8 PR lessons from Sochi 2014

The Winter Olympics haven't even started yet and already Sochi has become a joke, with poisonous tap water and unfinished hotel rooms. At least we can learn something from this...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 07 Feb 2014

1. Manage expectations

Having assured the Olympic Committee seven years ago not only that he could transform Sochi from crumbling soviet summer holiday resort to a modern Olympic village, but also that he could guarantee snow despite its tropical climate (during the 2010 Winter Olympics Sochi’s average temperature was 14 degrees), a year ago Vladimir Putin admitted the project was ‘a year behind schedule’ and sacked its main shareholder. Today, he was quoted by Russian media saying ‘Russia is ready to host the games’.

But although the Olympic venues seem to be done (we’ll find out for sure when the games begin tomorrow), accommodation is another matter. Here’s a selection of tweets from disgruntled journalists...

2. Look at the bigger picture

When it comes to PR, the details count - but always keep in mind that it’s the big problems you need to solve before you can focus on the little things. Otherwise you end up with a framed picture of Putin but no floor…

3. Get your timing right

Yes, your customer are going to want peas and sweetcorn. And yes, they’re going to want marmalade. They’re not necessarily going to want it all at once, though. Together. In one bain-marie.

4. Don’t over-compensate

Perhaps it was an effort to compensate for the PR disaster that is Russia’s view of homosexuality, but the now-infamous twin toilets at the Olympic Biathlon Centre seemed to confuse the Russian government’s message rather. Some visitors were even confronted by an interesting five-person toilet setup. Is this an Olympic sport we didn’t know about?

The lesson here? If you hit a PR bump, don’t swing too far in the other direction - or your customers will end up not only appalled, but a little baffled, too.

5. Stick to your budget

The Sochi winter Olympics have come in at a cool $51bn - more than four times over-budget, and five times the cost of the previous winter Olympics, Vancouver 2010. Putin has rejected the allegation that a third of the spending has been siphoned off by corrupt officials (including a ‘construction mafia’). Whether that’s true or not is anyone’s guess. Let this be a lesson: keep things on-time and on-budget, and your PR slate will stay clean...

6. If you can’t keep the hacks happy, at least keep the sponsors happy

Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the Olympics stretches back to 1928, although Sochi is the ninth games where the beverage company is a ‘presenting partner’. This year, though, the brand has been much-criticised for its involvement in the games by gay rights campaigners - it was even dropped from a shortlist at an awards ceremony run by Out in the City magazine.

So you’d have thought, given all the reputational damage Coca-Cola had endured, Sochi organisers would be keen to keep the brand as happy as possible. Not quite…

7. Don’t over-complicate things

We all want to make sure our customers know what they’re doing - but too much information can seem confusing - if not patronising. Or just plain weird, in the case of the fishing guy. And the guy apparently playing with a scale model of the Hindenberg...

8. Try not to poison your clients…

Er - enough said.

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