that, you’ll be found out in no time. A good publicist should try to position their clients in relevant places. Obviously, you can’t always control everything. You may work with a manager who is fined by The FA for comments about officials after a game, but then that could lead to a discussion on standards and accountability within the game. I’m not endorsing it, I’m just saying that if people feel aggrieved, they should be able to air their views and then deal with the consequences.
For me, bad publicity is bad publicity. If something goes wrong, someone is criticised, I’d ask myself what they should do to explain the issue, and how can I help them. I try to remember that this is people’s lives you’re dealing with, they are humans with families and friends and feelings, not trash for cheap headlines and WhatsApp group gossip. This job is about people, understanding them and helping them, above anything else.
Are there situations where you have to manage a crisis for a client?
I don’t tend to do a lot of work with tabloid newspapers, that’s just my own personal choice, but yes, there have been occasions where I’ve had to advise a client that a story is coming out which isn’t positive, or a rumour that has been spread. I think it’s always best to be honest with them, don’t sugar-coat the situation. Explain what’s happened, why or how you think it’s come to this, and then your plan to help prevent it getting worse. Sometimes it’s better to say nothing and chalk it down to experience, or don’t speak because of legal issues, other times it’s better to get out in front of the story and get the client’s view across. I would treat each instance on its merit and come to a decision with the client’s wishes in mind.
You also work as an agent – can you tell us a little bit more about this work?
I’m fortunate enough to work with the best business partner I could wish for, Gary Webster, who is creatively gifted and has great integrity, which has allowed me to pursue this line of work and know that he is always there for advice and support. We established our businesses, Soar Media, a marketing agency in 2007 and Oporto Sports Management in 2012. We thought Oporto would just remain a PR firm for sportspeople, but in 2018, the first professional football manager I worked with, Nigel Pearson, agreed to sign with Oporto for PR services, and then in 2019 it felt natural and right for us to represent him as an advisor. Later that year, we helped him and Craig Shakespeare to return to the Premier League with Watford, and now we represent a handful of managers and coaches across the EFL and non-league.
I’m learning on the job, or at least that’s how it feels. I’ve tried to develop close relationships with the managers and coaches I work with. I think it’s important to show our clients that we care, and that we are there for everything, not just their new contract. That means we can be a sounding-board, can help with media advice, design and edit their CV, support them with social media, or maybe even charitable work. I don’t have all the contacts in the game, I’m not as well connected as some agents, so I’ve got to work harder and be as alert to any potential opportunity.
I won’t change the way I am for the role. The principles that have grown Oporto Sports to this point, and the way we work will remain the same. I will be honest, will work hard, and try to deliver on the objectives of the client.
There’s been a lot of criticism of players using PR companies for their social media communications. What are your thoughts on that?
I can understand the criticism, but we’ve had ghost-writers for books for years, so I don’t see any difference. Like anything in life, there are good examples and bad examples. As I’ve already said, a social media account should be authentic. I think people can spot when the way something is said or written is forced or staged. A player wouldn’t do their own legal work, or treat themselves for injuries, so why not have someone with credentials to help you with your image and your message? All the great leaders at all levels of sport know how to empower people and understand the importance of delegation. If you don’t feel comfortable with expressing your own message, maybe because of a lack of experience, or a fear of saying the wrong thing, why not gain some help so you can join the conversation? Surely, if you have something to say, that’s better than sitting back and saying nothing.
For more information on Dean Eldredge and Oporto Sports Management, please visit www.oportosports.com and follow them on Twitter @DeanEldredge and @OportoSports