Photo of the blue, yellow, black, green and red Olympic rings in front of a stone water foundation with water shoot upwards glowing in red

Public Relations and the Olympics

Public Relations and the Olympics

A summer of events is truly upon us, Wimbledon and Euro 2020 have reached their finales, and up next is the Olympics. It is vital that the host country Japan, and other participating countries successfully handle the international media that will be flocking to the games. PR is always important to the outcome of any event, but particularly so when it happens to be the most-watched event in the world. Below, we have picked out two PR losers, and two winners from the previous games, and the lessons on media and event handling that we can learn from them.

The Olympic Rings statue in front of a stadium.
Spanish men's basketball team - Beijing 2008

Ahead of the team’s first game against Greece, Spain’s Basketball Federation published a good luck post, in which the team pulled the sides of their eyes in a racist slit-eyed gesture in front of a Chinese dragon. Stunningly, the team defended their actions, further inflaming the issue.

Japan - Tokyo Olympics 2020

The country seems to be unified in their opposition of the games, with many feeling it may spread Coronavirus infections, and others feeling that without international spectators the games are a waste of money. Throughout the run-up to the games, there has been a long series of media mistakes. It seems, for the most part, they have treated the situation like a routine PR event, rather than like the crisis it really is.

UK - London Olympics 2012

The London Olympics was a huge success in uniting capital and a country that is so often conflicted. The London bid committee used the likes of David Beckham for celebrity endorsements, whilst utilising the media with a ‘Back the Bid’ campaign to sway public opinion in favour of the Olympics and to bolster UK pride. 

China - Beijing 2012

After losing a bid to host the 2000 Olympics games (primarily over human rights concerns), China retained the services of a leading PR agency WSW. With the help of the agency, China leveraged third-party endorsements and successfully used the media to transform themselves from outsiders to favourites to host the game, and eventually won the bid.

Lessons learned for Managing Events and the Media

Whether you have an upcoming major event or are regularly corresponding with the media, these winners and losers above are great examples of what to do and what not to do. In the case of Spain’s basketball Federation, their initial mistake was inflamed through their refusal to accept responsibility early on during the PR crisis. For Japan, their mistakes were numerous and were caused by a lack of investment of time, energy and money into PR. On the other hand, both the UK and China leveraged the media brilliantly, using celebrity endorsements and enlisting the services of a PR agency to make the media work for them.

In preparation for any event, it is vital that you have a PR plan detailing your strategy for handling the media throughout and dealing with any potential crises that may occur. Otherwise, all that hard work spent on organising an amazing event may prove to be a waste of time.


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