Traynor v McCoist v The Fans – Let’s Get Ready to Rummmmble!

I was golfing yesterday evening so didn’t see the much anticipated interview of Ally McCoist by James Traynor until this morning. Having the advantage of coming to stuff late is quite useful as it allows you to absorb various comments before forming your own opinion. It certainly seemed to me that most people enjoyed the Q&A; even if many also realised it was stage-managed in places and superficial in others. Frost v Nixon it wasn’t.

No matter, it was still interesting and amidst a daily clamour for improved club-fan communication, it was also very welcome. More so when we consider that it was conducted by the club rather than by media figures we may not feel have the right to our manager’s time. Of course, up until this year, Jim Traynor was also one such media figure and it’s safe to say he was hardly a journalist our fans admired.

Indeed, that distrust has arguably worsened since Traynor accepted the job of 'Director of Communications' at Rangers. For example, a couple of strong early website ‘statements’ aside; essential family obligations and constant (often hour-to-hour) fire-fighting related to the various complicated matters inside the divided Ibrox boardroom means many fans are (understandably) asking if his appointment was the correct one given the minimal evidence of his influence. Is he just another waste of a wage?

First of all, I think the latter point is probably unfair (or at least premature) on the whole. Positive PR and efficient communication at Ibrox have been missing at the club for a long time now and, in fact, the role of our previous incumbents MediaHouse is one which has been oft-criticised in recent years. Jack Irvine’s ‘strategic communications’ company may have an impressive CV but their work at Rangers has never persuaded fans that they’ve been good value for their substantial annual six-figure retainer. Moreover, the fact they’ve been representing a variety of relevant parties involved in this tedious saga means suggestions of conflicts of interest are never far off. Ergo, I doubt anyone can say removing them from the equation was an easy job. Yet Traynor has managed to do that so it seems we can start afresh in that respect. That’s one small tick for me.

However, that achievement can’t really be considered a genuine positive until we see clear evidence that our PR/communications operations are improving. Rumours of legal proceedings against the Daily Record for their recent mischief-making have yet to be confirmed (or denied) by the club but, if true, then that’s an action fans would agree with – along with the recent banning of BBC Scotland from the stadium. Apparently it was Jim Traynor himself that asked Chris McLaughlin to leave towards the end of the last season. This all seems a good start then but even if the fans may agree with such a stance, it hasn’t yielded any tangible results as of yet so perhaps an even firmer line may be appreciated. For example, if newspapers are found to be lying about the club then shouldn’t the fans be asked if they consider their publication a worthwhile purchase? Such a strategy seems to have worked for other clubs...

Nevertheless, yesterday’s interview and the continuing efforts of the Rangers media team’s website and TV work helps apply extra pressure to the more orthodox sports and news outlets. A thirty minute in-house conversation with the Rangers manager is no small matter and, make no mistake, other channels would be fuming at not having such an exclusive. It’s very welcome that the club preferred to communicate directly with the supporters rather than through a third-party. And I think it’s fair to say the RangersTV presentation was just as professional as any other. Add in the superb The Rising documentary earlier this year then the production and PR values of such projects really are important. I’d contend the Rangers fans would much rather go straight to the club for such material – the demand is there so we just need to fulfil it and that; supposedly, is Traynor’s primary role. We are seeing gradual improvement online especially.

Of course it’s not as simple as that though. Our support doesn’t just want to watch/read news stories on the website but expects improved communication across other issues. Recent board splits, media leaks and financial concerns remain topical points of debate and it’s arguable the club have failed to keep us in the loop in that respect. Furthermore, if we accept the praise heaped on us by people like McCoist and Traynor with regard to season ticket renewals and IPO investment, then it really is beyond disappointing that there is nothing in place for the fans to raise more important questions than why we have too many right backs.

In saying that, while criticism of Traynor and the club is merited, perhaps we need to look in the mirror as well. Our fan organisations continue to struggle and opinion is divided on their role and suitability going forward. Can an ‘official’ Assembly who’ve met once over the last 18 months really reflect the popular opinion of the moment? Can an independent Trust who struggled to attract more than 2000 members during the club’s worst ever financial crisis really consider themselves a credible alternative?

Unfortunately, the answer to those questions is no, so when we discuss the failures of the club and its employees then our own deficiencies are also applicable to such a debate. Thus, the biggest challenge for Jim Traynor may not even be the nuances of external PR but sorting out the internal politics of the club board and delivering the common ground for a fractured fan-base to move towards. I certainly don’t envy him that task so when we do aim criticism his way (and, yes he shouldn’t hide from it) we have to look at the broader picture.

In conclusion, no-one should be exempt from exposition when discussing the roles and responsibilities involved in the running of Rangers Football Club. From Walter Smith at the top of the tree, to the catering staff in the stadium outlets; constructive criticism should not only be welcomed but actively encouraged. In that respect, communication is a two-way street so while yesterday’s interview was an interesting aside; more formal and accessible debate is required.

Traynor v McCoist v The Fans – now that really would be something worth seeing.

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