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Interviews

INTERVIEW: Suzanne Kidd and Phil King on a new direction

20 August 2015

Full interview from the match day programme

Finance Director Suzanne Kidd and Sales and Marketing Director Phil King spoke to ‘The Blues’ match day programme about a new direction and strategy for the club as the 2015/16 season campaign gets underway.

What does the reorganisation the club is currently going through at all levels actually mean in terms of the Holding Company and CUFC 1921 Ltd?

PK - Basically the day to day running, operations and direction of the football club will fall under the remit of the 1921 board, and with myself and Suzanne. Part of that remit will be reshaping the organisation internally and setting the goals and objectives across the organisation from a strategic viewpoint. The 1921 board will report to the holding board every so often and discuss any major strategic changes.

SK – That means the Holdings board will become the ‘strategic’ board and will meet only a few times a year to approve things such as budgets, year end accounts and any large scale developments, such as large stadium works or staffing at a management level (for example, the appointment of new directors).

How does that affect the decision making processes, particularly in terms of day to day business?

SK - The new structure should speed this up. Myself and Phil are office based and working full time. We are always there to make the decisions and to ensure things are followed up with in good time.

PK – The day-to-day decision making lies with myself and Suzanne, backed up by the 1921 board. Major decisions will be discussed across the 1921 board and with the Holding board when relevant and necessary.

What are your specific roles?

SK - I was already responsible for all aspects of the financial side of the company, from ledger processing to preparation of year end accounts, and this will not change. I have now also taken on additional staffing responsibilities and will take over some of the duties previously completed by John Nixon, in his MD role. The part I’m really looking forward to is working with Phil to lead the club in a bit of a new direction and to see how we can improve things such as club communications, customer service and the whole match day experience for fans.

PK - There are two major parts to my role. In terms of sales, I’m looking at every aspect of the organisation which brings in money outside of player dealings. That includes sponsorships, corporate partnerships, hospitality, food and drink, ticketing, retail and other match day revenue. There is a big focus on ensuring all of these areas are commercialised and performing. The other big area is marketing and communications and I am currently working on a marketing and communications strategy which includes a major audit of our current operations, how and where we communicate with fans and customers, our digital communications including website, e-mail and social media, how we use channels like the match day programme, partner publications and the newspapers and radio. A major part of this strategy is also fan and community engagement; things like the relationship with CUOSC and Carlisle United Supporters Group is crucial, as is supporting our Community Sports Trust, the Carlisle United Ladies team and local charities through our Official CUFC Charity initiative. We are bringing ourselves closer to key City and County organisations as well, through discussions with people like the University, Colleges, NHS and the Council - building on becoming strategic partners.

What areas of operation have you decided to concentrate on first, both for improvement and changes to the way things are done?

PK – I’m looking at all areas of the organisation and where we can make some quick wins initially. From then on it will be working with the individuals and departments within the organisation to set some goals and objectives, and a strategy to guide how we are going to get there. From a commercial perspective, we have been very busy going out and meeting existing business partners and new contacts to push activity in this area. The Business Club is going into its third season so we have set a schedule of events there which looks very exciting. You can also see that the Heineken deal was an important one to do - there has been a quick turnaround on getting that implemented and making some immediate improvements to bars, with more to come going forward. We do have a new ticketing system in place which long term will help improve how we manage this side of things, and also help us to improve communication with fans. As with any major system change there may be a few teething problems, but there will be definite improvements going forward now that it's in place.

SK - We have started with the road shows with CUOSC and they’ve given us feedback in the areas the fans would like to see improvements made. Along with this we are planning some work on the internal club structure. I think one of the priorities is to improve the PR and communications aspects of the club. We’re looking to develop some ways of communicating with fans on a regular basis, and some different ways for fans to get involved with the club. Fan engagement is a big part of what we see as our remit and this will be pivotal to any new projects we push forward.

How responsive have current and potentially new sponsors / partners been to this restructure?

SK - I would say the fans have been incredibly supportive and everyone I have spoken to, both on match days and at the roadshows, have been very encouraging and have offered a lot of valid advice and comment.

PK - There has been a good deal of optimism and we have been trying to communicate, wherever possible, what our plans are, how we like to work and what we believe in. However, it's now up to us and the organisation to action this and for people to see a change over a period of time. What I would say is that there is a great deal of goodwill for the club and the vast majority of people I have met have been open and welcoming.

What challenges do you face, particularly in the short term?

PK - I think there is a great deal we want to do at the organisation, so the major challenges are really around time and resource. Some things will take time to get right so I'd ask for a little patience. We have a very committed team of people at the club, but it’s a relatively small team and it's about working smart and having the right structures in place. Long term we do want to grow this and there are some key areas where we could use extra resource, so it's about working towards that.

SK - I think the first one is to convince the fans we are ‘different’ and that we will be doing things differently. We have to follow up what we’re talking about with actions, and there are lots of things we have identified that we think will make the experience of the fan much better across many aspects of the club. Our priority is to start making changes so the fans can see the direction we are moving in clearly. From there we can build on their support. I think the fans want to see the new board make improvements quickly, and we are determined to deliver on this.

How important is fan engagement and improved communication to what you want to achieve?

SK - Fan engagement is number one in what we are setting out to do. We both champion this as the lifeline of the club and this is vitally important to all of our plans. We want to make the club more open and accessible to fans and we hope that steps such as the close relationship between the club and CUOSC, and the fans representative on the board, will make steps in this direction. We also have to follow this up with work on a PR and communication plan, and we want to hold regular forums and meetings with fans to have a face-to-face relationship with them. That means people will be able to speak directly to the personnel who are making the decisions at their club.

PK - This is central to what we are working on. We are looking to bring the club closer to communities; the fans, businesses, partners, key organisations. The work by CUOSC has been positive and we want to continue to strengthen this relationship, and also give the newly formed Carlisle United Supporters’ Group our full attention to ensure there is open, two-way dialogue. I also appreciate that not every fan necessarily wants to be part of any group or member body, so we will be improving how we communicate to the full fan base, and how we take on board their feedback and opinions. Also, it's not just about interviews and events, we are looking at how we improve interaction with fans as customers across the organisation; buying tickets, coming into Brunton Park, in the Blues Store, on our website - there's a big piece of work to do, but it's important to get right.

SK - We understand there are issues out there and we’re not shying away from them at all. The more interaction we can have with fans, and the better we can understand the problems they may encounter or the areas they feel we can do something different, the better we can plan things that will improve their experience at the club. Communication and PR is a large part of what we have been looking at up to now. Things have changed so much over the past few years, with social media and smart phones, and we must ensure we are keeping up to date and communicating with our fans in an appropriate way. We have great social media and internet presence and we need to build on this across the whole of the club, and develop these into tools for engagement. We have to strengthen the club message coming out and ensure our fans feel fully involved and know what the club is doing day to day, both on and off the pitch.

The recognition of The United Trust was a huge step for the club to take - what was the driving force behind that?

SK - The message of re-engagement with the fans has been a constant over the past couple of years and we have looked previously at engaging with all of the separate fans groups, which proved to be difficult. The Trust have done some hard work over the past six months to pull together all of the different fan groups and to come together under the CUOSC umbrella. This, along with the reorganisation of the club management, felt like the perfect time to cement a relationship between CUOSC and the club. The club recognises the need for an ‘official’ supporters’ group, and the benefits to having such a group, so we were keen to drive this forward with CUOSC. They have a similar situation to the club, with new faces on the board and new enthusiasm and ideas on how to drive things forward, so coming together seemed a natural progression for us to explore.

PK - Coming in half way through the journey on this one, I can see the importance of it. CUOSC is part of driving club engagement with fans. They have helped to form the Carlisle United Supporters’ Group (pulling together a number of other groups and clubs) which will give a good forum to have two-way communications across a wide spectrum of people. The Fans’ Representative, who will be appointed to the board, will also act as a good pivot between the club, CUOSC, CUSG and the wider fan base. If fans engage with CUOSC it strengthens the voice and also makes it more representative of the wider fan base. It’s fantastic that this has started off so well.

Off the pitch, where do you want the club to be this time next year, and five years further on from now?

PK - I've always said, from an organisation point of view, we have to focus on getting it right off the pitch as this is what we have in our direct control - getting departments working towards the same goal. I wouldn’t like to put any numbers on it, but in a years' time I'd say that we'd have a smooth, professional operation which delivers good customer service and engages with fans and communities. Five years gives us a good amount of time to be a bit more ambitious and innovative on all fronts.

SK – Short term I want a club that fully represents the fans, both in what it does and how it does it. I’d like a club that is in touch with the opinions of its fans and has clear two-way communication. I would like to see us adopt an outward facing attitude whereby we keep our fans involved and up to date with what we are doing. We are working towards being a club that gives great customer service and delivers a good match day experience. In the longer term I see a real chance to develop the role of CUOSC and the Fans’ Representative in the club to help us to become much more ‘fan led.’ We want the club to be the best it can be for the fans.

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