5 PR lessons from the London Olympics

Keep these lessons in mind as you watch the world’s top athletes compete in the coming days and weeks.

Every four years, the world watches as athletes from around the globe converge for the Summer Olympics—one of the grandest spectacles in sport.

Little else captivates the imagination more than seeing the fastest humans streak down a track or watching others defy gravity.

But as viewers, our ability to enjoy those athletic feats depends on the many people behind the scenes—including those in public relations. With the 2012 Games kicking off this weekend in London, here are five PR lessons we can learn from the Olympics:

Find unique ways to attract attention.

The Olympics, and many athletic programs, have found new and novel ways to promote their athletes, drawing in otherwise disinterested audiences.

Take, for example, Kansas State University, and its promotion of Erik Kynard, the 2011 NCAA high jump champion. Leading up to this year’s Big 12 league championships, the school created a video to showcase his skills. The buzz around the video quickly turned Kynard from track star into on-campus and online icon. Watch for Kynard in London representing the U.S.

Prepare for all situations.

In June, as athletes were qualifying for the Olympics in various events, women’s track and field encountered an unfortunate situation. In its 100-meter race, two runners tied for third place and a spot on the Olympic team. The governing body, USA Track & Field, was unprepared for the situation and for more than a week was unable to make a ruling about the outcome, leaving fans dismayed.

Once it finally reached a decision, the damage had already been done to its image. Having a plan in place could have mitigated the negative public response and protected USA Track & Field’s reputation.

Provide information audiences need.

Because the Olympics occur only once every four years, it’s important that broadcasters explain the rules and scoring in a way that people can understand so viewers remain interested. Providing expert commentary, clear graphics, and other informative visuals enable viewers to become (and stay) interested and keep watching. The same can be said for any company introducing a product to a new market, or creating a campaign to attract potential customers.

Use the Web effectively.

The Web and social media will play a huge role this year in communicating about Olympic events in what is being called “the first social media Olympics.” The time difference between when events are scheduled to occur and when most stateside viewers will watch them during primetime will only add to the importance of clear communication.

Understanding how interested audiences want to receive and communicate information is important regardless of product or audience.

Tell great stories.

This is one thing broadcasts of the Olympics have always done well. Producers understand the power of engaging audiences with tales that go beyond sports, transcending human interest. The same can be said for those of us working to reach our own audiences—people love a good story.

Keep these lessons in mind in the coming days and weeks as you watch the world’s top athletes compete.

Mark Crouser is senior account manager at CMA (@CMABuildsTrust), a national public relations agency based in Kansas City, Mo. A version of this story first appeared on the CMA blog.

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