Senior figures dissect England's failed 2018 World Cup bid

The FA's bid for the 2018 World Cup was doomed because it stuck too rigidly to traditional PR activities, one insider has suggested.

Ambassadors: Beckham, Prince William and Cameron
Ambassadors: Beckham, Prince William and Cameron

The bid was handled by an in-house team supported by Weber Shandwick and Pitch PR.

The agencies declined to comment, but one source claimed WS was not responsible for the campaign strategy, instead focusing on tactical support for on-the-ground initiatives overseas.

Meanwhile, Pitch was in charge of promoting the bid in the UK. Strategy was led by head of PR Dan Connolly, previously account director at Freud Communications.

A senior source close to the campaign said: 'When I look back on the lovely work that was done - a huge amount of time and professionalism, and effort in terms of flying people around the world - in hindsight it was worth diddly-squat.

'It did not even register in the sense of a traditional comms campaign.

'There was a genuine upswing of positivity after the successful 2012 Olympics bid, borne out by the bookmakers in the UK.

'But if you look back at the Olympics bid, that was more of a classic PR, comms and lobbying effort. What is so peculiar about FIFA is the small number of decisionmakers and the lack of transparency about the process.

'We got it wrong. It's an awful thing to say when we talk about the growing maturity of comms, but the Russia and Qatar bids would not have had a heavily organised approach at all.

'In the context of the PR battle, the English bid was recognised across the board as a classic PR bid. But they were not the rules of the game. We were playing tennis, but they were playing squash.'

A number of commentators argue the campaign never regained its footing after being dogged by a reputation for arrogance in the early stages, following revelations about then chairman Lord Triesman.

A spokesman for England 2018 said: 'There has been a huge amount of conjecture and ill-informed comment about the disappointing campaign results.

'The fundamental factor was that intensive lobbying the night before the vote, on behalf of Russia, ensured the support we believed we had went to Russia.

'Domestic and international PR had little or no effect on that series of events.'


November: The BBC's Panorama, broadcast just three days before the 2018 announcement, alleges bribery by four FIFA officials. Two officials are suspended

October: The Sunday Times films two FIFA officials allegedly offering to sell their votes to undercover reporters posing as lobbyists

May: Bid chairman Lord Triesman is secretly filmed suggesting Spain could drop its 2018 bid if Russia helped bribe referees at this summer's World Cup. He promptly quits.

February: Weber Shandwick beats Havas Sport to be appointed by the 2018 bid team. At the same time, comms director Kris Dent leaves the bid team.

22 - Number of judges on FIFA's committee

106 - Number of members of the International Olympic Committee

£15m - Estimated cost of England's 2018 World Cup bid

£17m - Estimated cost of London's 2012 Olympics bid


Three sports PR experts give their views on why England's World Cup bid foundered

- Andy Sutherden, Head of sports, Hill & Knowlton

To call themselves 'The FA' rather than 'The English FA' gives a general sense of entitlement which no matter how much they tried to overcome gave a perception of arrogance.

But the final 48 hours was excellent. The English bid delegation seemed to win everything apart from the vote itself. All of their ambassadors were well briefed and totally on message. So you have to wonder how many members of the FIFA committee had decided on their vote before they even got to Zurich.

- Chris Wood, MD, Cake

To be caught between your client, its prospective customer (FIFA) and two of the most influential media outlets in the world was the perfect storm from a PR point of view.

It seems that there was never any question of the bid being pulled, and the team just about managed to navigate its way between expressing disappointment with the British media and not attacking FIFA for its insistence on ignoring the corruption allegations made by the BBC's Panorama expose.

- Phil Hall, Chairman, PHA Media

Clearly, Weber Shandwick was involved in the pitching process at the very end and I believe that was masterly.

Unfortunately, Weber Shandwick was hampered by in-fighting within the campaign bid and also the lack of credible leadership at the top.

Lord Triesman obviously self-combusted and was not a popular man; he was very arrogant and self-important, and you can't be like that when you are trying to lead a campaign that depends on popularity and support from different quarters.

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