Leicester City’s miraculous victory startled everyone, and manager Claudio Ranieri won everyone’s hearts, even the media’s. But how? From a public relations perspective, we’ve been looking at how the Italian maestro picked up a broken record and created an operatic masterpiece.
PS As the longest-established PR consultancy in Leicester, we want to say thank you. We have never seen anything like it.
- Never underestimate the value of relationships
Claudio Ranieri’s rapport extends not only to his team but also to the fans who he says pushed his team beyond its dream, becoming in the breathless words of the Leicester Mercury The Immortals. His ability to build bridges also extends to the media. At press conferences, he would shake every journalist’s hand until that became impossible when the Leicester story began to attract legions of them. By contrast, Jose Mourinho’s awful early season at Chelsea was marked by surly interviews and his eventual demise, sabotaged by his own players.
- Smile, and the whole world smiles with you
With a twinkle in his eye and a disarming smile, Ranieri is easy to like, and his sense of humour is infectious. Journalists love his stories – Christmas gifts of little bells echoing his #dillydingdillydong training ground chime for players to wake up, pizzas all round when the team stopped leaking goals and kept a clean sheet. Notice the deeply serious messages – in a football context – behind the jokes.
- Humility is endearing but pride comes before a fall
What would the media have made of a manager who loudly claimed the credit for every good result, criticised opponents and condemned referees? They would bring him down with zeal at the first opportunity. Ranieri did not behave like that. He gave credit to everyone around him, was gracious about opponents and officials, and in his manner, came across as genuinely humble. The media liked that, and wanted to share in the fairy-tale ending. So did football supporters around the world, who began rooting for Leicester almost as much as they did for their own teams.
- Be steadfast in the face of adversity
If you can keep your heads when all around you are losing theirs… Of course, there were doubts. Critics continually predicted a meltdown. When things got tough and fans were biting their nails, Ranieri demonstrated immense strength of character. As the gap with the chasing teams narrowed, he gave an inspiring interview: “Never are we worried.” If you are campaigning for something, you can learn a lot from that.
- Don’t be afraid to show your human side
While the Brits are proud of their northern European work ethic and restraint, they not-so-secretly yearn for the romance of the south. Italian Ranieri gave the media another story when, while nearest rivals Tottenham played a crunch match, he left the country to visit his 95-year-old mother on her birthday.
- Reduce the pressure by focusing on achievable goals
As hopes and expectations grew, Ranieri was brilliant at deflecting pressure. By under-promising and over-delivering, he took the burden of expectation from his players and made every milestone along the way to the Premiership seem all the more remarkable. The opposite approach, to forecast immense success and then fail to achieve it, invites criticism down the line.
- Adapt your strategy as things change
Ranieri was brought in to build the team. This season would be about staying in the Premiership then building towards a minor European competition and then the Champions League. As each of those objectives was ticked off in his first season, Ranieri gently looked towards the next game. As opponents changed the way they played against his team, he changed tactics to shut up shop and put together a string of one-nil wins.
- Do it in style
It is one thing to win, quite another (as fans of the French rugby team demand) to do it in style. Voted the football players’ player of the year Riad Mahrez scored fabulous, stylish goals. Some of Leicester’s passing play brought to mind Barcelona’s tiki taka at its best. Even the pitch looked great. Teutonic penalties are all very well but this is entertainment. Let’s see some flair.
- Experiment with remarkable language
There are perhaps 100 trillion words on the web. Many of those are in clichés. Ranieri, by contrast, as a non-native English speaker, brought a rococo style to his interviews.
- Tell a good story
Leicester City’s amazing escape from certain death and march to the top of the English game is a classic storyline – overcoming the monster. An equally amazing story within the story was Jamie Vardy’s journey from non-league nobody to breaking Premiership records and being picked to play for England at the age of 28. That too is a classic storyline – rags to riches.
- Make a name for yourself
Perhaps you don’t have the flair of a Mahrez and will never have posters of your picture on young fans’ bedroom walls, but you can still make a name for yourself. Another Leicester hero, shortlisted for player of the year was N’Golo Kante. His consistent performances recognised by his peers and the intelligent football pundits, even if they were not the stuff of Hollywood.
- Be a man (or woman) of the people
Down to earth, hard-working and the captain of this happy band of brothers, Wes Morgan epitomises true grit. Genuine characters who ordinary people can relate to almost always get the popular vote.
- Celebrate in style
When Leicester’s season was all but done, and the unlikely Premiership roundly won, there were fireworks of course, but the most memorable moment was a spine-tingling performance of Nessun Dorma by Andrea Bocelli in the centre of the pitch. There was no unseemly chest beating from Ranieri. He stood alongside the tenor, watery eyed and quietly proud in an understated blue suit and tie. It was beautiful and dignified.