3 June 2012


It seems that the season only ended yesterday but already there are the cries of 'why haven't we made any signings?' from the more highly-strung elements of the Albion support.

In reality the club are being monk-like in their press tip-offs, and rightly so.  The Championship is a league ripe for over inflated transfers and average players sniffing around for an extra £500 a week.  Albion, we must remember, almost give the impression of a rich club every time Gus throws one of his public moans of being skint to a story-starved  Naylor and co.

One signing from last week will be trying to make a big impression at The Amex next season though, and he is one with Premiership pedigree returning to England after a troubled sojourn abroad.

His name is Paul Barber, and his introduction in the role of CEO could well have a far bigger impact on you or I than whichever on-field employee the club gives a contract to this summer.

So, what do we know about this Barber fellow? A man who we've never heard of charged with the task of developing an infrastructure that will take us to, I don't know, the Premier League?  He's the guy that, as a fan, you should take a lot of notice of.  He's the one who will be quoted infinite times on the website, he's the man who may have a column in the programme next year, he'll be the voice of good news for you, and bad news for you. Ultimately he will be the face of the club; a 'customer-facing' executive like we haven't had before, but you may have seen at other clubs.

Imagine a guy who won't shy away from the media like Ken Brown, yet one who possesses the sort of PR-friendly patois that eluded Martin Perry.  Think more Tony Blair than Gordon Brown for example.

Barber's history

1988: Press and PR officer, Royal Insurance
1990: Public and media relations manager, Abbey National
1994: Head of corporate comms, Bhs
1996: Group corporate affairs director, Inchcape
1998: Director of comms, Barclays Bank Retail Financial Services
2000: Director of marketing, becoming director of marcoms, The Football
2004: Chief executive EMEA, Ogilvy PR Worldwide
2005: Executive Director Tottenham Hotspur
2010: CEO Vancouver Whitecaps

So we can see that Barber's background is in public relations. He was the Football Associations first Marketing Director before being kicked out by new head Mark Palios in 2003. At the time, he had applied for the role of Chief Executive at the FA, a governing body who had a recovering Withdean-based Albion as a member. 

His time at the FA saw England fail in World Cup hosting bids, the England squad threatening to strike after Rio Ferdinand's drug test ban and he left at the time the initial Wembley completion date was touted - some 3 years before it actually did.

He is a media man though, a marketing man, a Don Draper for football. At the FA he was there to clean up in a bad regime, but apart from introducing the likes of McDonald's, Pepsi and Carlsberg into Soho Square in a modernising of the sponsorship streams his time in post does not particularly inspire.

A spell at global PR giants Ogilvy was no-doubt welcome respite from football administration, but as a Tottenham Hotspur season ticket holder, the chance to sit on the board at White Hart Lane must have sounded like a dream job for the Londoner.  Barber joined the 4-man top table at Spurs with the brief to get the North London club up to speed with cross city rivals Arsenal and Chelsea in terms of progressive marketing.  Barber did well, securing a £34 million 4-year sponsorship deal with Mansion, while also getting involved with the day-to-day running of the club.

And this is where it gets quite interesting.  Barber was the face of Spurs' ill-feted redevelopment of White Hart Lane - an ambitious plan to turn the pitch 90 degrees and build a 60,000 stadium around it in an attempt to compete with their rivals highly successful Emirates project.  The architects behind the scheme were KSS ... remember them? Exactly, KSS are the same group who designed The Amex and provided branding consultancy over the last few years to Albion including the design of the stores and our new logo.  So there's a link right there.

Secondly, during his time at Tottenham, Barber was involved in the recruitment of Jaunde Ramos, the Spanish manager who had just brought Europa Cup success to Sevilla but failed miserably at Spurs.  Ramos' number two at the time, and the guy who had to do all the press engagements on behalf of the management team was a certain Gus Poyet.

Ironically, Barber was probably there when Gus got the boot to be replaced by Harry Redknapp and co.

Barber was in charge of most of the operational goings-on in N17; marketing and commercial dealings, but also tickets and hospitality plus international development and - another link - friendlies, so no surprise we played Spurs twice in warm-ups in 2011 including the inauguration of The Amex.

The stadium, in the end, could perhaps be seen as Barber's legacy though. Without the support of the council, and the plans generally seen as pie-in the-sky by the football fraternity, Spurs showed weakness by also applying for use of the Olympic Stadium post-games this year.  A mixed message was sent, both bids failed, and Barber was on his way again. This time Canada.

Vancouver was the next step, and the role of CEO of the Whitecaps; a well supported team who had been invited to play in the MLS.  Barber brought in impressive sponsorship deals for the Canadians, and their inaugural season in the MLS attracted 15,500 season ticket sales. Not bad for what was a temporary stadium.  It is reported that Barber secured 25 significant deals in 2 years, and ensured each game of the Whitecaps first season was broadcast live across various mediums.

What was broadcast however was not good, and the rookie Vancouverites struggled at the higher level of football. In a league with no relegation this is not as bad as a European comparator, but Barber - who had moved his family out - tendered his resignation with an aim to return to England.  This is where Brighton and Hove Albion come in.

That's a biography, but what should we expect from Barber at the Albion?

We will predict a few things; firstly commercial development.  This is one of Barber's areas of expertise and the Albion are carrying baggage from the old days in terms of sponsorship.  Bar American Express - a brand who famously have their advertising account with Barber's former employees Ogilvy - the CEO will be looking to increase the profile of our 'partners'.  Don't be surprised to see a new name on the shirt in a year; with all due respect to Brighton and Hove Jobs and their commendable work with getting people back into work in the city, TSLR predicts an offshore gambling firm to have their name across the stripes come 13/14, while plucky Donatello's will resign themselves to a couple of billboards at the station once the new guy has gawped at their current contract with us.

Secondly, expect a level of club to fan engagement unprecedented to Albionites.  Barber is a guy who was known at Spurs to reply to the most menial emails about club matters swiftly and eloquently, so good news for Liz Costa etc.  He's a people person who will make an effort to shake each and every one of the 22,000 season ticket holders hands next year.  OK, so that's a hyperbole, but if we're not all calling him Uncle Paul by the end of the season he'll be disappointed.  We predict an improvement of club-fan communication channels through media, including the development of more sophisticated digital outlets from games to news to Gully's latest outfit.  Upon leaving Vancouver he penned an open letter to the main fan group - The Southsiders - explaining some of his decisions and thanking them for their support, a nice touch, and again, great marketing for brand Barber.

Thirdly, tickets.  Barber will have to review the current crop of season ticket holders and 1901ers, but he'll be the guy the club will use to announce rises, changes in payment arrangements or simply marketing to ensure that we sell those tickets year in, year out.  He has experience of clubs with good season ticket sales, but how will he deal with a club that 2 years ago was only selling 3.5k.

Finally, infrastructure.  Barber will be tasked with creating a backroom fit for the premiership, make no mistake.  He also has experience in working away from first team matters, so we hope he'll continue and improve the excellent work the club do with the women's team and youth set-up, plus AITC.  The training centre in Lancing will be a huge project over the next few years.  His history suggests that large scale deliverance may not be his strong point, let's hope we're wrong.

Albion have been in need of an off-pitch spokesperson in the last few years, and it was increasingly evident last year.  Rather than the oft-touted 'In Gus We Trust' motto of recent times, perhaps we have forgotten to mutter 'In Tony We Trust' too.  Bar that Stephenson balls-up, his record in hiring and firing has been exceptional and he has delivered on the stadium and ticket sales.  This appointment outlines the owner's ambitions as much as any other, let's hope Mr. Barber lives up to Mr. Bloom's expectations.  For the fans, welcome to the big time.

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