3 takeaways from the Rio Olympics for communication professionals

Last week the Olympic flame was extinguished marking the end of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. While ultimately ending without any major hiccups, the road to the games were like Rio’s cobblestoned streets – a little bumpy.

The 31st Olympiad was special as it marked the first time the games were held in South America. However, as summer 2016 approached, the host country’s economic and political turmoil took the spotlight.

As someone who enjoys watching the competitions and the incredible athletes that participate, I couldn’t help but tune into the variety of stories grabbing media headlines.

At an international event this large there are many lessons applicable to marketing communication professionals, and I would like to share a few of those lessons with you. So here are three takeaways from this year’s Summer Olympics.Rio Olympics logo.jpg

Have trained media staff or public relations plans

When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) picked Rio as a host city in 2009, I’m sure they never imagined having to confront some of the issues that arose within the regions of South America. One of those main concerns was the outbreak of the Zika virus. The expansion of the virus prompted doctors and professors from around the world to publicly recommend postponing the games. The response of the IOC (backed by health professionals) was that travel to the Olympics would not cause major spread of the virus and the decision to continue the games stood firm.

Unforeseen circumstances, like the one mentioned above, make it vital for an organization to have trained media staff and a crisis management plan. Quick responses to damaging events could prevent reputation and value loss. So if your organization hasn’t outlined an emergency media plan or designated and trained potential spokespersons now is the time to do so. Here is Bernstein’s “The 10 Steps of Crisis Communications” to get you started.

Know what you are paying for as a sponsor/advertiser

 One thing I learned about the Olympics is that there is a blackout rule for sponsors called Rule 40. This rule states that if you are not an official Olympic sponsor, but a sponsor of an athlete or coach, you can’t mention anything about that person or the Olympic games starting nine days prior to the opening ceremony and ending three days after the closing ceremony. Of course the rules are a little more extensive, but it works as a reminder that if you are looking to sponsor someone or something, make sure you know the limitations.


Another example of this is NBC’s Olympic coverage. Viewership fell 17% below what they predicted, which meant advertisers were not going to hit the viewership numbers NBC promised. In order to make up for that NBC gave additional commercial time, or “make good” ads, to ensure agreements were made whole. There isn’t much more I can say about this other than make sure you have good media buyers and lawyers. 

Stay Social

While the IOC did impose regulations on sponsors, Olympic fans and the media were all a buzz online. My favorite moment had to be the Simone Biles and Zac Efron exchanges. Who doesn’t love when a gold medalist gets to meet her celebrity crush? SocialMedia Today has a great article analyzing the different social platforms that give insight into the breadth of social interactions during the Olympics. The main conclusion here is that if you want to reach the millennial crowd you have to be in the social sphere.

Any takeaways you have for us? Explain in a comment below!

-Caroline Robinson



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