Fixing Rio's Olympic Sized PR Problem

Fixing Rio’s Olympic-Sized PR Problem

Back in 2009, Domino’s Pizza was losing customers left and right and, thanks to Twitter, receiving a LOT of complaints about the quality of their pizza. It was a big problem.

Then they launched the Pizza Turnaround campaign, a PR campaign aimed at exposing how terribly their own pizza was being received and the lengths to which they went to fix it. It was a bold move.

It paid off.

Five years later, they were back on track, significantly growing in sales, stores and shares after launching the campaign.

Coincidentally, 2009 was also the same year Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, got some great news. They were chosen out of seven finalists to play host to the 2016 Olympic Summer Games. Seven years later, however, and they’re in quite a bit of a pickle that’s a little more severe than Domino’s.

Don’t get me wrong. Bad pizza is a travesty. Political turmoil, however, coupled with unrest, a massive recession, high crime rates and a little known virus called Zika make Brazil’s issues significantly worse.

With the Opening Ceremonies just around the corner, how has the International Olympic Committee been “changing their recipe”? By employing a few classic PR tactics.

Face it head on

When you’re dealing with issues of this magnitude, it’s hard to ignore them. The good news is that facing them head on is often the best strategy because:

1. It shows transparency. To fault is to be human. Admitting to fault is an efficient path to transparency and an effective way to humanize your brand.

2. It allows you to control the narrative. You get to tell your side of the story and, in the media, that’s a powerful thing.

The Zika virus is a serious public health issue in South America. But the jury is still out as to whether it poses a significant threat to Rio’s impending visitors.

Zika is just one of the problems facing Rio in the summer 2016 olympics

This story appears on the front page of the official Rio Olympics website, demonstrating their willingness to acknowledge the Zika threat and highlight some stats and sources that suggest things will be OK.

Ignore it completely

This tactic usually supplements the first in the form of “business as usual.” To a certain extent, there’s only so much the IOC can do about the problems facing the 31st Olympiad’s host city. The only thing they really can do is get people excited about this year’s events — and they’re using beautiful content to do the job.

This video makes it easy to forget Brazil’s current political and economic climate.

If you cruise over to their website, you can see a thoughtful collection of compelling content aimed at telling the Olympic story from multiple points of view.

Rio's PR strategy for the summer 2016 olympics

In the spirit of ignoring it completely, it’s worth noting that the website doesn’t address the political unrest, crime and terror threats that are also significant concerns for visitors and athletes alike. Perhaps they don’t consider these things as threatening for tourists as the Zika virus. More likely, however, is they understand their brand is big enough and unique enough that they can afford to gloss over some things, so long as they acknowledge some of the significant concerns.

Playing the hand they’re dealt

Of course, the best way to avoid a PR blunder is to not have one in the first place. But there’s no way Rio could have seen this sort of nose-dive all the way back in 2009 when the 2016 Games were first awarded to them. Given the severity of the issues they’re facing, they’re doing a bang-up job. Ticket sales are back on track and, for those watching the games from a safe distance (which is almost the entire world), we’re still ready and raring.

It takes a lot of thought and money to clean up a hot mess, but Rio is alternately facing and ignoring the issues they’re able to; in the end, that’s the best you can do.

To check out some big PR fails, check out this blog on some of the most idiotic social media blunders.

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