Robert Faulkner got his first taste of world-class professional sports in 1990 when he attended the FIFA World Cup in Italy and within a year he plunged into a sports communications career. Today, he is Head of Media Relations and Corporate PR with the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), the largest of six continental confederations of FIFA, and he is continuing his communications education as a member of the Executive Master of Science in Communication Management (MScom) program at Università della Svizzera italiana in Lugano.
Faulkner, a citizen of the United Kingdom, earned a Bachelor of Arts in geography from Nottingham University in the UK, and it was by chance that he found his calling in communications.
“I was in Torino, Italy, during the FIFA World Cup in 1990, and at the time, sports PR was relatively new,” he said.
In January 1991, he joined UK-based marketing communications firm Jardine International, which specializes in sports and automotive.
“I started just helping out on a two or three month placement that turned into a permanent position with Jardine,” said Faulkner, who during his five years with Jardine supported three Camel Trophy expeditions, two seasons of Formula 1 racing and the Whitbread Around the World Race (now the Volvo Ocean Race).
In 1996, he joined Yamaha in its European office in Amsterdam, doing two-wheeler product PR, including the launch of motorcycles on the European Market. In 1997, he joined Toyota Motor Europe in Brussels, where he was Manager of Product Communications supporting both the Lexus and Toyota brands.
Faulkner joined UEFA as a communications manager in 2001, and in 2004 was promoted to Head of Media Relations and Corporate PR. He leads corporate PR efforts, runs the UEFA press office and oversees media operations, including all communications around the UEFA Champions League, the top football club competition in the world.
‘A perfect fit’
Faulkner’s first brush with MScom came when he was invited by MScom’s program director to be a guest speaker. Though he wasn’t available to speak, he looked more deeply into the program.
“I glanced at the MScom course program, ticked off all of the course areas that touch my work and found MScom to be a perfect fit for me,” he explained. “After 10 years in one organization, I think it’s good to have some outside stimuli, to take the blinders off, reeducate myself, meet new and like-minded people who face similar communication issues.”
MScom’s broad, theoretical and strategic approach to communication management dovetails perfectly with Faulkner’s career experience and current professional role.
“I am interested in what MScom can give me in terms of education for communication managers, and also in terms of how I look at issues, getting a broader view,” he said. “When I was in university, there wasn’t a PR major. You learned by jumping in and helping out. I have worked for 20 years straight and in that time communication has progressed and changed, so there’s a gap to fill.”
So far, he has found value not only in the MScom lectures, but also in the opportunity to exchange professional insights, best practices and experiences with his MScom classmates, who are a small, international community of communication professionals.
“I think it’s invaluable to be able to have exchanges with peers from such a wide range of professional experiences, from multinational corporations to people working like me for a sports federation,” said Faulkner. “Everyone has similar points of view about communication issues, but they approach them from their own experiences, and there’s a lot to be gained from us being able to share those experiences with one another.”
Already, he’s putting his MScom experience to work.
“I can see that there are teamwork elements that I can apply in my work. We’ve already had a leadership module focusing on the importance of getting people onboard, and a systems thinking module that helps with understanding what makes people tick,” said Faulkner. “My initial experience with MScom has been fantastic and I hope it only gets better.”
Text based on interview carried out in February 2011.