To become the best that you can be, it is imperative that you take the time to learn from, quiz, and gain experience from individuals and organisations that not only possess vast knowledge in your space, but can also demonstrate a track record of innovation and growth.
In August 2014, former Socceroos star Mile Sterjovski – a generous man who I worked alongside during his playing days at Central Coast Mariners FC – opened a door for me to visit one of France’s leading football clubs, LOSC (Lille Olympique Sporting Club). LOSC, based in the northern French city of Lille, are a regular contender for silverware in Ligue 1, routinely play in European competition (UEFA Champions or Europa League), and, importantly for me, have managed to grow their media and communication department from two to 12 full-time staff in just over a decade.
The man at the helm of Lille’s media and communication sector, or, to give him the title to which he’s due, LOSC’s Directeur de la Communication (Director of Communication), Aurélien Delespierre, has been involved in the growth, development, ups and downs of Les Dogues’ fortunes throughout this entire period. Indeed, when Aurélien first joined the Club LOSC had not long been promoted to Ligue 1 from Ligue 2, and were a relatively unfashionable Club in terms of French football. LOSC’s media and communications department ran on the smell of an oily rag.
Fast-forward to 2014 and LOSC are among the key players in the French game. Even so, Aurélien admits that the gap between what his Club can offer in comparison with what the biggest ballers in the country Paris Saint-German can (both on and off the field) is widening. Still, with a huge and passionate fan base of local, national and international supporters to service and supply, I can’t help but be impressed by the way LOSC, Aurélien, and his welcoming staff – particularly Laëtitia Masson and Louise Degaudez – run their media operations, content, and comms.
So forget what you’ve heard about the French being arrogant – if my visit to LOSC is anything to go by nothing could be further from the truth!
I run into Aurélien outside the Stade Pierre-Mauroy – the 50,186 capacity structure oozing style on the outskirts of the city proper. It’s well before our scheduled time to meet, but Aurélien welcomes me in any case. He swiftly fetches my Access All Areas pass organised in advance by Louise, and ushers me into the Stadium. Just minutes after walking around on the stoned exterior of the Stadium taking in the fan culture and professionalism of the precinct, I’m striding down the tunnel of the considerable football cathedral home to the three time Ligue 1 winners. Give it another couple of minutes and I’m shaking hands with the Club’s respected Chairman, Michel Seydoux, and Manager, René Girard. Girard has walked from the change rooms to inspect the surface – it’s the first game of the season and today LOSC host FC Metz, an outfit promoted from Ligue 2 as Champions earlier this year.
But while the opportunity to meet (however briefly) Seydoux and Girard (men of considerable respect and repute in French football) is class, it’s not what I am there for. Thus, my attention turns back to my ‘job’ for the next few hours – studying LOSC’s processes from a media and communication perspective. You can’t get carried away in football, or things will pass you by pretty quickly – I’ve learnt that from some of the best in the Australian game.
It’s now that Aurélien formally introduces me to Laëtitia and Louise, two of LOSC’s key media and communication staff. Laetitia is a press relations officer, and, like me with Phil Moss and formerly Graham Arnold at the Mariners, enjoys a close relationship with Girard. She’s the primary link between the staff (football and management) and media, handles the majority of press requests, and, Aurélien says, “does the job of two people”. Louise is in charge of media communication, and it is her who controls many of the media operations that happen on game day. Louise is responsible for disseminating accurate details to the many journalists in attendance, handling accreditation requests and requirements, and making sure all the media sectors from a technical perspective are running smoothly. These are roles not foreign to me at the Mariners, but certainly the scope of interest and attendance from media at LOSC in Ligue 1 is different to what I’ve seen right around the Hyundai A-League, let alone just at Gosford’s idyllic bayside arena! It’s another level, and it’s intriguing.
Aurélien, a suave character who dresses stylishly and appears to know (and impressively have time for) everyone in the Stadium, takes the time to show me all the media areas. It’s an open book, so much so that post-match I am left able to cruise in and out of the post-match pressers, mixed zone, and tunnel. Post-game handshakes with the likes of Nigeria’s FIFA World Cup custodian Vincent Enyeama, Liverpool bound striker Divock Origi, and Danish defender Simon Kjær, will hopefully be recalled in old age.
In the bowels of the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, LOSC TV base themselves in a small, yet useful room. Set up is an impressive backdrop, lit well by sidelights. Content captured by their cameramen is run back to the producers in the room, who store the files for future use. It’s here, too, that the big screens in the Stadium are manipulated, switching between live feeds and interviews on ground and around the Stadium pre-game, and pre-prepared content. There is an emphasis on the Club’s history – it’s fantastic. We’re starting to grow in the Hyundai A-League, so the onus is on the Club’s and Football Federation Australia to produce and document the greats, the moments, the good and the bad. Following the fixture, LOSC TV – a web only product – record interviews in the space in front of the backdrop, their full-time journalist conducting the chats before the impressive branding. The chats are uploaded across social and digital that night and the next day. Content is plentiful.
We also visit the post-match press conference room and mixed zone. They’re not necessarily different to what I’ve been exposed to before (particularly in Asia) but what they do scream is class and professionalism. I’m particularly impressed with the spaces of the Stadium – the design and pre-thought by the developers providing the Club with rooms of adequate size; spaces in which to work sans stress. In Australia, I find that all too often this is not the case. There are a few exceptions – particularly Stadium Australia in Sydney, and Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium – but Aurélien is blown away when I tell him about the teeny-tiny areas in which we operate in Gosford. This is constructive criticism, reality, and food for thought for future development of Stadia in Australia to assist the growth of the game. We’re not the only code that deals with these issues.
Aurélien takes me up to the areas where the journalists work. Like any Stadium worth admiration, this area is outdoors, covered from any potential rain, yet exposed to the atmosphere provided by the supporters. Perfect. It’s also hooked up to wired Internet – something that isn’t necessarily valued in Stadiums around Australia, unfortunately. I’m full of questions, so it’s here that I bombard Aurélien with my queries as we lean over the railing and watch LOSC warm-up for the first time this Ligue 1 season.
Chief among my questions is how LOSC deals with the media itself. More or less, what emphasis does LOSC place on providing exclusivity to media? Aurélien gives me great insight into LOSC’s ‘Club first’ process, and the need to be the official source of information for fans. French and European football is, of course, very different to Australian football. It’s more developed, and the ability for a Club such as LOSC to provide far-reaching content and messages to its fans via its own mediums is stronger than ours at the Mariners. Nevertheless, the idea of being the first and foremost source of content and information appeals to me, and is something our Club at this stage in its growth cycle ought to balance with servicing the host broadcasters, and other media.
Having a bit of a penchant for matchday programmes, I am also interested in LOSC’s take on these. I learn that LOSC’s printing partner, newspaper METRONEWS, print a total of 50,000 programmes (theirs is called ‘Réservoir Dogues’) for distribution. 25,000 are handed out to the fans attending the Stade Pierre-Mauroy on game day, while 25,000 are issued inside the METRONEWS paper on the Friday before a home game. Superb. Pre-game programme delivery is a concept I’ve often thought about at the Mariners, and while approaches have been made to local media in regards to the distribution of our Club’s Kashiwa Reysol-inspired A3 sized publication known as ‘The Loose Cannon’, we’re yet to have that interest returned. I believe it’s a fantastic way to pre-promote a game, inform fans, and achieve more support for the Club, and, very importantly, the team. Hopefully it’s something we can achieve soon.
I listen attentively as Aurélien points out all his staff to me and explains their roles. He’s got a couple of dudes dedicated to social media, a match reporter, his LOSC TV crew and presenters, a snapper or two, Laëtitia and Louise, himself. It’s a well-oiled machine with unwavering focus – everyone knows their role and, crucially, gets the opportunity to stick to their task. This is what makes it work, and makes the content and experience exceedingly professional and rewarding for fans in the Stadium, to supporters following on Facebook, to the scribes scribbling away, to the neutrals who happen to peruse up a copy of Réservoir Dogues on their Friday morning commute.
Aurélien hooks me up to watch the game from the very comfortable surrounds of the corporate area. The game ends 0-0, and is a typically tough opening day tussle. LOSC’s stocky midfielder Florent Balmont – a servant of the Club since 2008, impresses me, as does attacker Nolan Roux when he enters the fray.
But my visit to the Stade Pierre-Mauroy was not necessarily about watching great players. It was about discovering for myself some of what Mile Sterjovski had told me in the two seasons I worked with him at the Mariners about LOSC. For those two seasons, Mile had spoken only glowingly about LOSC, and what I experienced reiterated his sentiments. A Club with class, backed by smarts, and full of good people working hard, together, towards common goals. A grand Club, and a Club from which plenty of lessons can be gleaned.