I have recently been to Poland, during the annual meeting of the international PR network GlobalCom, which congregated PR agencies from 40 countries. Similarly to what has been happening to me lately in occasions like this, I had again to answer questions about the World Cup as soon as I was identified as a Brazilian. How is the preparation work? Will stadiums and airports be ready in time? I answered as I could, as a regular citizen.
One question however made me speechless: “Why is the Brazilian people doing this to their own country?” – “How do you mean?”, I replied. – “I think that hosting an event like the World Cup gives a country the opportunity to project a positive image to the rest of the world. But this is not what Brazil is doing. Brazilians are taking this as a chance to expose their internal problems,” said back my counterpart. Only then I had the real dimension of how the country’s reputation was being affected abroad by this event.
Well, I am a public relations professional. As such – and for habit – I could not refrain from thinking about the process that lead this to happen. We, the PR professionals, help build and manage the relationship between the institutions with their stakeholders, aiming to build positive perceptions among them and a favorable reputation for the organization. This is what we do, as Paul Holmes so well said in a recent article. Of course to perform our role we use communications tools – any of them – but they are means to manage relationships in order to build trust and credibility. How is it possible to produce trust and credibility? Through the coherence between the organizations’ behavior and the speech they adopt.
When institutions – public or private – say something and behave in a different manner, the generated perception is one of lack of trust, and consequently lack of credibility. And the reputation gains negative additions. On the other hand, nothing generates as much consistency as the employees’ endorsement to the organizations they work for – because they are insiders their opinion has a multiplied value.
It is the institutions behavior that defines their reputation. The experience with the organization, more than what they say, creates the most subjective, thus powerful, perceptions. Being open to dialogue, recognizing legitimate interests of third parties, honesty and transparency in dealing with its (inevitable) mistakes, empathy with others – these are patterns that generate trust and credibility. That is the reason why PR counseling is more and more directed to the values organizations express through their actions than to their speech.
The official advertising campaign launched by Brazilian federal government in the past days will not change the image that we will all take with us about this cup. On the contrary: it is very questionable that the “soccer country” needs a marketing campaign to remind them the World Cup is a nice event.
Not evaluating any of the backstage facts, the Cup of All Cups – as some government officials referred to the event – will be remembered as the one in which the population went to the stress to protest against the fact that we are spending above our capacity and making questionable use of resources that lack in services considered more relevant. And this will be (already is, judging by the question asked by my foreign fellow I mentioned at the beginning of this article) hopelessly present in the coverage international journalist will make of this world event.
If it is true that the image is projected from inside out, the World Cup communications battle may be really lost, as some already say. Mainly if those Brazilians chosen as the event’s ambassadors and spokespeople publicly criticize it. According to a recent Ibope poll mentioned by the financial paper Valor Econômico, 42% of the Brazilians are against the World Cup taking place I the country (in February, 58% were favorable to it).
That is, the internal stakeholders do not share the enthusiasm shown by the top management of this big institution called Brazil. This is a case study for the professional but a sorrow for the Brazilian citizen.
Marta Dourado is founding partner of Fundamento Grupo de Comunicação.