Frank Lowy please ring me! Business Storytelling and Australia’s bid for the World Cup


Business StorytellingEvery four years  like a lot of people, I am gripped by soccer fever, thanks to the World Cup and  turn into a complete soccer tragic!  Given our time zone differences, here in Australia this involves setting our alarm for the earliest hours of the morning to watch the games ‘live’.  But it is absolutely worth it!

Like most people in Australia I am deeply disappointed that Australia won’t be hosting the 2022 World cup.  Life is a tough teacher.  You have the experience first and then you hopefully learn from it.  So what did we learn?  I am of course going to be looking at this through the lens of storytelling.   Caveat: We all know the whole bidding process is complex involves many strategies, and many players, political wrangling etc. So this is in no way a solution but something to consider as part our learning.

Using the storytelling lens and comparing Australia’s bid with Qatar’s three things to consider:

  1. The emotion each pitch was tapping into
  2. The audience
  3. The audience’s objections

Every time  I heard Frank Lowy pitching to host the World Cup he talked about Australia being a ‘safe pair of hands’.   The Australian bid tapped into a negative emotion, fear.  It looks like the FIFA committee (the audience) was not looking for a ‘safe pair of hands’.  Their decision to go with South Africa for the previous World Cup indicates this.  Another plank in our bid was ‘Make a country’s dreams come true’  which could apply to every country bidding for the World Cup.  On the other hand ABC news reporter Emma Alberici said Qatar presented a bid full of emotion, imploring the executive committee to make history by sending the World Cup to the Middle East for the first time.  Compare ‘Safe pair of hands’ with ‘The opportunity to make history’.

But what about the audience?   Any narrative we engage with has to be right for the audience.

On their web site FIFA states ‘For the Game. For the World’.  It is interesting to note the Qatar bid tag line states  ‘For football, for the Middle East, for the world’.  Perfect alignment.  Qatar was telling the committee you have the option to unite the Middle East and the world through football …compare that with making a single country’s dreams come true.

In their bios on the FIFA website one of the questions for the Executive Committee is ‘What does football mean to you?   It is interesting to note the range of answers from  Unity and friendship’, ‘Responsibility, service and joy’, ‘Team spirit and social responisbility’, ‘Unity and teamwork’.  Again the Qatar bid taps into this.

How do you in storytelling overcome the audience’s objections? One of the key hurdles for Australia was the time difference.  The Australian bid website states ‘A time zone for more than 60% of the world’s population. Australia will work closely with FIFA to ensure that the match schedule is designed to maximise total television audience numbers around the world’.

All necessary statement of fact but compare how objections can be handled in a compelling and emotionally engaging way.  In one of Qatar’s bid presentations a child is heard saying ‘So say the Israeli teams and the Arab teams go to the world cup and they play against each other.  Israelis would come to cheer their team and the Arabs would also come, then they would get to know each other’.  An adult voice then adds ‘Indeed what we saw in South Africa was harmony between all people there’.

Giving a speech after the wining host was announced, Qatar 2022 Bid Committee Chairman Sheikh Mohammad bin Hamad Al Thani said “On behalf of millions of people living in the Middle East, thank you,” he went on saying “Thank you for believing in us, thank you for having such bold vision. Thank you also for acknowledging this is the right time for the Middle East. We have a date with history which is summer 2022. We will not let you down. We will make you proud.”

He was letting the panel know this was about  football, but it was also about the Middle East and the world. The legacy they would leave the world with this decision.

Congratulations  Qatar on the historic win.  Frank Lowy please ring us and let’s start working on Australia’s bid for 2030.  The time is now …

Business storytelling and The Social Network movie


On the weekend I went to see The Social Network,a film about Mark Zukerberg the founder of Facebook.  While watching the film,  I was struck (yet again) by how powerful stories can be. Especially when compared to a statement of fact or even a metaphor.

In the movie, Zuckerberg sets up a meeting with Sean Parker, the 20-something founder of  Napster. Zuckerberg is being persuaded by Sean Parker to think big.  Parker actually does this in three stages.  First with a  statement, then with a metaphor and finally with a story.

Parker says “What’s cool is not a million dollars, but a billion dollars’.

Parker then advises Zuckerberg to choose his future using a metaphor: When you go fishing you can catch a lot of fish or you can catch a big fish. You ever walk into a guy’s den and see a picture of fourteen trout? No, he’s holding an 800-pound marlin and that’s what you want’.

Later, at a San Francisco night club, Parker influences Zuckerberg with this story of the founder of Victoria’s Secret.

‘A Stanford MBA named Roy Raymond, wants to buy his wife some lingerie but he’s too embarrassed to shop for it at a department store. Comes up with an idea for a high end place that doesn’t make you feel like a pervert. He gets a forty thousand dollar bank loan, borrows another forty thousand from his in-laws, opens a store and calls it Victoria’s Secret. Makes a half million dollars his first year. He starts a catalogue, opens three more stores and after five years he sells the company to Leslie Wexner and The Limited for four million dollars. Happy ending, right? Except four years later the company’s worth five hundred million dollars and Roy Raymond jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge. Poor guy just wanted to buy his wife a pair of thigh highs.’

So did the story work?

Jim Fink in his article Facebook IPO? Insights from the Social Network Movie says the lessons for Zuckerberg were :  THINK BIG , be patient and you’ll maximize the value of the business.   Jim also goes on to add that Zuckerberg took Parker’s advice. When former Yahoo! CEO Terry Semel offered to buy Facebook for a cool $1 billion in 2006, Mark turned him down.  Semel was shocked, stating later in an interview:  I’d never met anyone – forget his age, 22 then or 26 now – I’d never met anyone who would walk away from $1 billion. I couldn’t believe it.  Today Facebook is now worth 26 times what Semel offered to pay.

I am sharing this with you to illustrate how a statement a of  fact or a metaphor inform people but may not necessarily shift behaviour.  As both are based on logic and logic informs but doesn’ t always persuade us to change.  If logic did that then no one would smoke, non one would speed, we would all eat right and exercise everyday.  But with a purposeful authentic story you can influence behaviour…just like Sean Parker did.