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Prof. Deepti Ganapathy

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What Brands can learn from the Olympics

I am currently teaching a course on Public Relations in one of the country’s premiere B-schools and when a discussion about Brands creating narratives around events surfaced, the conversation veered towards Olympics and the way brands were “cashing in” on this once in a four year event in rather unique ways.

The debate sparked off in class when we discussed how a brand like Nike which sponsors a $450 million, 26 year-old program along with the US Track and Field in Portland were booed at Rio for not being open and honest about their views on doping (Reuters report), while brands like Omega and Visa were mining gold at such a major sporting event.

As India opened its treasure chest with a win from Sakshi and then from Sindhu, the discussion turned to how brands were using the trials and tribulations that these athletes endure to show their unstinted support. Yes, sportspersons struggle and go through tremendous hardship while they train. The media glare that comes with sports like Cricket does not get trained on these athletes and sportspersons from other events. The four years of hardwork that they endure between the Olympics is hardly publicized by the media or big brands. Only when they win accolades through their own sheer determination and hard work are they surrounded by the media and brands.

One of my students while making a presentation on a PR campaign adopted by Samsung got emotional during his talk when he said, “it’s hard to imagine how a woman from a country like Sudan can fight against all odds and make it to the Olympics.” He was describing the #Do what you can’t campaign that Samsung has created for the Olympics. A few other examples are of a brand celebrating the hardships of Ussain Bolt in the form of an animated video showing him from his growing up years. Another brand shows the athletes remembering their mother’s encouraging words, gestures and presence before the start of their match/game to celebrate the hardworking and silently inspiring mothers who are really the backbone of these sportspersons.

When I worked as full time journalist, I was often besieged with Press Releases from PR professionals and agencies that pushed for getting ‘earned media’ in the form of clever tactics and events. Rarely have I come across a PR professional who promoted a sportsperson other than a cricketer.

This changed a few years ago, when a fresh graduate from a prominent B-School and a former Olympian himself, decided to set up a Sports Management Company in the city of Bengaluru. At that time, I was looking for sportspersons to be featured in a fitness section on a weekly basis. While interacting with staff from this PR firm, I got to know about the difficulties they face to get sponsorship from corporates to encourage these athletes from various walks of life.

Brands today are unabashedly claiming that they sponsored a particular athlete when he/she comes into the media’s glare. However, they would have jumped onto the sponsorship bandwagon only after the particular sportsperson qualified for the Olympics.

Brands should look at ‘catching them young’ and be a part of the wins and losses of sportspersons in order to earn respect and credibility from their various stakeholders. A sportsperson works harder than most of us. I never knew this till I saw my brother an accomplished golfer put in 6 hours of practice even as he balanced academics.

When I see all my friends on Facebook and Twitter put out messages saying “Go for Gold”, “We are proud of you”, “Women power at its best in India,” they are indirectly celebrating what they would have loved to be or achieve- sportsperson in a country where sports is still considered second to academics.

At the end of the day, a sportsperson does not require our money or accolades. All they want from us is that respect.  And this is why brands should encourage and motivate them to take up sporting as a career and as a serious profession. 

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What Brands can learn from the Olympics

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