Showing the red card to miscommunication

Engineering PR | Communications | World Cup
With the World Cup starting next week, most of us are either planning our lives around watching the matches or planning how we can be as far away from a TV as possible. But did you know that there’s an unexpected communications lesson that we can learn from the 1966 World Cup? 

By Jennifer Barnes, senior account executive at Stone Junction.  

In the 1966 World Cup, German referee Rudolf Kreitlein cautioned Bobby and Jack Charlton and sent off Antonio Rattin during the quarter final between England and Argentina. But the disciplinary actions weren’t clear to the teams or spectators, creating a great deal of controversy.

The language barrier and chaotic nature of the game led British referee Ken Aston to devise the red and yellow card system. This was a clear way of showing a referee’s decision that transcended language barriers and was introduced in the 1970 World Cup.

So as communications professionals, what can we learn from this historic moment for the beautiful game? As technical PR experts, we’re often asked to explain complex engineering concepts to global audiences, so we understand the difficulty of getting the right message across.

There are three strategies that we recommend to get the right message across, whether it’s explaining a difficult concept or getting past language barriers.

The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” is overused but in this case, it’s true. We find that when communicating new concepts to the media, a diagram or infographic goes a long way in clarifying the message to the audience. The best graphics also don’t rely on words to get their message across, meaning that they can also be used internationally.

Just as red and yellow cards are a visual indicator, using a diagram helps the audience to see to show how a new machine fits into a plant. Seeing how the new product or the concept could work alongside their existing setup can help a potential customer to visualise the product in their own plant and leaves a lasting impact on the audience.

Making it relatable
Visualising a concept at work in their own plant helps engineers to understand it, as it becomes relatable to their own needs. In this way, when writing about new, unfamiliar concepts, it’s important to grab the audience’s interest by referring to concepts that they are familiar with.

It could be a statistic about the current state of affairs in their country or industry, or even a light hearted reference to sport or a popular film, but this can help to bridge the gap of a language barrier or an unfamiliar concept.

Key messages
Last but not least, one of the best ways to get the message across to the audience, no matter how difficult, is to know exactly what the message is. When starting a campaign with a new client, we think it’s really important to define a single cornerstone message and decide on a small selection of key messages.

The key messages shouldn’t be full of jargon or marketing spiel. Instead, they should be clear and simple enough to easily get the message across to the target audience without them being turned off by corporate speak. These messages should then be used across all the content in the campaign to create a long-lasting impression on the audience.

A lot of communications campaigns have more complex messages than can be shown through a red and yellow card system. However, there’s a lesson to be learnt from how the system was devised to meet the needs of the international and high-pressured competition and ensured that the message was communicated simply and effectively.

If you’re unsure how to get your message across to your target audience, why not get in touch with us on +44 (0) 1785 225416 or email us at


Stone Junction is a cool technical PR agency based in Stafford. We work for all sorts of businesses, with a particular focus on technology, technical and engineering companies. We like being sent cake and biscuits by clients, journalists and prospects.

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