10 best and worst moments from the London Games: Crisis PR edition

A crisis communications expert recaps Olympic gaffes and golds from the 2012 games.

With the 2012 Olympic Games officially over, it’s time to recap the best and worse from a crisis communication perspective.

Social Media Games creates winners and losers: The London Olympics was unofficially dubbed the first Social Media Games, as social networks such as Twitter enabled athletes to chat directly with their fans for the first time. As with anything new, there were some hiccups, most notably when two athletes were expelled for racist tweets and a teenager was arrested for threatening British diver Tom Daley on Twitter.

Swimming star demonstrates importance of media training: American swimming star Ryan Lochte may not have excelled in media training—if he had any to begin with. He let it slide in an interview with Ryan Seacrest that he occasionally pees in the pool: “I mean, sometimes you just gotta go,” he said. His self-deprecating, and hilarious, viral video on Will Ferrell’s funny or die comedy site seemed to take some of the sting away from the incident, but clearly it was too much information. In the words of British Prime Minister David Cameron, “It’s not OK to pee in the pool.”

Same star continues to demonstrate the importance of media training: Not to pick on Lochte, but another video is making the rounds highlighting his less than stellar interview skills. The video is aptly titled “Ryan Lochte: Great At Swimming, Less Great At Talking About Swimming.” The lowlight, when he answers “21” for the question of “What is seven times four?”

Gymnast shows how to vault—and respond to a viral meme:
U.S Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney’s now famous sneer after winning a silver medal is an online sensation. It became fodder for a wildly popular Tumblr account titled McKayla Maroney is not impressed. Instead of recoiling from the attention, Maroney embraced it. She tweeted her approval of the site, and shared an Instagram photo of her and her teammates striking the “not impressed” pose. The 16-year-old took a page from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s book on how to neutralize a viral meme.

Empty seats draw questions and controversy: Olympic broadcasts at various venues showed empty seats—while there were reports that no tickets were available and complaints by sports fans that they couldn’t get into the venues. Some speculate that tickets were given to corporate sponsors who never showed up. The lesson for Olympic brass is to keep corporate sponsors happy by keeping the general public—their customers—happy.

Pop song becomes viral hit for swim team: The viral “Call Me Maybe” video by the U.S. Swim Team set the stage for even more excitement about the wildly popular team. It has millions of views, and a whopping 98.5 percent “likes” to “dislikes” on YouTube. Media all over the world teased the wholesome video.

NBC takes its lumps for tape delay: Just about everyone in the world expects to watch news in real time, a fact apparently lost on NBC. The network teased its coverage over four hours every evening when the events took place hours before. The approach worked for advertisers, but not for audiences. A Gallup poll found that most Americans wanted NBC to air the Olympics live and again on tape delay in prime time. The anger and annoyance from U.S. viewers took shape on Twitter, with the popular hashtag #NBCfail, which became as much a part of Olympic coverage as the Bob Costas sign off.

Newspaper takes it lumps for tough article: The New York Times got a lesson that some perspective (and compassion) is valuable. A Times reporter wrote a piece attacking runner Lolo Jones as not being worthy of the attention by the media or marketers. It prompted the Times’ public editor to say the piece was “particularly harsh.”

Fighter offers half-baked explanation for doping: U.S. judo fighter Nick Delpopolo may have a future in marketing for the legalize marijuana contingent. He was kicked out of the games for testing positive for marijuana use, saying he may have inadvertently eaten food baked with marijuana.

Romney questions the U.K.’s readiness: British bashing might play well any other time of the year, but during the Olympics it might not be the right tact, as Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney learned. Romney’s calling out security issues didn’t go over well, and drew consternation from the Brits. Prime Minister from David Cameron lashed back, saying “of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere,” an apparent reference to Salt Lake City Winter Olympics that Romney headed up.

Gil Rudawsky is a former reporter and editor. He heads up the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. Read his blog or contact him at grudawsky@groundfloormedia.com.

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