James Hird needs a strategy to turn his brand around

James Hird

James Hird

Brand thinking needs an external orientation, something Hird has been lacking.

On August 13, 2013, the AFL officially charged Essendon Football Club with bringing the game into disrepute, along with charges against coach Hird, his assistant Mark Thompson, veteran club doctor Bruce Reid and football operations manager Danny Corcoran.

Among the justifications for the charges, the league cited Essendon’s engagement in practices that exposed players to significant health and safety risks and failure to implement processes and systems that ensured compliance with AFL and WADA anti-doping codes, as well as the club’s creation of a culture that encouraged a culture of frequent, uniformed and unregulated injection of supplements.

Several months previously Essendon’s own investigation, led by former Telstra CEO Ziggy Switkowski  highlighted “a disturbing picture of a pharmacologically experimental environment”, positioning the players as human lab rats.

Against this back drop Essendon coach James Hird, repeatly declared his innocence, and in fact even decreed the presence of some form of conspiracy by the AFL and a trial by media. Like his playing days he showed his tenacious fighting skills, but at the same time he displayed a total lack of intuitive feel for the negative impacts on his personal brand. Last week he received a 12 month suspension from coaching by the AFL.

In the aftermath Hird offered a qualified apology by saying that he was deeply sorry for what happened in the football club in 2012. He said that he took a level of responsibility what happened and ‘for the good of the game and for the good of our football club, and most importantly for two entities – for our players and for our supporters – I’m so glad that this has finished.’ But even so he still maintained he was innocent of any real wrong doing. And then to have his barrister Julian Burnside suggest that by accepting the AFL penalty Hird was nothing short of heroic suggests that the Hird camp have not really yet stepped up to the mark. He remains defiant and his personal brand has been diminished as aresult.

 What Hird must now do to resurrect his personal brand.

1.Move his apology from qualified to unqualified. Hird needs to show more genuine remorse. He has failed his players, his club, his colleagues, his supporters and himself. He needs to accept responsibility for what played out. A more humble and empathetic apology is much needed. It would be far better for his brand to demonstrate some level of vulnerability and the fact that he made some mistakes.
2.Explain his motivation and intent. Hird has been strong in communicating that he did not cheat by using banned substances, but he has not explained clearly what he was wishing to achieve and how. Currently the injecting regime that took place on his watch does have the feel of a human rat lab, and Hird has to counter this perception. Hird has been so occupied with declaring his innocence that he has totally failed to accept his responsibility to his players. The wellbeing of his player group should be Hird’s number one concern, but he has failed to convey this in any meaningful way. To resurrect his own brand means putting his ‘band’ of players ahead of himself – reclaiming that position is critical.

3.Outline a better future for the AFL. There would be immense value in Hird explaining what he has learnt through this sorry saga and putting forward a process or code of conduct better able to serve the AFL competition moving forward. It may be as simple as putting forward a proposal that would allow only supplements sanctioned (rather than not banned) by the AFL to be administered to players. Alternatively Hird could champion the development of a program within the AFL that focused on Ethics and specifically the Ethics of Competition. What ever the approach there would be huge value in Hird investing his intelligence and energy into an activity that created a better future for the competition and showed he had learnt from his experience.

There is no doubt Hird is an exceptional talent, what he now needs to demonstrate that he is also an exceptional person.

Peter Singline
Brand Scientist

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