Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe’s revealing media playbook

Eddie Howe’s doing the right things at Newcastle United – and he’s also saying the right things.

By Miles Starforth
Monday, 6th December 2021, 1:39 pm
Eddie Howe at the weekend.
Eddie Howe at the weekend.

There’s been an upturn in performances, and the club claimed its first win at the weekend. A goal from Callum Wilson gave United a 1-0 win over Burnley at St James’s Park.

The relegation-threatened club, which is 19th in the Premier League, has taken five points from four games under Howe, who was appointed last month as Steve Bruce’s successor.

However, Howe made an impression on fans before his first game. He spoke well at his first press conference, and the 43-year-old has since communicated with clarity.

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Howe gave a revealing insight into his approach to dealing with the press three years ago in an interview with FourFourTwo during his time as Bournemouth manager.

Here, we take a look at Howe’s approach to media relations.

Poor relations

Things weren’t going well for Bruce – on and off the field.

Eddie Howe is unveiled at St James's Park.

On the pitch, the team couldn’t win a game before his departure in October – and, off the pitch, Bruce was losing it with reporters. One journalists was banned this year after writing an accurate story.

Things started to unravel after football went behind closed doors last year.

Bruce, unhappy at what he felt was a lack of “respect” shown towards him, stopped a separate press conference for written journalists early this year.

“It’s the constant criticism of the club, and when it comes to ridicule, then I think there should be a little bit more respect,” said Bruce in January. “We accept criticism. We’re getting beat. It’s the Premier League.

"I give up my time, and I give them respect to speak to them. Yes, they can be pretty damning. We all accept that, but have a little bit of respect.”

Respect, of course, goes two ways. Bruce took fewer questions from written journalists than any of his predecessors, and he angrily reacted to a fair question about the short holiday he took during the September international break.

He said: "Do you think I really have to answer that to you? That's what the fans are asking, are they?”

Bruce should have known that it was a question that fans were indeed asking.

‘Mutual relationship’

Howe, of course, is still in his honeymoon period at United, and he’s yet to face any criticism, something Bruce was very sensitive to during his time at the club.

However, Howe – who is getting used to the increased scrutiny on Tyneside – recognises the importance of maintaining a “good relationship” with the media, and particularly the local press. It helps him – and the journalists that communicate his messages to fans.

Speaking to FourFourTwo in January 2018, Howe said: “You need to have a good relationship with the local press. If you don’t get on with certain people, then your job can become more difficult. It’s a mutual relationship, you both need each other and you both benefit from it.

“I have tried to be approachable, contactable and honest from the start, and my relationship with the local paper has lasted until this day.”

Be prepared

Managers are briefed on likely questions before their press conferences, though they will still be surprised by some lines of questioning.

“I’m briefed on certain questions that he (the press officer) thinks may come up, just to give me an understanding of the tone of the questions and what they may be about,” said Howe.

“But there are never any certainties because often there will be things that are thrown up that you just can’t second-guess.

“I think the relationship between me and Anthony (Marshall, his press officer at Bournemouth) is really important – I need to trust him and vice-versa.”

Howe went on: “The atmosphere in Premier League press conferences is different (to those in the Championship), and it’s very hard to prepare for them. You just learn every week through experience."

Howe also spoke about the schooling he had in media relations when he started out as Bournemouth manager.

"I was lucky, because when I first became a manager, Bournemouth were in League Two, and press conferences were basically one-on-one chats with the local reporter,” said Howe. “I think that was a good grounding for me before being exposed to larger groups – and different types of questioning.”

The golden rule

Howe has one “rule” for his press conferences (which are being conducted over Zoom at United due to Covid-19 protocols) – he won’t talk about subjects he’s not familiar with.

“It’s hard when you get asked about something you know very little about,” said Howe. “As a Premier League manager, you’re asked about politics, current affairs and anything major that’s happening in the world.

“I have a rule that I’ll only talk about subjects I have a knowledge of.”

Mind games

Howe isn’t a manager who uses his press conferences to play mind games with the opposition.

“I just try to be honest with the media – and the fans and give a true account of what I feel at that time,” he said. “That’s the approach that works best for me, I never try playing games.”

Supporters also shouldn’t expect Howe to reveal too much about his team selection and tactics ahead of games.

“I always try to avoid talking about tactics as much as possible, because I don’t want to risk giving the opposition an advantage,” said Howe. “You can easily give them clues about how you might play. I very rarely mention my potential starting XI as well – I like to give the opposition as little information as possible.”

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