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Will FIFA recover? Q&A with a crisis PR expert, Aaron Kwittken, about Blatter, FIFA's sponsors, and FIFA's future

How likely is it that FIFA's brand sponsors put pressure on Sepp Blatter to resign?

I don’t know if it was the brands directly. Certainly they would have had an indirect impact. I think that the board and the organization overall probably had a greater impact and brand and sponsorship – the revenue associated with that – is the number one priority. Clearly that’s a main component, right? But, I find it hard to believe that any one or two brands specifically would have any sort of direct influence. But, I’m sure there’s an indirect influence, there’s no doubt in my mind.

What do you think is going to happen moving forward? Will brands begin to distance themselves from FIFA?

I think they’ll stay connected. There are always going to be one or two brands that will for one reason or another, distance themselves. But it could very well be because it’s just an opportunity for them to get out of an existing contract or commitment. I think in large part, they will stick with FIFA. It’s too large of a global organization and sport to distance yourself from.

But remember, it’s also the early days of the scandal. It’s very thin on details in terms of who knew what and when, who specifically was involved. The facts really aren’t known yet. Until then, I do think that you’ll see a lot of the brands stay on board.

The other thing that’s interesting to me is – Blatter did the right thing by stepping down. I do think though that it’s kind of a tacit admission of knowing of the wrongdoing or being somehow involved. In some ways, I think we’re just seeing the beginning of a far larger narrative around the inner workings of this organization.

Blatter stepping down, the idea is that maybe, the organization could potentially use him as the scapegoat or position him as the cause of the issues associated with the running of the business.

From a crisis PR standpoint, this is all a mess. What do you think FIFA’s next steps will be?

If I were advising FIFA, I’d think their next steps would be to hire their own third party investigator, or investigation team, to come in to look at exactly how the business has been run and be very open and transparent about the issues to report. They have to co-operate with the international authorities, but at the same time, need to show that they actually care and take this very seriously. That’s what I would consider step one.

Step two is that they need to bring in a leader who has a lot of credibility and is almost unimpeachable to help run and lead the organization both externally and internally. This person needs to be credible, impartial. Maybe even somebody from a different field. Nobody comes to mind right away, but they definitely strong leadership and they need investigation.

I think to an extent they could be a bit more open and communicative about what’s been going on. I feel like their communications so far have either been evasive or defensive and I think a lot of that was from the head. Now that the head has done, I think there’s a new opportunity to create a new narrative and try to hold the line a bit.

It seems like overnight, FIFA went from being one of the world’s most beloved brands to being highly mistrusted. How long will it take for FIFA to gain back that trust?

I think that its not until we know exactly what happened that we’ll be able to figure out how long it will take to recover. You know, the truth is that the public is quite forgiving especially in this type of situation. We’re talking about an organization, not just one or two individuals who have done something wrong. It’s an organizational issue, clearly, led by individuals who have propagated a certain type of behavior. But, I wouldn’t be too quick to assume that they are in a major crisis or that their death is imminent. I think that it’s a very strong organization and probably the most popular and lucrative sport globally. That’s just my assumption.

So I don’t think we can count them as down and out just yet. I don’t know if formal recovery’s going to be necessary but it’s also too soon for that.

It’s not what you do as an organization or an individual, it’s how you react to it. It’s about whether you cover it up, evade, hide, or are defensive. FIFA has a very small window to change that narrative and maybe this is the first step of many where they’ll be far more co-operative and ask for forgiveness.

Aaron Kwittken is the chief executive officer of Kwittken. He tweets @AKwittken.

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