Brazil lost to Germany 7-1 in the World Cup soccer semifinals Tuesday in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

That's like everyone getting food poisoning simultaneously at a convention to promote celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse's pasta sauce.

It's the worst PR crisis you can imagine. Right on your home turf. So what to do?


customer experience, Listen Up, Brazil Soccer: How to Manage Your Worst PR Crisis

No one expected soccer-crazed Brazil to stumble this badly on the world stage. The country's team has won five World Cups, the ultimate world soccer showcase held every four years — this time, in Brazil.

No matter how good it is, Brazil, as a soccer entity and a major sports organization, should have had a crisis management plan in place, said Jeffrey Sharlach, chairman and CEO of the JeffreyGroup, a Latin America corporate communications and marketing firm.

All companies should be ready for public disasters, he said.

"The first steps should have been taken long before the crisis," said Sharlach, who is also an adjunct associate professor of management communication at New York University's Stern School of Business. "We advise all of our clients to have a crisis management plan in place that assigns roles and responsibilities. When a crisis hits these days, no one can waste precious time figuring out who should do what."

Respond immediately, Sharlach said ... ideally, within minutes.

"With everyone a reporter now via social media, issues are spread and magnified even more quickly," he said. "Even though it’s impossible to control what is being said, companies need to convey they are knowledgeable and managing the situation as best they can given the circumstances and what they can control." 

Brazil's Response

So how did Brazil soccer do in the aftermath of its World Cup defeat — as some Brazilians started to burn things and others seemed to be in mourning?

From a crisis communications standpoint, Luiz Felipe Scolari, the coach of the Brazilian team, set a great example Tuesday for any CEO facing a crisis, Sharlach said.  

customer experience, Listen Up, Brazil Soccer: How to Manage Your Worst PR Crisis

First he apologized: "I have to apologize for the negative result, for not being able to reach the final as we all wanted,'' the coach said.

Learning Opportunities

Second, he took full responsibility while humanizing it: “I think this was the worst day of my life … I have to take responsibility for it,” noting there were “no excuses.”  

And, finally, as Sharlach pointed out, he summed up the path forward saying he has to find a way to learn from the '"catastrophic loss.”  

High Visibility

Who else has done well in PR crisis mode? 

"As someone who has been working with companies on crisis management for decades I would say that some of the best examples of crisis management are the ones that the public never hears about," Sharlach told CMSWire.

But of course, there is unavoidable visibility in others. Sharlach cited two recent airline crashes: last July when Southwest Flight 345 landed nose-first at LaGuardia and Malaysia Flight 370 earlier this year.

With Southwest, Sharlach said, the airline issued statements via Twitter within minutes that it was looking into the circumstances and advising that more information was on the way. Within an hour the company had released an official statement.  

With Malaysia 370 earlier this year — admittedly a bit of an unfair comparison, Sharlach said, since it was a much more serious situation — the company didn’t respond quickly to manage the situation. When it did, it sometimes disseminated incorrect information.  

"The media attention is voracious — 24/7 now," Sharlach said, "so that means that if the company doesn’t say anything official, even that there is no new information, then there are plenty of other voices to fill that empty space."

Title image by Agif (Shutterstock). Brazil fan image by Andre Durao (Shutterstock).