Are Rangers learning the PR lesson?

With today’s front page news that an Asian finance firm were considering seeking a winding-up order against the club for non-payment of alleged services, the recurring debate about Rangers’ PR performance has again raised its somewhat ugly head.

Most of our online communities were aware of the rumour surrounding the court petition which had started on one of the more popular Celtic-supporting blogs.  However, it wasn’t until the always mischief-making Alex Thomson ran with the story that the club took the issue seriously enough to warrant comment.  They reacted yesterday afternoon with a typically bullish statement that suggested the sums sought were ‘insignificant’ and agreement had been reached with Orlit Financial Services ‘subject to the necessary paperwork’.

Fair enough but what was perhaps most interesting was that the club went on to conclude that the matter was ‘unworthy of further comment’ – clearly an abrupt dismissal of an issue that many fans remain concerned about.

I think it’s important to make clear at this point that it would be daft of Rangers to consider replying to every piece of muck-raking with long and detailed statements.  Despite employing the expensive services of Jack Irvine’s MediaHouse PR consultancy company as well as the recently appointed Jim Traynor, I don’t think it would make strategic sense to chase our tail every time one of the usual rabble-rousers wanted to cause the club some angst.  However, the issue is worthy of some debate.

For some time now, it seems quite obvious Celtic supporters have a network of fans and websites dedicating large portions of their life on ruining our club.  These people are clearly obsessed and can be easily ridiculed from time to time by the more reasoned members of our fanbase.  Nevertheless it cannot be denied these same people have their sources and can often be well informed on a variety of issues – be it legal, financial or the sport’s administration in this country (and, as we’ve witnessed with UEFA over the last ten 10 years, even beyond our shores).  Thus, I think it’s fair to ask if Rangers, as a club, have a clear grasp on that.

Remember, we’re not just talking about pseudo-journalists hidden away in foreign countries or Celtic fan-sites masquerading as ‘neutral’ Scottish football discussion hubs but recognised TV presenters, investigators and sports-writers.  For example, the efforts of the Rangers Tax Case site may ultimately have been in vain in terms of a negative EBT result but there’s no doubt they directly helped dictate the narrative which caused the old company to slide into fiscal oblivion. This website apparently had the ear of lawyers, accountants, journalists and allegedly HMRC staff, amongst others. We ignored it to our own peril.

Of course our club’s modern PR challenges have been ongoing now for a lot longer than transgressing the events of the last two years or so.  Sir David Murray appointed MediaHouse as soon as the club (or possibly more accurately he) started taking a clobbering during the fans’ problems with UEFA in 2005. At that point people like Graham Spiers and, ironically, Jim Traynor were having a field day bashing the club and support senseless over the sectarianism issue. We lost out then, so was it any wonder some other people thought the club was ripe for a more ‘underground’ propaganda war going forward? It could be argued that this week’s events suggest we’re still losing out now.

Generally speaking the Orlit story may or may not be an important one in the grand scheme of things but it has caused the club genuine embarrassment because they did not deal with the rumour quickly enough.  Conversely, it shows how Celtic's unofficial blogging network does spring into action and can induce front page headlines within days. We’re behind the curve far too often in that respect.

To that end, the Rangers support have been warning the club for years about this problem and I’m sure many of us had hoped the appointment of Jim Traynor was an acknowledgement of it – along with a chance for the club to engage with their own similar network to fight a more effective battle against this often daily negativity.  Instead the club's somewhat tepid response actually has us asking more questions instead of feeling confident in the future.

To emphasise an earlier point, I don’t think any fan expects the club (or their experienced consultants) to waste time and money on people whose life mission appears to be bringing about the ruin of Rangers.  However, whilst accepting I’m no PR professional, I do think we still have a real problem in accepting the situation we’re in and the club needs to agree a more defined strategy in dealing with an issue that will not go away. In this case ignorance is most definitely not bliss.

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