Harry Maguire scores PR own goal with BBC interview

The Manchester United captain and England defender was clear in his own mind he had done nothing wrong and had nothing to apologise for after being arrested, charged, convicted and then, in a bizarre twist, set free during his holiday on the Greek island of Mykonos.

BBC News sports editor Dan Roan was cock-a-hoop about his exclusive interview with Harry Maguire when he returned to the UK last week. BBC News emphasised that Maguire’s conviction didn’t stand because he’d been granted the right of appeal under Greek law, so he was innocent of the charges. You could say this was damage limitation.

But it’s hardly a textbook example of PR success when there are global news headlines about the alleged assault of a police officer, a scuffle outside a seedy kebab shop, and rumours of an eye-watering bar bill that could’ve paid for 10 Greek summer holidays for a family of four – on top of the alleged bribery of an official.

I came away from watching Maguire’s performance on BBC News feeling all of this could’ve been avoided. What this story illustrates is how easy it is for a high-profile figure to score an own goal when it comes to managing their PR. What makes this even more incomprehensible is that Maguire has access to the best PR, marketing and legal talent money can buy.

The risk of things going badly wrong on a night out on the town isn’t just avoidable, it’s completely foreseeable. Let’s take other examples from sport.

Three years ago, England cricketer Ben Stokes appeared at Bristol Crown Court charged with affray after a night out. Stokes was found not guilty by a jury, but it didn’t save him from being dropped by his sponsor, New Balance, after being found impersonating model Katie Price and her disabled son, and forced to apologise for this behaviour. New Balance said it didn’t condone the way Stokes had behaved and he no longer represented the brand’s values or its culture.

If you go back to 2008, Max Mosley, then the president of motor racing governing body the FIA, successfully sued the now-defunct Sunday tabloid News of the World over allegations that he’d indulged in a Nazi-themed sadomasochistic sex session with several sex workers. Rather than claiming defamation, he sued on the grounds that the newspaper had invaded his privacy by publishing the story.

In an interview with the Financial Times at the time, I said Mosely was responsible for managing the global reputation of F1 and owed a duty of care to all the teams and drivers to not bring the sport into disrepute. I felt he was in breach of that duty, irrespective of whether what he’d been doing in the privacy of his apartment was legal.

The moral is that sports celebrities and those with power and influence are held to a higher standard of behaviour, whether on or off the pitch, particularly when they represent their country and their sport.

In Maguire’s case, it comes with the turf.

This Opinion appeared on PR Week on 1 September 2020. Link to the original article here

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