The Gong Blog

PR lessons from Sochi’s Olympic disasters


I usually don’t watch much of the Winter Olympics, other than figure skating, but this year I paid much closer attention. There was a lot of hype surrounding the Olympics this winter; however, much of it wasn’t about the games themselves. Instead, headlines surrounding the Olympics focused on what was going on in Sochi: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

There are some public relations lessons we can learn from the events at Sochi this year.

Hotels were built, but hardly complete.

Upon arriving in Sochi, many journalists learned that not only were their rooms not ready, their hotels themselves weren’t even complete. Despite having seven years to prepare Sochi to become an Olympic village, the hotels were unfinished, some with either no running water, or water that was so yellow it was deemed “undrinkable.”

The lesson: plan ahead and manage your time … and budget.

Don’t drink the water.

Not only were the hotels incomplete, but many of them had promised certain amenities: fitness centers, wireless internet, running water…. And journalists everywhere were talking about it. I can imagine those journalists could’ve survived without a fitness center or spa, but wifi and running water should’ve been well within their expectations.

The lesson: It’s always important to manage expectations. Whether your clients are expecting to land a spot in the New York Times, get a hit in local news or a placement on a blog, be sure you understand those expectations and plan to manage them accordingly.

The Olympic rings failed to light at opening ceremony.

Now, I don’t know much about technology or the system that lit the rings, or why it failed, but I can’t help but wonder how many times they ran through the opening ceremony before it went live. You wouldn’t make a big presentation without running through the PowerPoint at least a few times, would you? Whether you’re making a speech at a conference, giving a presentation to a client or having a meeting with co-workers, it’s always important to make sure you run through your speech, practice your presentation or look over your notes ahead of time.

The lesson: Always remember to test things out before you use them…then test them again.

Sochi was all over the news this year, putting Putin and Russia in the spotlight. But, is all publicity good publicity? Social, political and cultural issues came to light during the course of this year’s winter games. But, was it worth it for Russia? What’s your take? If you worked for the country’s PR team, how would you feel about all this publicity? And will Russia be able to overcome all the bad press from this year’s games? 

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POSTED IN: Crisis Communications, Public Relations

Laura Elizabeth Saunders

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