The Celtic Trust – Schooling Celtic with Modern and Effective Media Strategy

This evening The Celtic Trust hold their latest members meeting, online via Zoom. It is fair to say that in the last few weeks there has been a lot of changes for the Trust. An increased membership has led to the purchasing of more shares and they continue down the route of trying to reunite shares to owners with a view to them being pooled by the Celtic Trust.

Recently the Trust have been everywhere, you couldn’t avoid them if you tried. David Low has been interviewed on The Celtic Star and is engaging in a regular column with us, as well as highly regarded podcasts like the Celtic Soul and the Scottish Football Monitor, whilst Jeannette Findlay has been on the Cynic –during her lunchbreak no less – and 67 Hail Hail – and that’s just the ones I have noticed.

You get the feeling Findlay and Low, must be sick of repeating of repeating themselves, it even shows on the odd occasion!

This has been a thorough and concerted campaign to get their message across and for it to be understood, it has been an admirable effort, tirelessly answering questions, writing columns, carrying out Q&A’s and podcasts and it certainly seems to be working.

Are they trying to get new membership? Yes, and it is growing quickly. Are they attempting to get their message out there? Yes, and there is now far more understanding about the short term and long-term goals of the Celtic Trust. Are they attempting to control the narrative? No, they aren’t, they have simply been putting their points across, have answered some tough questions and haven’t shied away from social media exchanges or those who seek to challenge, at least those who do so constructively. When it comes to the Celtic Trust, there are lessons our own club could take on board.

The Celtic Trust is communicating their vision as openly and as transparently as possible and leaving the ultimate decision to agree or disagree up to those who join or decide against. If you like what you hear and you wish to join it’s an easy process. It is now a mobilisation of supporters we haven’t seen since the 1990’s it is a collective voice and it’s gaining genuine momentum.

One thing that is also evident is that the Celtic Trust is an organisation in touch with Celtic fans media. You see little of them in the mainstream media, why would they when they wish to engage with the Celtic support?

Nowadays just how many of the support get their Celtic news from the Daily Record, The Sun or the Daily Mail? Maybe their websites are visited but when was the last time anyone actually bought a newspaper in order to read about Celtic? Much like those publications that’s an out-of-date approach. Instead, the Trust appear to be doing their own public relations and are coping and thriving in an environment where they can communicate directly with the Celtic support – and the message is getting out there.

The Celtic Trust have come to the conclusion that the Celtic fans media is where they will make their pitch while Celtic – other than grudgingly allowing the Cynic into their Zoom press conferences – are still very much MSM-centric.

Compare and contrast to the Celtic approach. While the Celtic Trust’s message is clear Celtic’s is shrouded in secrecy. Communication has so far been by way of statements via the websites, no two-way communication, or the Gerry McCulloch stage managed interview with Peter Lawwell – and even that was badly messed up. Once again information flowing one way. Even the recent AGM and the question-and-answer session saw questions grouped together, answered as blandly and uniformly as possible and the shop was closed.

Beyond that direct communication we’ve seen bits and pieces of information through favoured journalists at the Daily Mail or the Daily Record and one board friendly compliant (non disclosure agreed) blogger, but mainly hints and testing of the water rather than any real communication with the fans. Yet at a recent supporters group meeting Peter Lawwell conveyed a message that there were no communication issues with the support. Surely by now he must realise that is not the case. Even a glance at Celtic’s social media sites would show you there is so much frustration it has created an unhealthy environment for staff if nothing else.

Lawwell has occasional meetings – these days via Zoom – with the various supporters groups, who as this site’s editor has explained before – end up going all secretive and failing to get the message out to the members, each one a season ticket holder. It’s crazy when you think about it. Today the AICSC broke rank and issued a statement, hopefully this is something we’ll now see from the Celtic Supporters Association and also the Affiliation of Registered Celtic Supporters Clubs. The latter, maybe but the former apparently has some strange rule in their constitution that prevents them criticising the club. If that’s not the case please get in touch and we’ll be glad to clarify – email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

Yet it is hard to envisage a clear and concise message coming out of Celtic at the moment.

Neil Lennon’s recent press conference showed there is a lack of communication internally, while the PR team seem to have lost any handle on controlling the narrative. Last week Lenny appeared to have gone rogue, certainly off piste, at least in comparison to the message conveyed just days before by Peter Lawwell.

The club then decided not to put the presser on social media channels, Celtic TV or You Tube channels. Even the usual quotes via twitter were dispensed with.

Then during Lennon’s scatter gun approach to settling scores, the manager was interrupted. No, not to be encouraged to slow down and calm down, not to limit supplementary questions, instead during an ‘IT issue’ the break in play was used to convey the message Celtic had another Covid 19 positive test. A test for a player who wished not to be named, who we then confirmed was a player and was one of those 13 isolating. Not exactly the tactic in the midst of a PR disaster unfolding you’d expect from your media team is it? No instead Lennon was able to go back to reigniting the embers of a debate we all wanted to close quickly and one the CEO probably thought he had just days before.

If that was done to create a siege mentality it probably failed. It was too late to blame the media, cry different treatment from others or challenge the government, not when most of the support by the time of the press conference believed the Dubai trip was past defending in any case.

And most recently we’ve had the curious case of Leigh Griffiths. on one hand coming clean on a lack of fitness impacting on Celtic’s season, then contradicting that message by blaming fan expectations for Ten- in-a-Row going up in smoke, whilst in between times has even discussed the possibility of a testimonial season. Does anyone have a grip on communication at Celtic? Is it simply a free-for-all?

Finally, we have been told – and again through the mainstream media – that Peter Lawwell did consider a State of Play address but decided against it due to the backlash from the Gerry McCulloch Celtic TV interview. No contact with Celtic media channels just a leaking of ‘I was going to, but now I’m in a huff’ and again through those old-fashioned print media contacts. Talk about out of touch!

It is time Celtic took a leaf from the book of the Celtic Trust and engaged with Celtic fans media. We know other sites and prominent podcasters have also tried and have been told it could be considered and the can is kicked down the road. Yet it is clear using these channels the Trust have got their message across. Celtic could do the same.

On here David Low was subjected to rigorous questioning in his interview. He faced up to this and dealt with each point as best as he could. Some of his answers were convincing, others were making at least a start to winning hearts and minds. Why can’t Peter Lawwell do likewise?

You may ask what they’d have to gain, but given how current communication is flowing and how it is being responded to what do they have to lose?

They could quell the disquiet, explain the decision-making process, communicate the delays in the fabled January Review, even simply assure supporters that they are aware of the issues and all is in process. They could communicate their ambitions and alleviate our concerns. Such an approach away from the slants and angles of the mainstream media can only be beneficial, particularly with it only being weeks until season ticket renewals go out and you’d assume adidas will have some shiny new merchandise coming our way soon too.

The Celtic Trust will hold their online meeting this evening. Not only will they have plenty of new members and an increased shareholding behind them, they will have a membership who are already clear on their intentions and ambitions. Much of that is down to a concerted effort to communicate with the support.

That new membership will now help drive forward their agenda and add ideas to the mix. If nothing else, they will be fully engaged and informed. When it comes to Celtic there are lessons that could be learned from The Celtic Trust. Those options to engage with The Celtic Star and presumably the rest of the fans media, remain open.

Niall J

About Author

As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parhead's gates.

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