If there was a gold medal for positive PR then Team GB would have received 30 golds and not 29. Coverage of the London Olympics dominated all newspapers, broadcast, and online media for the duration of the games and are now continuing to have a positive impact after the flame has been extinguished. So what are the main lessons we can learn from the Games from a PR perspective?
The first thing is to know how high to set the bar: The groundwork for the good Olympic PR began long before the athletes arrived in London. Under-promising and over delivering could be a phrase that was used for the performance of the athletes, or the smooth running of the stadia and the events. But just as it would be ridiculous to start an Olympic high jump final at an easy 1cm – or an unobtainable 3m, it was important to set a target that was commendable yet attainable. By claiming the transport system would easily cope they were leaving themselves open to criticism if it didn’t. And if they’d gone the other way and said it wouldn’t work then people would have asked what they’d been doing for the last four years. By highlighting the expected pressure on public transport the public’s expectations were managed. And by warning people that it was likely to be busier, in the event the infrastructure more than coped and people were pleasantly surprised. Even when there were queues and delays people were expecting much worse.
Preparation pays off: Team GB’s branding was smart and slick as you would expect from Stella McCartney designed kit. But even more impressive than their physical performances was how the athletes dealt with the media as well. Often interviewed seconds after the biggest moment of their lives it was clear that all the Team GB athletes had been well briefed, were articulate and on message for press appearances. They all hit the right notes with the wider messaging, with the two main points being that: ‘funding was crucial’ and ‘the crowds were outstanding’. Compared to other nations GB sportspeople were a breath of fresh air, and can provide a model example for those intending to speak to the press – be clear, know your story, and emphasise your main points.
Positive Mental Attitude: If you share your success stories it reinforces the understanding that the brand is doing very well. This really can’t be done enough. Just as our athletes inspired one other with their successes on Super Saturday, positive reinforcement also inspired the nation. The country became enthralled by the medal tables, ferociously refreshing Olympic live feeds for any updates of ‘more medals’! The lesson here is if you have positive stories to tell then don’t be shy about it. Motivational stories help construct the image of a successful brand and build momentum. Success breeds success.
Reaching a global audience: Not only is social media a great way to reinforce messages, it provides accessibility and interactivity with brands, and people, and brings together people with common interests. Athletes saw huge increases in activity on their social media profiles following Olympic appearances and wins. Underdog Chad Le Clos saw his fan base grow by over 300% following his victory over the greatest Olympian of all time Michael Phelps, while Bradley Wiggins’ gold won him nearly 400,000 new twitter followers in 24 hours. The athletes were great keeping their followers up to date with everything that was going on and interacting with people who wanted to become more involved.
Companies who don’t currently look to use social media as part of an integrated communications platform should take heed. Just as free social media sites proved hugely successful PR tools for the Olympics, so did creative but cost effective PR campaigns. Although the main advertisers have all done well from the Olympics, the Post-Office’s Olympian stamps gained great coverage alongside the novelty of the golden post boxes. Innovative and original ideas don’t need to always be expensive. A bit of lateral thinking can reap huge dividends.
And finally, if you can’t beat them, then you might as well join them. Unused to not being at the top of the news agenda politicians and celebrities flocked to bask in the golden glow of the Olympics. While there were some eyebrows raised at how many events some had managed to get tickets to, it proved the time-honoured belief of association with success being as beneficial as success itself still holds true. Those willing to be photographed and comment knowledgably fared best. Almost inevitably, the standout success was Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who saw a boost in approval and popularity following his involvement in the Olympics. The message here is if a copiously covered story relates to your area of expertise get involved!