Know who I feel sorry for? Bob Eoff

Who’s Bob Eoff, you might ask? He’s the vice president of communications, public relations and marketing at the University of Memphis. He was quoted in Geoff Calkins’ column this morning in the CA. He said that he was not aware of any plan to address the football team’s woes by asking for the resignation of athletic director R.C. Johnson, head coach Larry Porter or other staff.

I can relate to what Eoff and his team must be going through. Although my title at work is Webmaster, and I spend most of my day working with HTML, PHP and MySQL, I work in a Marketing department. As a result, I’ve learned a lot about brand management over the past three years.

One of the lessons that has been repeated in seminars I’ve attended, in books and in websites I’ve read, is this: The best marketing in the world can’t make a bad product look good. And the U of M football program is an absolutely horrible product. A-State put its second-stringers in early in the third quarter, and we still managed to score only three points. Then two weeks later, we posted a goose egg vs. a mediocre-to-below-average C-USA team. Eoff and his staff are in the unenviable situation of trying to present the football program in a positive light, when that just isn’t possible.

I mean, look at the mess the marketing/PR team at the university is facing. The #fireRC hashtag has caught on like wildfire on Twitter. People are trashing the AD, the coach and the program on the official Memphis Tigers Facebook page. Same thing on unofficial Tigers message boards. Every time a column or article about Memphis football gets posted to the CA website, hundreds of commenters call for Johnson and Porter to step down. There are @FantasyShirley and @FantasyRC accounts on Twitter reminding followers of the program’s incompetence on a daily basis. Then there are bloggers who post “Fire R.C.” in 40-point Arial and who are so fed up with U of M football that they put “FIRE R.C. JOHNSON!!!” in the footer of every post. :)

The thing is, though, this is a second lesson I’ve learned: Everything your company does is in fact marketing, whether you realize it or not. By not taking proactive measures to address the football situation, the university is producing bad marketing. They are communicating that either they aren’t aware there’s a problem with the football program; or that they are aware, and they don’t care how angry the U of M’s fans are.

Furthermore, they posted to their official Memphis Tigers Facebook page, reminding fans that the page is an official communication medium for the university, and that comments critical of the administration, coaches, and players would be removed. That’s bad marketing too. It communicates that they are trying to sweep the problem under the rug and hope it goes away. It won’t go away. The U of M has 8 more football games to lose. People are just going to get angrier and angrier.

I feel for Eoff and his staff. Their hands are likely tied. Shirley Raines, the president of the university, likely told them to censor the message board. She’s also the one who refuses to take steps to fix the athletic department. She could easily do so, and turn bad marketing into good. All she has to do is what Geoff Calkins proposes in this morning’s column – have R.C. announce his retirement, pending the hiring of the next AD; force Larry Porter to resign; and conduct a national search for a dynamic AD who will rebuild the program.

Until then, I guess it’s time to break out the 40-point type.

Fire R.C.!!!