Public Relations Tactics

Preparing for Rio: The Unique Opportunities and Challenges of an Olympic Year

July 5, 2016

[lazyllama/mitch gunn/shutterstock]
[lazyllama/mitch gunn/shutterstock]

This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on the PRSay blog on May 5.

We are about one month away from the world coming together in Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. We will not only witness some of the most exhilarating and historic athletic feats, but we will also see some incredible brand campaigns play out in their PR initiatives and on social media.

I spoke with Drew Johnson, director of strategic communications for Octagon Olympic and Action Sports. The company represents some of the most decorated U.S. Olympians, including Michael Phelps, Natalie Coughlin, Aly Raisman, Nathan Adrian and Allison Schmitt. Johnson provided insights into what PR professionals are experiencing leading up to Rio 2016, as well as the unique opportunities an Olympic year has to offer:

Has there been a change leading up to Rio 2016 for major brands announcing their athlete representatives and Olympic campaigns compared to past Summer or Winter Olympic Games?

One noticeable change has been the timing of the respective announcements, which has been spread out over a much larger window of time. Traditionally, major brands have used the United States Olympic Committee’s celebration of “One Year Out” to mark the launch of their brand ambassadors, but multiple announcements falling within the same news cycle make it extremely difficult to gain significant media traction.

Along the same lines, many brands have chosen to announce their rosters via social media first as a soft launch, and have held their campaign creative and activation plans for a bigger, more formal PR play at a later date.

How can PR pros working in sports or other industries begin preparing for an Olympic year?

Our strategy development started in 2012 coming out of the London Games; not only were we looking to maximize the immediate post-games opportunities, but we were also setting the strategy and positioning for 2016 as part of the conversation. The process continued leading up to, during and following the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, and since then, has transitioned to the proactive outreach and execution stage of our strategic PR efforts for Rio 2016.

The critical time and opportunity for PR practitioners is not the Olympic year itself; it is the 12-24 months in advance. Granted, there will always be some aspects that have to wait until you are inside the calendar year of the games. But for us, there is no downtime between the Winter and Summer Olympics, so while we are fully entrenched in Rio right now, we also have our eyes on PyeongChang 2018 and Tokyo 2020.

What opportunities does an Olympic year present to PR professionals?

Generally speaking, it is the chance to generate and maximize mainstream media interest across the marketplace for your clients and/or business.

The media opportunities surrounding the Olympics extend beyond the sports pages and reach the full spectrum of media channels including fashion, lifestyle, music and entertainment. In addition, the Olympic Games offer a truly global audience and there are significant media opportunities and demand from countries around the world, especially the host country and surrounding region.

What are some challenges?

The changing media landscape has certainly created more distribution channels through the expansion of digital technologies, but at the same time the challenges of print media circulation have significantly reduced the effective reach that media once held.

While a feature story can live online for a longer period of time, the effective reach of a digital profile does not necessarily have the same general impact as print magazines showing up in millions of mailboxes once a week or month. Likewise, the value of a Sports Illustrated or Time cover story does not have the same reach and impact today as it did several years ago.

Don’t get me wrong, there are great websites that drive a ton of traffic and have significant reach, and there is still significant value to landing the cover of SI or Time. However, the mass audience has been diluted, and the ability to effectively reach the broader population in a significant and meaningful way is just not the same anymore.

Stories move too quickly with the 365/24/7 media cycle and there is a large audience, even those who are tech-savvy, that miss the coverage because they were not online at the critical moment. We are operating within niche media audiences now, and that creates a challenge for PR pros to reach the masses with a clear, defined message.

What will be competing for media coverage leading up to Rio 2016?

As we are seeing already (in the U.S.), [it’s] politics. The campaigns for the Democratic and Republican nominees are at the forefront right now, and that will carry over to the parties’ national conventions, and ultimately, the presidential election.

What are some tips for sports public relations and other PR pros to make their stories stand out to the media?

First, all public relations start local. While it may be tempting (or your client may expect) to pitch national outlets first, building and executing a successful PR plan needs to start with local media.

Second, only pitch good stories. I’d like to think this is stating the obvious for a PR pro, but unfortunately our profession receives a lot of criticism for filling up reporters’ inboxes with bad pitches. You know what makes for a good story. Do not hit “send” on a pitch just to say you completed your media outreach. If you don’t like your pitch, then re-work it and find the unique element(s) that will appeal to the reporter. Not every story you pitch is going to lead to a placement, but if you are able to establish a reputation of pitching good stories it will help you open a few doors.

Third, ask questions and listen. Reporters are people too. The media landscape is constantly changing and that has a real impact on reporters. Take the time to get to know them, their beat and the demands and expectations their editors have on them. If you have a better understanding of what they are required to deliver, you will be in a more favorable position to provide a solution.

Natalie P. Mikolich
Natalie P. Mikolich is the founder of npm | pr and is chair of PRSA’s Entertainment and Sports Professional Interest Section. In addition to providing PR services for top global sportswear and equipment companies, she has worked with some of the leading sports and entertainment agencies.

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