When The PR Office (PRO) was approached to lead media relations for His Royal Highness Prince Ali of Jordan’s campaign to become the next President of FIFA, on paper the objective was clear – to change FIFA with Prince Ali as its President. Beyond winning the race to become FIFA’s next President, it was our responsibility to ensure that Prince Ali’s reputation was enhanced, credibility maintained and integrity un-tarnished on the world stage. Achieving this under the cloud of allegedly one of the world’s most corrupt organisations was no easy task.
We set about positioning Prince Ali as the ‘candidate for change’. To have a real chance of winning, we needed to ensure Prince Ali had a global profile, achieved relevant endorsements and offered insight that enhanced his credibility both as a leader and as a football man.
It was vital that we showed Prince Ali as transparent and willing to work in an open manner. This meant a programme of media engagement that ensured both the public and FIFA delegates knew who we were and what we stood for. They needed to understand Prince Ali, his beliefs, his temperament and ultimately how he would operate as FIFA President.
Although a small-sized agency, The PRO was chosen due to our ability to put together a team of very different specialists. From campaign experience to footballing expertise, the team’s variety and adaptability allowed us to offer a tailored approach to each stage of the campaign.
The campaign focused on different audiences, regions and issues and therefore messages had to be tailored accordingly. We implemented media tactics including roundtables in London and Delhi, press conferences in Geneva and speeches in Amman, Copenhagen and Washington – all of which were tailored for the local audience. Beyond this, as the story around FIFA evolved on a region-by-region basis, we were able to adapt our messaging. In a trip to Chile, for instance, the discussion points we presented to South American media – one of the most scrutinised footballing regions – were of restoration, of appreciation, and of criticism of tarnishing an entire region because of the actions of a few. This differed from the media outreach we carried out in the Nordics, where the messaging was more complimentary and about building a better FIFA together.
Launching a detailed plan of our first year in office was not about simply gaining publicity, rather it was targeted at the issues we believe needed to be addressed and how we would go about proper reform.
On a campaign of this kind it is important to understand the value of short term wins set against long term objectives. When you call a publication anywhere in the world declaring you represent an individual that is running for FIFA President, it is hardly surprising that the journalist will want to listen and write what you have to say. However, it is not always about making an instant media splash. The focus and the objective must be on achieving the right type of publicity, specific to any regional issues or desires. Ultimately, we were tasked with winning votes. A strategically placed op-ed in Trinidad and Tobago, for instance, may achieve a different objective to coverage in every national here in the UK or in major titles in America. In the FIFA elections after all, England has the same number of votes as Antigua.
As well as enhancing Prince Ali’s global profile and boosting his reputation amongst the key FIFA delegates, our working with the global media also created a surge of public support.
Election week itself was as fast-paced, hectic, varied, exciting and fascinating as anything you could be so lucky to work on as a PR professional. One minute we were drafting statements and Q&As, the next organising impromptu press conferences in hotel lobbies. At one point, after we called for transparent booths to put an end to enforced voting – we had to organise broadcast media to film their unveiling in a Zurich airport lock-up. Not something you expect to be doing on a Tuesday morning.
In the end, we were not successful in securing Prince Ali as the new President of FIFA. However, not one FIFA delegate failed to understand Prince Ali’s programme for change. It was just that FIFA itself wasn’t ready. We campaigned for real change, for something new, open and fair. However, a candidate very much representing the status quo won the battle. Therefore, the old ways still unfortunately exist.
Nevertheless, after the campaign it was pleasing to see leading publications from across the world describing us as “reformers” and looking for “real change”. Indeed, perhaps the most pleasing statement came from within the election hall. A FIFA delegate was overheard saying:
“If FIFA was a sinking ship that needed saving, we’d want Prince Ali as the captain”.
The media activity we implemented demonstrated a huge desire for change and a groundswell of public support. During the six month campaign Prince Ali visited over 80 countries and met with leaders across the football world – PRO spoke to a similar scope of media. As a result, we are proud to say that Prince Ali won the peoples’ vote coming top in three public opinion polls conducted by CNN, Unleash Football and NewFIFANow. We had hoped this would put pressure on delegates, but in the end, FIFA was not interested in the revolution we had described; preferring to choose small evolutions.
At the heart of our campaign was maintaining our candidate’s integrity. We achieved this and in fact, enhanced it. Of all the candidates, our campaign avoided the slur that is often associated with the organisation. We did not pull cheap publicity stunts. We did not bicker publicly with rivals or comment on things outside the realms of football. We focused on policy and reforming FIFA and developing an organisation worthy of the world’s game.
Ultimately, FIFA was not ready for the change Prince Ali demanded. The PRO will continue to work with Prince Ali on an ongoing basis and hope that through delivering his ideas to the world, the messages that defined our campaign, will now be taken on by the administration. At the end of the day, Prince Ali, his campaign team and everyone in his camp cared about football enough to fight for a change. If one thing we fought for is implemented, then football and FIFA will be a better place.
Shimon Cohen, Chairman