Marcus Rashford playing for England. (Image: Creative Commons)
I'm a big fan of Marcus Rashford. But I don't really care much about football. How does that work?
My appreciation for him centres around his epic fight against child poverty, and the name he's made for himself standing up and speaking out for families who are struggling to eat.
His efforts are driven by his own experiences as a boy growing up, combined by an unapologetic attitude calling out the policies and powers which means so many people are hungry today.
The first time I saw a footballer in the media because of their social action was when I read about Marcus Rashford’s campaign to see the provision of free school lunches to struggling families over the half-term holiday. Taking place this time last year, it was as a response to the rejection of Labour’s proposal to extend free school meals over the holidays. That gripped my attention. What’s important is how Rashford communicates with the media and uses his platform. As someone who holds significant influential power, he has discovered how to harness it for a greater impact. An impact far beyond his own benefit.
So what are the ‘PR goals’ that Marcus is scoring?
Rashford speaks from a lived experience of growing up in poverty. His mother, a single full-time working mum, couldn’t provide every meal of day out of her own earnings. As he put it in his open letter to Parliament in June 2020 “The system was not built for families like mine to succeed”. He spoke openly of their dependence on free school meals, breakfast clubs and acts of kindness from neighbours and coaches.
You could argue that Rashford ‘beat the system’ as he stands now, a 23-year-old black man, breaking records in his career as a successful football player, however he puts plainly in his letter that without the ‘kindness and generosity’ of the community around him, he wouldn’t be the Marcus Rashford we see today.
At every level of his social action, there is credibility. He lived the very experiences of the children and families he now advocates for, and the solutions he chooses to champion are the very solutions that were the keys to his survival growing up. There is nothing more powerful in a campaign than hearing someone’s story, and ultimately that is the ‘super-power’ in PR, giving credibility to cut through the noise in the media.
To put it simply, like all influencers, Rashford has taken stock of his platform and powers of influence and considered how to harness it.
It just so happens that his platform looks like multiple stadiums worth of football fans. His celebrity status also reaches far beyond the football pitch, with 12 million followers on Instagram and - most notably - recognition from the Queen in the form of an MBE, presented to him last year.
When harnessing a platform to share a story, a message or a campaign, it’s key to understand who it is that’s paying attention. Rashford’s sphere of influence looks different to the sphere of influence that other celebrities, like Piers Morgan or Taylor Swift, may hold.
Rashford started off being known for his immediate success as a footballer. Now, he’s known as a ‘successful footballer who advocates for children living in poverty in the UK.’ In order for that to have happened, a connection needed to be built between his sphere of influence as a footballer and the cause of his campaign. He did this by speaking from his successful platform in football and largely attributed the man he is today to the breakfast clubs and the free school lunches — the kinds of support he campaigns for further progression in today.
His story is of a man standing in a position of success despite the flawed system he is campaigning against.
This message speaks to both football fans and MPs alike. It speaks to the families he takes a stand for, it speaks to anyone who cares to see a true social shift in the limitations of structures and systems and it speaks to people in positions of power – and even royalty.
The media landscape is a noisy place and the last thing that should happen when campaigning for a cause is a contribution of multiple inconsistent messages to the excess of voices trying to be heard. Jersey Road PR’s Crisis Communications training always reiterates the need to ‘be clear, be compelling, be consistent’ and in fact this advice is relevant throughout PR.
Rashford is clear as he addresses a flawed system, he is compelling as he shares why it’s important from his own lived experience and he is consistent in his message. This is true whether he’s campaigning for free school lunches over the October half-term break, more funding for meal provisions for struggling families, or penning an open letter to MPs.
In September 2020 he wrote another open letter to the government as he launched a task force to help look for ‘long-term solutions’. In the letter he said,
“Food poverty is contributing to social unrest. Add school closures, redundancies, and furloughs into the equation and we have an issue that could negatively impact generations to come. It all starts with stability around access to food.”
In this quote the problem is clear, the reason it’s important is unavoidably compelling and his last sentence remains consistent to his long-term message.
And that’s another aspect of PR that Rashford demonstrates here: the need to be appropriately persistent and consider the long game in any efforts to see long and lasting positive change.
You may not be a fan of football, but you can’t dispute the positive impact this footballer has made and is continuing to make both on and off the pitch.
His PR is far from underhand – it’s an outstretched hand. What an example for all of us.
Written by Hollyanne Boyce, PR and Social Media Account Executive, Jersey Road PR.
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