I can’t believe it’s not Blatter

Sophie Devonshire Caffeine Partnership BBC

Click to watch the video.

28.05.2015: Sophie was on @BBC Business Live and on @BBCR4Today the morning after the Fifa scandal broke talking about the corporate crisis that’s hit over the #Fifa arrests & the challenge for the brand and its leadership.  Has FIFA fouled?

Arguably, the most important role an organisation leader plays is to set the values of that organisation and make sure they are cascaded down.

There’s clearly something fundamentally wrong when a brand openly talks about positive principles and global values of fairness and integrity, but then is tainted with one of the biggest corruption scandals in the world of sports and the world of brands. Ever.

The Fifa arrests yesterday morning were a shock but not a surprise to many. Now Fifa needs to act fast to turn this scandal into the opportunity it really is.

They think it’s all over.
Nope, there’s still everything to play for.

We’re not talking about the situation with News of the World where their product wasn’t unique enough or essentially robust enough to survive scandal.

Fifa is a brand which fundamentally owns and controls the rights to the world’s biggest sport. It’s 111 years old, one of the world’s most globally relevant brands and works across 209 nations.

It is a classic example of a vulnerable corporate parent brand which at its heart owns the most incredible sets of successful products and properties. Not only does it sit on one of the world’s most successful sports brand The World Cup but it’s also going great guns with the Women’s World Cup (bravo Fifa) and with Electronic Arts licenses the gold standard of football games. It’s a valuable, long-lasting and powerful organisation.

Penalty Time
This is Fifa’s opportunity to do the right thing.

Now I’m looking forward to seeing them properly ‘clean up their stables’ and show that in business, like in football, you can be competitive and have integrity.

In business “you don’t have to choose between doing good and doing well” (as Tim Cook the CEO of Apple recently put it).

How do they do this? Well, there are 3 simple things leaders in an organisation need to do when faced with a toxic brand crisis situation. People are looking for confession, contrition and commitment.

  1. Confession: As my daughter says ‘It’s time to ‘fess up’. For years Fifa has been under a cloud of corruption allegations. Now, as part of the formal investigation consumers and the media are looking for some honesty and candour. Mistakes can be made but as poor Bill Clinton found out, lying about it and trying to cover it up only gets you into more hot water.
  2. Contrition: Show and tell people you are sorry. And if these allegations are true then by golly, Fifa should be. Brands don’t survive or flourish in the longterm when there is a fundamental mismatch between what they say and what they do. Great brands are built on what is credible and what is true. At a grassroots level there probably are people living the values of integrity and being a positive part of global society; these need to be at every level of the organisation. And when they’re not, we need to hear that the leaders are truly sorry. And let’s have leaders who show they care (let’s avoid the horrors we saw in 2010 when BP’s terrible Horizon explosion which led to 11 deaths and significant environmental damage saw the then CEO casually saying he ‘wanted to get his life back’ and off on a yacht).
  3. Commitment. A brand is a promise to customers delivered in everything it does. We don’t need a carefully managed communication plan here; we need tangible actions that show commitment to change. Less spin, more substance please now Fifa.

A game of two halves?
This is a turning point for Fifa. This is their chance to transform the organisation into one more powerful (and more principled) than ever before. Sponsors have always wanted to be associated with it and for understandable reasons. Fifa allows them world-breaking access to consumers in a variety of countries and in a variety of ways at a point of passion for them. The sponsorship support allows Fifa to commit $550,000 a day in football projects; this kind of commitment has the ability to change the lives of people positively across the globe.

To stepchange the future of football, Fifa needs a leader who is committed to transparency and dealing with this in a confident, principled matter. Organisations are turned around with leaders with a clear vision, with values and with the set up and support to make change happen fast.

Let’s all pray that the new leadership of Fifa includes people with real vision. We will then watch from the happy sidelines as Fifa is taken to the next level, moving attention away from the stench of corruption and back to the real opportunity here;  to run a brand which protects the integrity of the beautiful game and uses football to promote important positive human values worldwide.


Sophie Devonshire
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