Anyone can make a mistake, and, sometimes, you have to pay a PR price for bad judgment calls you didn’t even make. When the public doesn’t care if it’s your fault, or they don’t have enough information to take the blame, that is not the time to stick your head in the sand and hope for the best. When a scandal you already know about hits the press, you better have a solid PR plan in place to tell the right story as often and as loudly as you can. Because, if you fail to get your side of a situation out, you can bet someone else will be there to fill in the blanks.
That’s exactly the situation in which FIFA officials find themselves. There have been rumors and allegations of inappropriate and outright illegal behavior among international soccer’s ruling body for some time now. In recent weeks, those allegations became indictments.
Meanwhile, FIFA President Sepp Blatter is said to be talking with his inner circle about potential reforms. Talking about reforms is certainly not a blazing fast PR response when the opposition – in this case, multiple countries’ law enforcement agencies – are crashing your meetings and arresting people. To date, at least fourteen soccer and marketing executives have been indicted on charges in the United States. Charges that include racketeering, money laundering, and tax evasion. At least two of these make for HUGE BOLD TYPE headlines … and, thanks to Al Capone, the latter can capture attention as well.
The combination of aggressive media coverage and slow response will likely come back to bite FIFA. Sure, certain officials may escape legal trouble and others may be found entirely blameless, but not before they are stained with a PR red card by fans across the globe.
One thing Blatter has done well is offering specifics in his action plan. It might be slow, and it may be too late to erase much of the public relations damage, but at least he is giving the media something specific to write about. Blatter calls for term limits for future presidents and FIFA executive committee members as well as more women on that committee. Blatter also calls for fewer heads at that table, to more easily hold all members accountable.
While these sound like administrative edits rather than real change actions, if repeated often enough in the press, it will appear as if FIFA is doing “something” to address the issue. And that, rather than “FIFA doing nothing,” will become the topic of conversation.