England 2018 is finally set to appoint a PR agency to promote its troubled World Cup bid.
PRWeek understands that Weber Shandwick is ready to handle the business after winning a final-round pitch against Havas Sport.
The agency takes on the challenge of positioning England as the outstanding candidate for the 2018 World Cup, building the reputation of the bid's key executive members and securing third-party endorsement.
At the same time, England 2018 has seen comms director Kris Dent leave the bid team. His departure follows the appointment (PRWeek, 18 November 2009) of Chelsea FC comms and public affairs director Simon Greenberg as chief of staff, overseeing comms and campaign strategy.
England's bid has been plagued by perceptions of infighting and instability and becomes one of the last World Cup bids to sign up PR advice.
Last year, Belgium/Netherlands selected Hill & Knowlton, while Qatar chose Burson-Marsteller and Vero. And last month, Australia's bid brought in London-based agency Square 1 Consulting.
Weber Shandwick and Havas Sport have been on tenterhooks since they were both shortlisted late last year by England 2018.
This week, a source within Havas Sport revealed to PRWeek that the agency had been informed its pitch was unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, a senior figure at Weber Shandwick confirmed that the firm had commenced contractual negotiations at the end of January.
An England 2018 spokeswoman denied a PR agency had been selected but confirmed that comms director Dent had left the bid team 'to pursue new opportunities'. Dent spent less than a year with the bid, after joining in March 2009 from the Association of Tennis Professionals.
2018 bid timeline
Nov 09 Ex-Chelsea FC comms and public affairs director Simon Greenberg joins bid term to oversee strategic comms. Agency appointment is put on hold
Oct 09 Weber Shandwick and Havas Sport emerge as frontrunners, while Fifa VP Jack Warner dismisses the bid as 'lightweight'
Aug 09 2018 bid begins trawl for agencies to manage global campaign