FIFA. A lesson in crisis management
Football’s governing body FIFA has had its reputation dragged through the dirt in recent days as claims of unethical behaviour within its ranks have multiplied. The World Cup bidding process, always plagued by accusations of corruption, has also been taken to task over Qatar’s 2022 win. Yet the presidential election has ploughed on despite descending into farce as the incumbent president, Sepp Blatter, stood unopposed following the suspension of his rival candidate.
This is not the first time FIFA has had its reputation called into question in its long history. Up to now the organisation has seemed virtually untouchable, immune to calls for change and operational transparency.
Blatter has consistently dismissed calls for a restructure of FIFA and refused to concede the body was in a state of crisis despite the accusations, suspensions and investigations. So what can we learn from FIFA’s mistakes?
The need for speed
FIFA’s present crisis is an example of how a story will not go away unless it has been promptly addressed. These allegations have been going on for years, without seemingly any action being taken. When a company is faced with a crisis, they need to deal with it head on, quickly. Time really is of the essence. You may not have much information to share in the early stages of a crisis but communicate what you know.
Have a plan and execute it
Who will deal with enquiries from the media? Who are your spokespeople? How are you going to communicate the news to your staff, customers or prospects? It’s important to have a communications plan in place, so that you can respond quickly, with one voice. Brainstorming ideas for potential scenarios is also a good idea, so that you can be as prepared as possible.
In FIFA’s press conference Sepp Blatter insisted there was no crisis. “Crisis. What crisis?” he said. Blatter brushed off suggestions that the election should be suspended and insisted that "FIFA is strong enough that we can deal with our problems inside FIFA." When embroiled in a crisis, the individuals that lead the organisation or industry body need to take full responsibility, apologise, be empathetic to victims if there are any and outline how they are going to resolve the problem.
Be open and transparent
Blatter who has held a vice like grip on world football for 13 years gave a master class in how not to deal with the media at his press conference. He simply refused to answer questions he didn’t like. If your organisation is facing a crisis, being open and transparent in your communications is so important. People want to know what you are going to do to put the situation right and the steps you are going to take to stop the same crisis from happening in the future.
Use all communications channels
Be prepared to speak to the media and use all communication channels. It is not good enough to draft a media release, issue it and hope the issue will all be forgotten in a few days. Social media tools such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook ensure you can get your message out quickly, so film an interview with your spokesperson and post it on YouTube, use Facebook and Twitter to not only get your message out there but respond to enquiries and concerns. You cannot over communicate in a crisis, so ensure your spokespeople are media trained.
Despite Sepp Blatter’s woeful mis-management of the claims being made against him and FIFA, he has the opportunity to turn the situation around. He must first begin by ensuring that every allegation of corruption is thoroughly investigated with no one no matter how close to him, being shielded.
It is Blatter’s ability to restore trust and confidence within his ‘government’, as he describes it, which will determine and define FIFA’s future and reputation.