- Athletics are all about contrast: victory and defeat, unity and division, joy and despair. In that sense, then, it is extremely appropriate that the 2014 Winter Olympics will be held in Sochi, Russia: a summer destination spot and sub-tropical location.I elected to study abroad in Moscow and Sochi because I wanted to experience the process of preparing a city for the Olympics and be near Olympic venues for the first time in my life. It wasn't until I began to research the Sochi 2014 Games and hear about the preparations that I started to understand the complexity of the situation--and how public relations have played crucial role in building national pride for this massive event.The bid process for the 2014 Winter Olympics began in 2006, as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) whittled the original seven applying locations to three finalist cities: Sochi, Russia, Pyeongchang, South Korea and Salzburg, Austria. After Salzburg was eliminated in the first round, Sochi captured 51 votes to Pyeongchang's 47 to win the hosting bid.
- Interestingly enough, the Russian Olympic Committee's bid received strong support from the city of Sochi (84%), but the Russian Federation showed weaker support as a country, with only 53% of the public opinion favoring hosting the games in Sochi. This was the lowest total of any of the seven applying cities.Thus, the ROC, the IOC and the Russian government were faced with a challenge: How would they drum up popular support within the nation for the games? This was, after all, the first time Russia had won a bid since the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow. In order to host a successful event, the games would have to have the full backing of the nation's citizenship. How could this be achieved?
- Nebraska's Assistant Director of Athletic Marketing Ethan Rowley once told me that creating support for sports teams is difficult because you can't control the product and it isn't consistent. Selling tickets and maintaining a positive image is easy when you're winning championships. It's during the rough years and the gritty times that the real challenge of the job is revealed.It had never occured to me, however, that a nation might have to build public support for something as big as the Olympic Games. No matter when it's taking place, the Olympics are the pinnacle of athletic competition. The Games always guarantee at least a few record-breaking feats, miraculous upsets or dramatic storylines. While studying the problem the ROC was faced with, I began to learn even more from a truly PR-driven campaign designed to drum up excitement for the Olympiad among Russian citizens.
The Olympic Committee hired McCann-Erickson's Moscow branch to create a series of commercials for them that targeted three main population groups in Russia: young adults, the working class and national minorities.
- An executive with the agency explained to us that they were attempting to communicate the answers to a couple of questions: Why is this so big for Russia, and why is it so good for Russia? As Genya Moore (the Managing Director) explained to us:
- In addition, Genya discussed the moves that national sponsors of the games have been required to make, such as including Olympic logos and signage on their advertising leading up to the Games in 2014. Even now, in the summer of 2011, I found Sochi 2014 logos around the city of Moscow during my travels.
Still, well-done PR is never an instant-fix for a complicated situation. During a conversation with a Russian student named Dmitri, I learned that there is still skepticism lurking within the Russian population.
The ROC certainly will face more challenges in the coming months as they prepare both the facade of Sochi and the Russian population for the 2014 Winter Olympics. The Russian population does seem to be showing at least a certain amount of investment in the games, as 1.5 million citizens cast their vote in the mascot competition. The winners? A snow leopard, hare and polar bear.
Even the mascot selection was challenged with controversy, as claims came that the voting may have been tampered with or that the snow leopard was a choice irrelevant to Russia. Dmitry Chernyshenko, the President of the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee, defended it via Twitter:
- As I researched and delved into the intricacies of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, I found that many of my expectations were defied. The situation was more complicated than I initially anticipated, yet the passion of the people of Russia for supporting the Olympics and their athletes is astounding.PR is an important area of communications because it is powerful in a quiet and subtle way. It does not always function as pure advertising, yet it is a very clearly strategic form of communicating with an audience. By carefully implementing the techniques public relations professionals are taught, the ROC has made ground in shifting the attitudes of the Russian people with regard to the Olympics.No matter if they face opposition or support, Sochi's facade is shifting rapidly in preparations for 2014. It will be in the cold days of February that the nations of the world will unite again as their finest athletes complete for the ultimate glory and honor in their sport: standing atop the podium, their national anthem filling the air and a heavy gold medal hanging around ther neck.