Danny Rogers: Don't blame PR for World Cup failure

The fallout from England's disastrous World Cup bid continued this week, prompting many to ask (in the style of a famous Sun headline): Was it the PR wot lost it?


It is certainly intriguing to compare these developments with the successful 2012 Olympics campaign when, soon after the win, a number of comms advisers and PR consultancies approached me to claim credit for the success.

This time, PR experts not involved with the bid have already been highly critical of the 2018 campaign. And some of those who were involved have distanced themselves from the strategy employed.

The truth is that the FIFA bidding process and that of the International Olympic Committee are very different. For a start, with only 22 judges deciding on the destination of the World Cup, England's team was targeting a much smaller group of judges (the IOC has more than 100).

This means that international and domestic PR campaigns were arguably less important, with direct lobbying becoming more critical. So why employ the former at all? To be fair to Weber Shandwick and Pitch PR, there was still considerable value in creating supportive sentiment for the bid, both domestically and internationally. The judges would have considered this a 'hygiene factor' for any bid. And, ironically, the British media would demand nothing less.

Let's face it, the country really did get behind the bid in the weeks running up to the vote. As one bid team insider told me: 'We threw the kitchen sink at it. With David Cameron and David Beckham pulling out all the stops, we owned the landscape in Zurich.'

But it wasn't enough. Only two votes were achieved. This came as a shock to the bid team itself. England was completely outflanked on the lobbying front, by both Russia and Spain. The bid team is cagey about whether, or which, lobbying consultants were employed, but one thing is certain: the FA lacked lobbying prowess right at the top of the bid. And England became even more exposed in this respect as a result of Panorama's attack on FIFA on the eve of the vote.

Chairman Geoff Thompson, who was parachuted into the team after predecessor Lord Triesman's media disgrace, was simply not up to such a gargantuan task.

As Phil Hall points out, the comms could only piggyback on the personalities and people involved on the front line. In conclusion, the PR wasn't bad. Neither was the core comms team. The fault, once again, lies at the very top of English football.


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