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Taking down Sepp: Lessons on starting a movement from the man behind the Remove Blatter campaign

When American lawyer Michael Garcia submitted his independent review into the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups I was excited.

This was last November, and I had been following the peaks and troughs (mostly troughs) of Fifa governance for a while. It was another big moment for Fifa. We all grabbed the popcorn and waited to see what he had uncovered.

In retrospect, this moment may have been the beginning of the end for Sepp Blatter. Garcia slammed Fifa ethics committee chair Judge Eckert for misrepresenting his findings and subsequently quit. The word “whitewash” did the rounds in the world’s back pages. The full report has still yet to be published.

I remember trawling through Twitter reading the explosion of Blatter vitriol. It sill stuns me, the extent to which one man at the top of football provokes such extreme emotion in his end-consumers at the bottom.

It was also sad to see how powerless and exasperated real footy fans felt. Whilst the net seemed to be closing in on Blatter – via the FBI, via Uefa and via brilliant investigative journalism by the likes of Andrew Jennings, Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert – all the fan on the street could do was howl at the moon.

This is where the idea for the Remove Blatter campaign came from. A petition, though a humble and seemingly insignificant method of protest – could at least give normal fans a place to unite their voices together. Maybe all this fragmented anger could be brought together to make a cacophony.

Me and a few willing volunteers built a website and started a protest handle on Twitter. We made t-shirts and sent them to even more willing volunteers in England, Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands (the Dutch dislike Blatter as much as we Brits do).

Some of these followers wore our t-shirts to their team’s home games and tweeted our campaign taking to the streets…

People have since made memes out of them…

We had celebrity supporters of our campaign. Like Welsh goalkeeping legend Neville Southall, and England internationals Peter Reid and Matt Le Tissier.

Despite all of this effort, the campaign just about managed to scrape together a thousand signatures. Fifa disappeared from the news, along with the waves of online vitriol which fueled our campaign’s fire.

Fast-forward seven months and the Fifa story hits rock bottom. Swiss authorities raid a five star hotel, arresting seven Fifa executives, and the FBI raid the CONCACAF offices in Miami – both raids concern an investigation in to £98m worth of bribes going back twenty-four years.

Lighter fuel.

The next day, the campaign had grown from 2,000 to 25,000 supporters.

I got a call from change.org. They offered to promote the petition on the site and translate it in to different languages so even more people could join in the protest. Even newfound celebrity and human meme, The Wealdstone Raider, helped spread the word…

By the time Sepp Blatter was predictably re-elected by his Fifa peers last Friday it had reached 125,000. Another protest on Avaaz.org had grown to 700,000. Almost a million fans had rallied their voices together to demand his resignation, but it hadn’t worked. Four more years of Blatter.

And then just four days later, to our unexpected delight, he has finally brought his 17 year reign of controversy and turmoil to an end.

If you know anything about the FIFA story you’ll know that Sepp Blatter did not resign because of an online protest. The FBI investigation; Federal prosecutors in Switzerland; the lingering threat of a Uefa boycott to his Qatar legacy…the net had closed in so tightly he couldn’t breathe.

And yet in his resignation speech Blatter said this:

"While I have a mandate from the membership of Fifa, I do not feel that I have a mandate from the entire world of football - the fans, the players, the clubs, the people who live, breathe and love football as much as we all do at Fifa."

“I do not have a mandate from the fans…” – as one of two online protests bringing the voices of the fans together, we’re taking at least 0.1 per cent of the credit.

Okay 0.01 per cent.

Or as one follower on Twitter put it, “delighted to be a small cog in the wheels to get rid of Blatter”.

Others echoed this sentiment…

And it was brilliant to see droves of ‘People Power’ tweets come flooding in.

Effective or not, contributory to Blatter’s downfall or not – the aim of the campaign was to give disheartened fans a voice, and in this regard I consider it a success.

It has also taught me a lot about my other job, my actual job. You hear a lot of talk in meeting rooms about 'brands starting movements' or 'inspiring others to follow our lead' – but in reality the #LikeAGirl campaigns of the world are really rather rare. So here are three tips for starting a movement:

Tag on to fires or create your own fires

People didn’t care much about Blatter resigning when Fifa's scandals were out of the news. We gathered the most momentum when the public consciousness was turned on to the issue. When the news went quiet we tried to create our own news (“Fans take to terraces to protest against Blatter.”)

Make it a long-term play

Fads and memes explode over night, but movements are built over time. It took three massive bursts of #BlatterOut unrest over seven months before the tipping point last week. Too often our brands commit to issues before stepping away again a few months later.

Give your one per cent the tools to create

Some of the best and most shared content has come from the passionate followers who’ve wanted to help. Fans have taken to the terraces with our T-Shirts and have made their own memes. If brands want to start movements they have to let this one per cent help, because they want to help. This can be scary because it means losing control, but it’s worth it.

Also, some thank yous…

A big thank you to Kajal Odedra at change.org for being so supportive of the campaign, to my boss Nick Emmel, for turning a blind eye to seven months of incessant tweeting, and to all those who signed and shared the petition.

Pete Jackson is a freelance strategist, most recently of Mr President. He tweets @petejackson

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