Alex Ferguson could turn off the hairdryer
A view from Sue Unerman

Alex Ferguson could turn off the hairdryer

The commentators are buzzing about Sir Alex Ferguson's new autobiography.

Of course, most of the comments are about the hairdryer treatment, rifts and acrimony. Henry Winter, The Daily Telegraph’s football correspondent, says: "The main victim of Sir Alex Ferguson’s new book is Roy Keane, who receives far more than the hairdryer treatment. He gets savaged."

In addition, the David Beckham incident is detailed. Ferguson writes: "As usual, with David at that time, he was dismissive. He was around 12 feet from me. David swore. I moved towards him, and as I approached I kicked a boot. It hit him right above the eye. He rose to have a go at me and the players stopped him. 'Sit down,' I said. 'You've let your team down. You can argue as much as you like.' I called him in the next day to go through the video and he still would not accept his mistake. The next day, the story was in the press. It was in those days that I told the board David had to go."

This black-and-white treatment is natural from an individual who was schooled in management in the Scottish second division in the 80s. Of course, Ferguson could be a hardliner with those players. They were on about £30 a week and couldn't afford to walk out or have tantrums. Yet, as Manchester United became more and more successful, Ferguson was managing players earning millions. Under the scrutiny of the media.

Of course, he had more to him and his management style than the hair dryer. I believe one essential ingredient was authenticity. In my book, Tell The Truth, we describe the 2010 shock news when Wayne Rooney was intending to leave United – and not just for any team, but for Manchester City. The media was aflame and Rooney received death threats from fans. Ferguson's reaction was sterling. He spoke so authentically to the public and not only defused the situation but turned it to his advantage in a "truth turning point" moment. In a world where powerful players are surrounded by toadies and yes men and women, imagine the advantage that speaking authentically would deliver.

You can compare Ferguson's old style of management, of dealing with less powerful players in the last century, with marketing to consumers in a broad sense. In the old days, brands could get away with treating consumers as if all the power was on their side, with impatience, even with contempt. These days, when the power has shifted into the hands and pockets of the consumer, when the consumer has the ability to shop around for prices and information at the touch of a few clicks on their tablet or smartphone, brands need to speak authentically. This is where long-term competitive advantage lies.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom
@sueu

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