In the wake of the recent controversy over the France national team’s qualification to FIFA’s 2010 football World Cup in South Africa, I thought it might be a good idea to address the issue of how to mend a client’s reputation where an incident has tarnished it.
Earlier this month, France won a World Cup qualifier against the Republic of Ireland to advance through to next summer’s finals. The winning goal has; however, been overshadowed by enormous media attention relating to allegations of cheating. FC Barcelona striker Thierry Henry provided the assist for William Gallas’ winning goal by illegally handling the ball not once, but twice. Neither handball was seen by the referee or his officials, and the goal was awarded well into extra time. Ireland could not recover from the incident and ultimately lost the tie as a result.
The outcry against Henry was huge. He has been labeled a cheat and a fraud, and his character will forever be called into question. Formerly known as a man of fair play, this article seeks to examine how it will again be possible to commercially exploit his status as one of the world’s greatest football players. Indeed, he has been branded as the best player ever to grace the English Premier League, arguably the best and strongest tier of football in the world. Furthermore, he has been praised worldwide for his ambassadorial role with, and commitment to, UNICEF.
Henry’s representatives have managed to secure some colossal commercial contracts for their client over the years. He has had contracts with Pepsi and Reebok. His largest success off the field was in the form of a lucrative multi-million dollar deal with Gillette. You may recall seeing him in these advertisements alongside fellow sporting greats Tiger Woods and Roger Federer. If not, here you go.
The problem now facing Henry and his representatives is how Gillette will decide to handle the renegotiation of this deal when the current one expires.
Any entity that seeks to use sporting superstars such as Woods, Federer and Henry will obviously look at the reputation of the individual that they wish to use as the face of their brand. Will Gillette be happy to re-sign Henry when the contract’s renewal is due? On his current form you would have to say no. The extent to which this recent incident has damaged Henry’s marketability cannot be underestimated.
The critical question is therefore how an agent can help his client to overcome such situations where his integrity has been seriously damaged. It is a problem that many of SportsAgentBlog’s aspiring readers may well have to encounter in their careers and so I shall suggest a few ideas as to how to tackle it – and would welcome further thoughts in the comment box below. Indeed, in many instances, the situation may well be irrecoverable but agents must protect the image of, and take care of their clients in general – that is what they are paid to do. So let’s take a look at some potential methods of recovery:
1. An Apology
The first act of a wrongdoer should be to apologize. An apology is an acknowledgment that what s/he did was wrong and also that s/he shows remorse for having carried out the relevant act. It would also be worth vowing never to perform a similar act again.
2. Stay out of the limelight
In the aftermath of an incident, there will be much publicity about it. Given its sensitive nature, it is probably a good idea to keep a low profile for a while to avoid inflaming matters further. Whatever a client proclaims publicly will be scrutinized in one way or another by the media. Probably best to steer clear altogether.
3. Perform well
The client’s success will often result from being a champion in his/her relevant field. Going back to the root of the original success is a good place to rebuild. They should therefore focus their attention on performing well in whatever it is that they do professionally, thereby reminding the world why they deserve their public image and status.
4. Engage in socially-approved activities
Things such as working with anti-racism campaigns, charities, children and the underprivileged are highly acclaimed by society at large. It is my opinion that this should not take place too soon after the damaging incident, to avoid coming across as narcissistic.
5. Turn the media in the client’s favor
All good agents out there will have formed contacts in the media. The best agents will have a few contacts that they have established very good relationships with. An agent should always try to stay onside with the media because if an incident like this arises, the agent might be able to positively influence what is written about their client.
6. Passage of time
As with many of life’s big challenges and difficulties, time is a great healer. If steps 1-5 are followed, time will accordingly help to make the negative incident a thing of the past. Some people will never forget what happened, and it may be that it is impossible to completely eradicate the damage to an individual’s reputation, but these steps (amongst others) should go a long way to helping.
The task of an agent in mending the broken character of a client is a tough one. Nonetheless, it can be done.
Believe it or not, David Beckham was hated in Britain after being needlessly sent off in a critical game against Argentina at the 1998 FIFA World Cup. He was booed at every stadium around the country and was singled out and blamed for England’s failure at the tournament. However, he is now adored not only in Britain but all around the world. He has since become the highest earner in football and has been the face of more brands than I dare to remember. He is frequently involved with charitable causes and is currently an ambassador for England’s 2018 World Cup Bid.
I have little doubt that Henry will be able to overcome this recent incident. However, it will be down to those representing him and negotiating his commercial activities, to help him achieve this outcome.
It will be fascinating to witness Henry’s transformation back from villain to hero once again.