The Montreal Canadiens' 2021-2022 season ended last Friday, finishing 32nd and last in the overall National Hockey League (NHL) standings. It was a season that could be described as disastrous if we were to rely solely on the win-loss column.
However, if we push the analysis a little further, we can notice that the Canadians managed to transform the negative into positive, notably thanks to some key changes and decisions during the year.
Changes that could inspire more than one company, in sports or otherwise, with problems or unpleasant news to communicate.
Transparency, transparency, transparency
That's the word that best sums up the end of the Canadiens' campaign. The management team has been surprisingly candid about the upcoming major changes in the organization, both during the season and last Saturday as players emptied their lockers.
"Will Jeff Petry be traded?" Maybe, if the price is right. "What about Carey Price's future and his health?" We don't know, we hope he comes back strong. "Are you going to free up space on the payroll?" We're keeping all our options open without mortgaging our future.
This openness on the part of general manager Kent Hughes has had the effect of a breath of fresh air and allows fans to temper their expectations of their favourite team. We know exactly where we stand, whether we agree with the process or not.
Martin St-Louis' answers in the press conference, as well as the Canadians' clear and direct communication about injuries and player absences, also support this view. As outsiders, we feel that we are part of the process and that we have all the information available.
This is likely to reduce the level of criticism. And fans are more likely to be sympathetic and trusting of the current team. This is true for the Canadians, but also for any organization facing an issue or a crisis: transparency is always a good thing.
Focus on your product
In this case, we are obviously referring to the players, because ultimately it is their performances that sell tickets, jerseys and caps. But we are also thinking of the brand itself.
The Montreal Canadiens enjoy a significant reputation well beyond the borders of Quebec and Canada. The team is therefore free to use this popularity and reputation to promote its product.
The management team praised Suzuki, Caufield, Evans or Romanov in great detail this year, which had the effect of refocusing the discussion around the good performances of the young players rather than the results of the games.
As long as there were effort and commitment on their part, the final score was relegated to second place.
And what about the relationship between Suzuki and Caufield? The two seem to be the best of friends, both on and off the ice. Thanks to the social media team, who have gone out of their way to show us footage or interactions between them, we get to see a different side that makes us appreciate them even more.
It's hard to ignore the Canadiens' use of social media platforms, as they became the most followed NHL team on Twitch this past weekend. They made good use of Twitter, Instagram and even TikTok, which allowed them to stand out. What better way to put a little happiness in the hearts of fans than with a few memes, new content and behind-the-scenes images?
Throughout the season, the Canadians has proven the importance of having a multichannel marketing strategy, which goes beyond traditional media, to promote itself. Many organizations, regardless of industry, could learn from this.
Selling the future
Finally, it really seems like the management team has a clear plan to build a team that can compete for top honours year after year: they're banking on youth and the draft. There is a move away from half-builds, signing high-priced free agents or making changes on the fly.
The message from the management? Forget about the playoffs next year, or even the year after, and focus on the long-term progression of our young people. This is the right thing to do for our employees—the players—and for our other stakeholders—the fans, the media, the sponsors. Consumers will accept this plan if they understand all the ramifications.
There is a sense that Geoff Molson, Jeff Gorton, Kent Hughes, and Martin St-Louis can be trusted to make the necessary changes and get this big job done. Having strong leadership that instills confidence is exceedingly important, if not essential, in times of uncertainty.
With the right people at the helm of your organization and a clear, well-articulated vision, it is much easier to get your stakeholders on board. Sky is the limit, right?