London 2012: The Winners and Losers on the (PR) pitch

As London 2012 finished in style, the world’s athletes are tallying up their performance in terms of medals won and races fought, and are already re-grouping to prepare Rio 2016 campaigns. For once, team GB is in the position of having exceeded expectations, while Australians have looked on aghast at their own sportsmen and women.

But aside from the sport, London 2012 has fielded plenty to talk about in PR terms.

In the run-up to the Games, not all the coverage was positive. G4S perhaps experienced the most damaging blow to its reputation, as its recruitment shambles raised serious security concerns.

The London Organising Committee came under fire too, for coming down heavily on butchers, florists and bakers whose ‘five rings’ window displays were considered in breach of Olympic brand guidelines. This led to a spate of satirical marketing campaigns which found sympathy with the public, perhaps most notably that of Oddbins, whose 30% discount for Nike trainer-wearers paying with an RBS mastercard, carrying Vauxhall car keys, an iPhone, a bill from British Gas or a receipt for a Pepsi bought at KFC successfully caught the mood of the moment.

However, it was a moment that was short lived. Once the Olympics got under way, attention rightly turned to the athletes. In the main, this came down to admiration for sporting excellence, with the notable exceptions of the Chinese badminton players, top seed Yu Yang and her doubles partner Wang Xiaoli, who made a high profile exit from the Games when they were disqualified for deliberately trying to lose.

So what does this tell us? In the case of the badminton players and the Dorset butcher, media and public opinion was firmly against those who failed to respect the spirit of the games and a sense of fair play. And as the games went on, there has been a steady shift of opinion, from scepticism and resistance, through open-minded ‘wait and see what it has to offer’ to overwhelming support for Britain’s athletes and an event that has showcased the ‘Best of British.’

The media has played a key part in this shift. Journalists have seemed awed from the opening ceremony onwards and particularly as British athletes stunned with their golden performances. Bradley Wiggins, Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis, Sophie Hosking, Katherine Copeland and Andy Murray, to name but a few, have all thrilled, enthralled and not only delivered the medals, but done so with charm, humility and grace.

In the presence of such greatness, the press were clear that to be anti-London 2012, in whatever context, is, in the words of Newsnight presenter, Eddie Mair, “to be bah humbug” – and, by connotation, to be anti-British.  And John Vincent, co-founder of Leon Restaurants, was on hand to show that even if you’re a London restaurateur whose takings are down 30 or 40%, to detract from London’s party would be churlish.

Because, as well as being a showcase of world record beating sporting excellence, the London Olympics have provided a powerful illustration, yet again, of how the press can influence opinion and behaviour. Which is why even if you don’t have an Olympic sized budget, it’s worth investing in your relationship with them. Goodwill goes a long way and good relationships put you in a better position to present your side of the story in a crisis, as well as gaining a platform for good news stories.

But how do you get the press on your side? Courting alone is not enough. Sure, Olympic Park previews, regular information and ongoing dialogue play their role. But beyond that. London 2012 has exemplified the fundamental relationship between successful performance and successful PR. First you need a couple of (genuine) wins, and secondly you need to hit the right tone in broadcasting your successes. Once you achieve this, the feelgood factor of a supportive media and, more importantly, their wider audiences, will help boost belief, morale and future positive outcomes.

Categories: Opinion PR