When Reputations Overpower Policy: The Resignation of FIFA’s President
In recent weeks, the media has been buzzing with headlines about the corruption scandal that engulfed FIFA. The U.S. Justice Department pressed charges against 14 of its top-ranking officials on the grounds of massive corruption and bribery that had allegedly thrived within the organization for decades. However, despite serious allegations, Sepp Blatter, who has been FIFA’s president for 17 years, was re-elected for his fifth consecutive term in late May without much trouble. And Blatter proudly accepted his fifth term, while admitting no wrongdoing and refusing to acknowledge the growing demand for his resignation.
Upon his re-election, Blatter promised to reform FIFA, saying: “For the next four years I will be in command of this boat called FIFA, and we will bring it back ashore, we will bring it back to the beach.” So it came as a surprise when Blatter announced his resignation just four days after being re-elected.
“I cherish FIFA more than anything, and I want to do only what is best for FIFA and for football,” said Blatter at a recent press conference. “I felt compelled to stand for re-election, as I believed that this was the best thing for the organization. That election is over, but FIFA’s challenges are not. FIFA needs a profound overhaul.”
So what caused such a drastic change in Blatter’s behavior?
Yes, there were many factors that came into play here, from the threat of further indictments from the U.S. Justice Department to growing opposition within FIFA itself. However, a major, if not the most decisive factor, was the pressure from corporate sponsors who felt the public’s reaction to the scandal posed a threat to their own reputations.
Within minutes of the news of Blatter’s re-election, Twitter and Facebook exploded with posts like these: “[GingerNut23] @CocaCola @McDonaldsCorp please take a stand against what is happening in FIFA. It will tarnish your reputation,” or “[ wilsi77 ] @FIFAcom @SeppBlatter who you kidding-frauds. All fans should boycott any FIFA products until this ends #cocacola #addidas #McDonalds #visa.” Self-organized by social media, people all over the world started a spontaneous global PR campaign to boycott the brands sponsoring FIFA until they pressured Blatter to resign.
John Oliver, the host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” contributed greatly to this campaign by addressing FIFA’s sponsors on his program: “I would like to make a plea to them tonight: Please make Sepp Blatter go away. I will do anything.” Oliver followed with a sharply satirical monologue, which drummed up even more social media activism.
Blatter’s fall from grace demonstrates how modern technology continues to change the brand-policy-consumer relationship triangle. That’s why strategic communications and crisis management are becoming the cornerstones of any successful brand’s PR department. In the age of social networks and online media, negative content can spread with lightning speed and affect your brand’s reputation quickly, significantly and permanently.
Reputation has always been important to worldwide brands. But in today’s media-driven, fast-paced environment, businesses have to be extremely perceptive and highly aware of any content that might be related to their brand. A seemingly strong reputation built over decades of good business practices can now be demolished within hours.
Today’s environment calls for the reconsideration and reorganization of companies’ decades and even years-old communications and PR practices. That’s why it is so important to work with a communications counselor who understands exactly what it takes to successfully manage crises and steer your brand away from the turmoil of uncertainty.