WORK HARD: What Tony Pulis can teach you about internal comms 

I was listening to the radio the other day as Spurs manager Antonio Conte was trying to explain why his side had lost.

The Italian’s response was to almost audibly shrug and blame the fans.  

In football terms, a rule has been broken. The manager is often not long for the chop.

This episode got me thinking to the manager Tony Pulis who took over my team Stoke City over two spells that saw him take is to promotion, an FA Cup Semi Final and a stint in Europe.

It got me thinking to how Super Tone would handle post-match interviews.

There were three phases he’d cover.

  1. Praise the fans. “They were the 12th man today. They never stopped getting behind us. They’re turning this place into a fortress. They know it’s Stoke-on-Trent against the rest of the world.”
  2. Praise the players. “We were terrific. They really worked ‘aard today. X in defence really was immense. He never let Y kick the ball. The attitude of the players was first class.”
  3. Praise and gently pressure the board. “The Coates family have done a magnificent job in charge of Stoke and they deserve full credit. They’re football people who are from Stoke-on-Trent and know what this city needs. When it comes to the transfer window I’m sure they’ll be supportive to help me get that little bit of quality in the final third.”

That’s basically it. 

What was he doing? He was identifying three audiences. The fans, the players and the board. He very rarely deviated from this formula. He may shuffle the pack and deal the cards in a different order and he’d talk about the game, too. But he’d always cover those three bases.

Each audience knew what their job was. For the fans it was to get behind the team. That they had been recognised. For players, it was a reminder of shared values. For those in charge it was an ego stroke accompanied with a reminder of what was needed. After all, you don’t just demand money, you charm money. 

When Stoke were good the three constituent parts – supporters, team, manager and board – all pointed in the same direction. We all knew our job and we tended to deliver. 

Remembering Tony’s post match interview, it got me thinking to how rare it was that people managing big organisations do this. How often does the chief executive thank customers, staff and those in charge? 

If those in charge don’t, how are we supposed to know what our role is and get recognition when we deliver it? 

Gallup studies tells us that 85 per cent of staff do not feel engaged while at work. I can absolutely guarantee that when Arsenal came to the Brit that 85 per cent of supporters sat their on their hands reading the programme. We knew our jobs and this would be acknowledged after the game. 

What Tony did is such a transferable thing in internal comms.

Finally, just for Arsenal supporters two minutes of Rory Delap doing his thing.


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  1. Get this. However:
    For a while my job decades ago was to cover Yorkshire football for the Daily Express at a time when Ian Porterfield, a highly likeable and unassuming man, was manager of Sheffield United.
    (As a player, had scored the winner in an FA Cup Final for Sunderland against Don Revie’s then mighty Leeds).
    At every post match press conference Porter said of his players: “Thery gave me honest dedication and commitment.”
    Every time.
    Without fail.
    Also without fail, the heads of us assorted hacks used to drop.
    Every time.

    1. I get that, too. The reporter – manager relationship used to fascinate me. Particularly on the local paper. At what point does the reporter listen to their readers and be critical of the manager? I very rarely went to football press conferences because I was news not sport but I’ll never forget one I did go to where it was clear Chris Kamara in his disastrous time at Stoke and the Sentinel football writer Ian Bayley absolutely *hated* each other.

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