Press statements are tools that companies, organisations, teams or individuals often use in times of crisis. They function to publicly state their position to the crisis in question, or outline the current state of affairs when pressure is on them to comment. It probably won’t surprise many that these statements are agonised over largely because they are public and because anything that is included can be used in legal cases should this be an implication of the crisis.
FIFA and the other governing football bodies have had a bit of practice writing press statements of late, after the recent arrests following an inquiry into allegations of corruption by members of the FIFA administration.
Statements were issued by, amongst others, FIFA and FIFA’s subcommittees, FIFA president Sepp Blatter, sponsors Visa and Nike, football federations CONCACAF, AFC, CONMEBOL and UEFA, and smaller football bodies including New Zealand Football, the Canadian Soccer Association, Major League Soccer, the United States Soccer Federation and the North American Soccer League.
While the statement itself is a fairly generic form of public engagement, there were a lot of differences in the way these statements were constructed and worded. I’ve made a few observations below. These observations may be of particular interest to those who are asked to write statements for their organisation during a crisis.
Who took the strongest position against FIFA and the corruption allegations?
Visa wins this award. As well as expressing their disappointment and concern at the allegations, Visa issued a threat to FIFA to clean up any wrongdoing (the only organisation to do this). It was a politely issued threat, but a threat nonetheless, and they are in a position to be able to do this. After all, they have the money and money is power. However, there are risks and rewards for taking a strong stance, which is why many companies or organisations avoid taking much of a stance in their statements at all. When you take a strong position in a press release, you potentially risk working relationships. FIFA has the rights to the largest global sporting event, something many major corporations would desire (which indeed appears to be part of the problem), and having a strong working relationship with FIFA may be important for a multinational company looking for global sponsorship opportunities. However, the direction Visa took prioritises their stance against corruption ahead of any financial or global exposure opportunities, and in a world already wary of major corporations and their profit-at-all-cost mindset, such a move is likely to draw a favourable impression from many.
Who took advantage of the crisis?
Again, an easy one… UEFA. Many football fans could’ve probably predicted this after years of well-documented issues between FIFA and UEFA, and the tone of UEFA’s press release (published on UEFA.org) revealed a healthy amount of contempt. As well as expressing disappointment and sadness at the allegations, UEFA labelled them a disaster and alluded to their tarnishing effect on football – much stronger terms than those used in other press releases. They even gave their press release a title (not a common move), “UEFA shows this FIFA the red card”. The ‘this’ is important here, explicitly indicating UEFA is not against FIFA as an organisation, just those in the current administration. Usually press releases are quite short; however in this case UEFA issued an eight sentence/half page ‘critique’. Many of the sentences seem to be functioning in the same way, to create an image of FIFA as an organisation corrupt to the core. They also use their release to advocate for change and to postpone the upcoming presidential vote.
Taking advantage of a crisis is a rare move, one that contains considerable risk. I do wonder how UEFA representatives felt as the votes for Sepp Blatter came pouring in last Friday. However, now it has emerged Mr Blatter is being investigated and has resigned, the UEFA confederation and the individuals involved are in a position to reap the rewards of taking a firm stance against the soon-to-be-previous administration.
Who isn’t cooperating?
No one… on paper anyway. Everyone obviously passed crisis press release writing 101. Expressing full cooperation appears to be a bit of an obligatory element in crisis press releases, particularly in situations where the law is involved. No one wants to give the impression that they have something to hide. ‘Cooperation’, ‘cooperate’ and a range of synonym forms, such as ‘work with’, were among the main lexical verbs used in the statements analysed here.
We have been
FIFA is fully
FIFA is fully
CAF reaffirms its readiness to
The Confederation will continue to
We will continue to
|and will continue to cooperate…with the investigation and is…
as injured party in the…
in this direction with all…
with the authorities to its…
with the relevant authorities…
Many expressed their ‘continuing cooperation’, perhaps to create the idea that they have already been cooperating and that this mess hasn’t been sprung on them, and many used words like ‘fully’ to upgrade the level of their cooperation as well. All these moves indicate how important it is to publicly express cooperation as a theme in a crisis statement.
How did those in the dock react?
To date, many of the statements in this case have been issued from those not immediately under investigation, but on the periphery – involved by association with FIFA but not necessary implicated with them. As illustrated above, these statements will often function to reveal the associated organisation’s position to the ‘injured’ party, in this case FIFA. However, for those in the dock, the press release is a slightly different proposition. They often need to pay closer attention to their image, and decide how to position the organisation in relation to the wrongdoers within the organisation: look after and protect them, or throw them under the bus?
Regarding its image, FIFA foregrounds the idea that the arrests and investigations were, in part, initiated by them, which may help promote the idea that they are active in fighting corruption, were always aware of the indictments and, importantly, are in control (an essential quality of a governing body). Regarding its position to those arrested, FIFA took a positive stance, welcoming the investigations and praising the ‘energetic’ nature of investigators. Here, FIFA may be trying to say that in the midst of this investigation, they are concerned first and foremost with the health of the global game, and not protecting any high ranking officials suspected of corruption. Whether readers consider these as authentic representations is another story.
There are a number of other interesting features of these statements that reveal much about the nature of crisis communication. Writing a press release in a crisis is a serious undertaking, one that should be difficult and should be agonised over. It should be the result of thorough discussions regarding your position, the risks involved and the potential impact of issuing a statement and the wording of that statement. Get advice if you are unsure.