Fresh eyes

What PR lessons can we learn from Southgate’s England?

Freshfield Blog article header, England graffiti graphic with Gareth Southgate and St Basil's Russia
Andrew Taylor Senior PR & Comms Manager

Written by Andrew Taylor,
PR & Communications Director at Freshfield

Even if you don’t follow football, there’s so much to learn from how England have prepared for this World Cup.

Ok, they’ve achieved nothing yet. But regardless how far they get, it’s hard to dispute Gareth Southgate has restored faith in the national team and proved himself to be a great communicator.

After two awful performances at major tournaments, Southgate’s England have been a breath of fresh air in the run up to Russia 2018.

So how has he done it, and what PR lessons can businesses and brands learn from Southgate’s fresh approach?

Getting the media onside

Blamed for the demise of countless England managers, the national football press is key to winning the hearts and minds of the nation. Like any successful organisation, Southgate has kept the media close and communicated well. The much praised ‘Super Bowl style’ media day prior to departure, and the access given to journalists at the tournament itself, has helped make the media friend, not foe.

Allowing his people to talk

Like any successful business, Southgate is aware of the need to create great content to maintain the feel-good factor around the brand. Rather than banning players from speaking to the media, or asking them to be guarded in interviews, he’s encouraged the players to talk about themselves. Stories like the one about Danny Rose overcoming personal battles with depression to fight his way back to the squad feed the media’s cravings while making England players effective ambassadors for the shirt. Keeping the media’s thirst quenched has reduced the risk of journalists creating their own agenda about the team. England have also embraced video, including live streaming on their own YouTube channel, to feed that hunger for content.

Managing ‘customer’ expectations

When a company’s performance does not live up to expectations, it risks a customer backlash. Something England have done well under Southgate is to manage our collective expectations as England football ‘customers’. Of course, the manager and his players have spoken about being there to win the World Cup, but the message has been carefully tempered. The talk is of this being a ‘long-term project for success’ and the team being a ‘work in progress’.

England FC Promotional poster

Stopping issues turning into crises

Southgate has stopped potential issues snowballing into something more serious. He’s shown how ‘getting in front of the story’ can help brands turn negative to positive. Early in his reign, when doubt about Wayne Rooney’s England future hung like a dark cloud, Southgate acted decisively to omit Rooney from his squad for the June 2017 friendlies. When there was a row over a gun tattoo revealed on Instagram by England player Raheem Sterling, Southgate quickly accepted the player’s explanation and removed any doubts about his potential removal from the World Cup squad.


Businesses must be creative and innovative to keep winning new fans. Southgate has shown a willingness to try something different on and off the pitch. He’s not been afraid to bring in inexperienced players or experiment with new styles of play. Off the pitch the communication has been spot on, including using social media to keep fans and media updated on injury news.

Calmness and transparency

Southgate has quelled early doubts about his ability to handle the pressure of the England manager’s job. He rarely gets flustered on the sidelines. He doesn’t get defensive or dodge questions in interviews. If performances aren’t up to scratch he’ll say so, but not at detriment to his players. These are valuable traits for any business leader in their dealings with customers, staff and the media.

Recent News and Insights

Does the Twitter rebrand have the X-factor for B2B brands?
Freshfield secures place on government communications framework
Joe’s side victorious as Freshfield fantasy football league raises £300 for charity

Do you have a project that needs fresh eyes?

Get in touch

Fresh Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest news, insights, guest articles, and case studies, directly to your inbox

Sign me up