9/25/16 • PR Winners and Losers at the 2016 Rio Olympics

As published by The Gaston Gazette:

(9/25/16) BELMONT, N.C. – The XXXI Olympiad in Rio discovered headline-making highlights that will forever mark this year’s summer games – Michael Phelps’ momentous medals, a U.S. gymnast who soared to achieve more gold in a single year than any other female in her sport, Katie Ledecky’s record-breaking laps in the pool. Then again, there was also a small Russian doping scandal and one local swimmer whose post-party lies caused global controversy.

From small town business owners to well-known athletes, public relations management must remain a consistent and cognizant task. As even hardware-wearing Olympians can attest, failure to consider public image during all moments might swiftly ruin even your brightest achievements.

As we review this year’s grandiose Brazilian event, some clear PR winners and losers emerge – incidents and individuals that scored big or missed the podium in Rio. What can we learn about perception from the 2016 Olympics and how can these positive and negative occurrences apply in business?

  • Glowing gold. Few would argue that Michael Phelps emerged from Rio as its clear Olympic golden boy. He began the 2016 Brazilian journey as the United States flag bearer during Opening Ceremonies’ Parade of Nations. As the weeks of competition concluded, Phelps left the pool wearing 28 total medals as the most decorated Olympian of all time. His retirement announcement carried memories of his first Olympic laps in Sydney as well as his fast feats in Athens and Beijing. His positive reputation shined brightly, setting an example for young swimmers around the globe. His undeniable talent and immense dedication to the sport comprised Rio commentary rather than incidences that formerly marred his otherwise outstanding career. Phelps’ ability to excel in swimming, speak with poise, apologize for previous grievances and grow into a polished leader surpassed the mistakes that once caused him to fall from grace. He overcame potential crises to rise and retire as an Olympic champion.
  • Perfectly bronzed. The Games of the XXXI Olympiad were doomed months ago. Zika virus threats dominated headlines as well as conversation regarding safety and Brazil’s failing economy. Several top athletes refused to travel to the popular destination, namely golfers whose sport made its first reappearance to the games since 1904. But Brazil remained unwavering and poised to outshine its hazy perception. As Stephen Wilson with the Associated Press reported following closing ceremonies, “Yes, Brazil managed to pull it off under difficult economic and political conditions, with the sports competitions, venues, athletes, friendly hosts, television images and Rio’s scenic backdrops all rising to the occasion.” Indeed, there was a small incident with green pool water and certainly emptier spectator seats than desired; however, the biggest host-city worries were hardly a concern and caused no issue among global competition. Worldwide Olympians departed with well-earned gold, silver and bronze representing admirable talent. And Brazil ends its hosting duties with new venues, pride and Olympic prizes, including a cherished gold medal in men’s soccer.

    As the 2016 Olympics demonstrate, chatter doesn’t always provide the entire picture. Reviews and commentary before the Olympics began – similar to the hype of a new product launch – served as “make or break” analysis. Just as a business owner tirelessly strives to create a superb product or provide a first-rate service despite flowing opinions, Rio overcame obstacles to produce a memorable and spectacular Olympiad for athletes and attendees.

  • Missed the mark. Despite a gold medal in the 4×200-meter freestyle relay at the Rio Olympics – and his designation as a 12-time Olympian – SwimMAC Carolina’s Ryan Lochte found himself in hot water as his Brazilian games concluded. According to the decorated 32-year-old, armed robbers pulled over Lochte and three fellow American swimmers following a night on the town in Rio de Janeiro. However, international controversy soon flooded the story – and the Olympic Games – as Lochte’s tale altered multiple times and his report was ultimately proven false. In public relations, the truth is everything. The truth not only protects your business, your reputation and your credibility as best as possible, but it ensures customers, clients and media consistently receive the same information – whether in a crisis situation or not. One small narrative nudge and your whole story can swiftly spiral, and take everything you’ve worked hard to achieve with it.

Public perception can change immediately – as with Lochte – or over time as a result of positive action and continuous character building, as seen with Phelps’ plummet then surge back to swimming superstar. By carefully monitoring the image you project into society and media, and treading delicately and mindfully when conducting business, you can protect your reputation and build a clear, confident, constructive image for all to see.

Lyerly Agency’s President and CEO Elaine Lyerly and Executive Vice President and COO Melia Lyerly share their 35+ years of marketing, advertising, public relations and brand strategy experience with readers each month in a column published by The Gaston Gazette.