As the Ashes begin in Cardiff today– the focus will be on what’s said on the pitch as well as what’s done.
Sledging, banter and baiting the opposition have all occupied the series build-up as much as the form of Cook, Clarke et al.
Sledging is an interesting phenomenon – and worthy of further investigation.
Its purpose? To distract, confuse and destabilise.
How? Through a well-targeted word or a closely-researched barbed comment that hits its mark and gets under the skin of the target.
The parallels with corporate comms are there to see. The PR consultant advising a client on an aggressive takeover – and looking to make life awkward for his target – is not so different from Brad Haddin or David Warner looking to soften up the oppo.
A well-timed word from slip to batsman might be just as effective on the outcome of the match as a well-timed cover drive. Just as an acerbic or even witty comment from a CEO in relation to the competition can have a significant impact. Words can be destructive and negatively powerful. Communication – applied – affects actions and outcomes.
Sledging is, of course, at the less salubrious end of the spectrum. Words in sport can be galvanising, uplifting, motivating and positively transformational too.
There is equally as much scope for the disciplines of positive PR campaigns to make a productive contribution when applied on the square. Listening to Mike Brearley (the only post war England skipper to win the Ashes twice on home soil – thank you Athers) re-living his captaincy of the ’81 Ashes the other day, he advocated criticism to fire up Botham and soft encouragement to reassure Willis. Know your audience, choose the best-suited tactics and appropriate message; make sure you understand what drives your targets.
So, there will be plenty of us listening to the Ashes series as much as we’re watching it. I for one will be fascinated to hear what is said.
In sport, however, as in business it’s the results that matter. For all the talking (heckling or cajoling) it’s the deeds that will be remembered.
As my first Director used to say to me, ‘the communication contributes, the action confirms’.
No doubt the influence on the game and the series of effective comms will be there for all to witness. What’s said will matter. But it’s the deeds that will live on after the words have melted away.
Ben Copithorne is a director at Camargue.