UPDATE: Learning from Qatar – from underdog to winner

UPDATE: Looks like it was too good to be true after all. Latest allegations suggest that bribery on a large scale was involved in securing Qatar’s successful bid. That’s bying votes as opposed to merely spending large sums of money on marketing and PR campaigns.  What a shame. Read the following as an “ideal world” scenario.

One day before the announcement of who would host the 2022 World Cup, papers and punters had Qatar down as the crass outsider. On 2 December 2010, Fifa and Qatar surprised us all when Qatar was announced as the winner. The UK media (after England lost their bid to host the 2018 World Cup), have been asking eversince: how did they do it?

Certainly, with an obscenely large budget, is the first and obvious answer. However, Qatar did not just throw money at the bid, but employed some fundamental marketing and PR strategies and tactics that other B2B companies can absolutely learn from. How do you go from being the underdog to winning the bid?

1. Long-term planning and influencing
“Work the room” and network, network, network. Several years prior to the announcement date, Qatar is said to have begun the process of forging strong alliances with key influencers and decision makers. There is said to have been a proposal to help out the Argentinian football association in 2009 during a financial crisis. The head of the Argentinian FA is a member of the Fifa executive committee, which selects the World Cup hosts. According to a Telegraph article, the creation of a football academy in Thailand was proposed, also home of a committee member. Africa was a key focus for the Qatari bid, as a continent with a high number of members in the executive committee but no bidding candidate in their midst. An exclusivity deal was supposedly struck with the Confederation of African Football Congress should Qatar host the 2022 event.
Early on, Qatar identified the influencers and decision makers that would be vital to winning the bid, identified their business needs as part of a profiling process, and established a mutual relationship beyond the immediate goal of winning the bid by helping them fulfill those needs. This benefitted them on selection day.

2. Add value
Fifa was not just looking for the next host country that had the financial means, political stability and developed infrastructure to accommodate such a vast event. If so, South Africa would never have been awarded the World Cup. Fifa was prepared to take risks, in exchange for: legacy. Qatar played to that desire for legacy by emphasizing that they would bring football to the Arab world, similar to South Africa claiming the first ever African World Cup in 2010. Rumour has it that Sepp Blatter expected a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of that achievement. The issue of sustainability was addressed, but was shifted from “green” to “social” by promising that the modular stadiums would be shipped to and rebuild in African countries after the event.

3. The rules: love them or leave them
Fifa is a private organisation. Its rulebook for world cup bids apparently comprises 2 A4 pages. Qatar played by the Fifa rules, no sour grapes campaign in the past 2 months has been able to prove otherwise. If a bidder cannot reconcile Fifa rules with their own ethics, the appropriate thing to do is to stay away, while possibly using strategies of influencing and lobbying to achieve a rule change BEFORE entering into a very costly bid.

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