Is Zoopla’s PR opportunity over Anelka the right move?

Is Zoopla’s PR opportunity over Anelka the right move?

Many of you will have heard the news that property search company Zoopla have decided to end their association with Premier league club West Bromwich Albion over an alleged racist gesture by one of their players.

Whilst on the face of it this is a straightforward enough story where a company wants to distance itself from something unsavoury, but closer inspection shows how they have made the most of a PR opportunity.

I have mixed feelings about Zoopla’s stunt, because from a public relations point of view getting themselves talked about on the main BBC news is to be applauded, but on the downside they have further stoked up an almighty row, which has even involved the French government.

For those not interested in football, fear not, as this is not about the beautiful game, but instead a debate about an ugly row being used for commercial purposes.

The history of this furore relates to Nicolas Anelka, West Brom’s French centre-forward, a veteran footballer known the world over, and who has never been shy of courting controversy despite an enormous talent which has seen him play for some of the world’s biggest clubs including Real Madrid, Juventus and Chelsea.

Known as somewhat of a maverick, he was sent home from the World Cup in 2010 after abusing the French coach at half time in a defeat. This led to players refusing to play for the coach and the highly fancied team going home after not winning a match to national disgrace.

He gave himself another dose of the limelight when scoring a goal over the Christmas period, he performed a gesture known as the quenelle in France.

Seen by some in France to be anti-Semetic, Anelka has claimed it is merely anti-establishment. Anyhow, it caused a right stink in his homeland and it has spread to the sports pages here in the UK providing manna from heaven for journalists.

The FA in the past few minutes having investigated the incident, have charged the player and he could face a ban, but as of last night his club quite rightly said they will wait for the FA’s conclusion.

Anyhow, this is where Zoopla get involved. They have been the club’s shirt sponsors for the past season and a half – they also happen to be run by a Jewish businessman.

The media have reported that Zoopla put pressure on West Brom to drop Anelka and the club refused.

Rather than wait a few hours for the FA’s conclusion the company last night said they will disassociate themselves with the club when the current contract ends this season.

But from a PR point of view this is where it gets interesting. Zoopla didn’t wait for the result of the FA’s report, or even it would have been understandable if they had released a statement in the few days after the gesture took place.

Instead they waited over three weeks for West Brom’s game live on Sky against Everton in front of a UK viewing audience of over 3 million.

It’s actually been very clever by Zoopla, it’s got national publicity, but despite this many football fans will have seen that it is not a move about ethics but profits.

In all probability the club would have got a different sponsor soon anyhow. Two years tends to be the normal timeframe in these kind of deals – so nothing much has changed.

This has been an example of how clever spin, timing and seeing an opportunity can be used to gain maximum exposure, yet it is certain for those looking below the headlines to further imbed the commonly held view that PR is a dishonest profession.

It is a saga which will fill papers and provoke radio and Internet debate, but can only leave us on the ethical side of the PR profession feeling somewhat uncomfortable.