Ian Ross, Ex Director of Communications, Everton FC
How did your appointment as Everton’s Director of Communications come about?
It certainly wasn’t planned. I was happily working on what is regarded as the “ writers’ paper “, The Guardian, when the theatrical impresario Bill Kenwright bought the club. I had known Bill for many years and he rang me up and said he wanted professional people in senior positions inside Goodison Park. Initially, I resisted his advances but he is a very persuasive man. They always say that, in an ideal world, you should be in the worst job you’ve ever had when you opt for a quantum leap – but I was in a job I truly loved.
What were the special demands of such a high-profile job?
Although my primary objective was to protect, preserve and elevate the club’s profile, the constant battle was dealing with the fans’ expectations. Everton is one of world football’s oldest and most famous names – and with age and reputation goes the constant, unrelenting demand for success. If the team was doing well the administration staff was left in peace – if the team wasn’t doing well, it was our fault that the beer was warm, the pies were cold and the centre-backs had the grace and appeal of fully-laden skips. Keeping supporters, shareholders and stakeholders happy and content was never easy but all football clubs benefit from the bonding effect of the so-called “ siege mentality “. Despite having to deal with high-profile, tabloid-targets such as Wayne Rooney, Paul Gascoigne and Duncan Ferguson, the players themselves were – for the most part – well-behaved and extraordinarily helpful.
What was your biggest challenge during your 11 years at Everton?
Initially the challenge was to build a Department which was sufficiently professional to meet the many demands placed on a Premier League club. Having found the right staff I spent the best part of two years putting in place a series of operation processes in order that we could respond, swiftly and efficiently, to any problem, to any crisis. Thereafter, it was the rather unsuccessful search for a new stadium. All my years at the club were dominated by that highly controversial issue. Twice we came close – but on both occasions it simply wasn’t to be. Everton is the only club in Europe to have handed over the emotive decision of whether to relocate to its supporters by way of a vote, a formal ballot. The stadium issue was, I have to admit, hugely divisive insomuch as it did cause rancour amongst the fan-base.
The other issue which divided opinion – and which also caused much rancour – was the constant search for the elusive billionaire, the sugar-daddy who could propel the club forwards to the next level. That search goes on…….
What did you prefer, writing for newspapers or working inside a major sporting institution?
I loved both. However, I will always call myself a journalist – I am very proud to be one…and I am proud to have worked on so many great newspapers – The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Observer, The Guardian.
After my “ grounding “ on the two major Liverpool newspapers, the Daily Post and the Echo, I moved to “ Fleet Street “, spending 20 years inside an industry which became ever more demanding. It wasn’t always quite as much fun as it may seem to those on the outside but it is difficult to be critical or dismissive of a role where amongst others I was reporting on Liverpool, Everton, Manchester United and which took me ‘round the world several times. I found a different sort of satisfaction in corporate communications but, yes, I always missed the cut and thrust of being out on the road for a paper – the deadlines, the demands, the camaraderie. Whilst writing will, I suspect, always be my first-love and it plays a significant part in any communications role, I do find that Communications and PR Strategy at the highest level does bring its own special kind of professional rewards.
Many have suggested that football’s bubble is poised to burst – do you agree?
I do subscribe to the theory that, in purely financial terms, English football simply cannot continue to embrace excess as it has been doing over the past decade but whilst ever there is a demand the sport will continue to prosper and thrive. We must not forget that the demand IS still there. In the mid-eighties, Everton had – arguably – the best team in Europe under the astute managership of Howard Kendall. The average attendances at Goodison Park during this period were only about 28,000. The club now averages close to 37,000 despite its lack of tangible success. Football is still THE “ sexy “ sport.
Why did you leave Everton and what’s next?
I would love to say that I turned to Bill Kenwright and uttered the immortal phrase, “ my job here is done “…but I didn’t.
Working with a premiership club puts you in the front line with the fans – the good and the bad. That can exert a different type of pressure and I simply felt the need for a change – a cliché but, believe it or not, the truth.. Although I had the opportunity to change roles at Everton that wasn’t what I wanted.
My next role may be in sport but it doesn’t have to be. I have long believed that a good Communications and PR skill-set is generic, is transferable – that’s to say I believe I would be comfortable in any environment where my communications and PR skills are contributing to the successful delivery of an organisations strategy.
To end with another fine cliché – I am open to all offers!