The 2016 Olympics & the importance of media training
by Drew Wilson
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 14 seconds
This week, the world’s greatest athletes will descend on Rio de Janeiro to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. For 120 years, the Olympics have represented the pinnacle of athletic competition and national pride.
However, the weeks and months leading up to the games are often marred by negative media coverage. Virtually every Olympic Games has endured some sort of crisis leading up to the event – and this year is no different.
You’ve probably heard about the water contamination that will threaten the health of the athletes (and visitors), as well as the possible global spread of Zika and the Russian doping scandal; however, these only scratch the surface. Below are a few of the other issues the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Rio have been dealing with recently.
- Deploying soldiers to combat the rising crime rates
- Severed body parts washed up on the beach used for sand volleyball
- Athletes are complaining the Olympic Village is not ready
- Two residents are dead after bike path constructed for the games collapsed
- Compensation for IOC members has been put under a microscope
The IOC and their selection process have fundamental operational issues. Fortunately, the struggles in Rio have forced officials to reconsider their previous goal of opening up the games to a broader selection of cities.
Issues for the IOC and the host cities go well beyond crisis preparedness and communication strategy. These are very obvious needs. Specifically, I’d like to highlight the importance of media training by using Anita Defrantz’s interview with ESPN’s Mike & Mike as an example.
I’ll let you listen for yourself, but to me, DeFrantz, the lone U.S. IOC member, did not fare well. Below are basic guidelines that corporate spokespeople should follow for every interview, which are even more emphasized when dealing with a potentially controversial topic.
1. Be attentive and engaged
Listeners and viewers will judge if an interviewee is confident in the first 0.2 seconds of an interview. Building trustworthiness is key to effectively conveying your message, so be sure to look and sound like you want to be there.
DeFrantz comes across as too casual and almost disinterested throughout the interview. This could be a product of her overall demeanor, but this is a key aspect to evaluate when selecting an appropriate spokesperson.
2. Answer clearly and concisely
Long, complex answers are not effective in communicating your message to an audience. When asked a question, an interviewee must remember to answer clearly and concisely.
When DeFrantz was asked about the water pollution in Rio – an extremely common question given the attention it has garnered – she did a very poor job demonstrating confidence. She first explained the water was “just fine” and the bay “seemed to be okay,” while the city was trying to keep the “unwanted stuff” outside the area of the sailors.
She goes on to mention that each team has special gear to keep the athletes “safe from germs…that’s not the right word…bad things,” but she had just explained the water was “just fine.” Not only did she not provide any detail to support her claim, but then she contradicted herself on what should have been a key message.
There were multiple examples of DeFrantz not answering clearly or concisely throughout the interview. For spokespeople, most often this is caused when an interviewee does not feel comfortable or prepared with his or her key messages.
3. Develop and deliver key messages
Every company spokesperson should have key messages AND supporting evidence developed to deliver during an interview. “Winging it” is a surefire way to get yourself – and your company – in trouble.
On multiple occasions DeFrantz rambles, losing the listeners and damaging her credibility. For example, when asked what the IOC can do to keep countries accountable for unfulfilled promises made when bidding for the Olympics, her reply was “I guess having a crystal ball? I’m not exactly sure.”
Even if there are circumstances outside your control, passing blame in a cavalier manner NEVER works. If DeFrantz’s strategy was to deflect from the IOC, she should have prepared strong messages with evidence to support her claims rather than simply dismissing the question.
Later when asked if the IOC would take responsibility for issues that might occur during the games, she goes off on a tangent that was not even mentioned by the interviewers, stating, “How can an outside organization tell a city that we know how to run your transportation better? It is illogical.”
DeFrantz was off-topic, and she insulted the interviewers and listeners by asking a rhetorical question followed by a derogatory statement.
It was very clear DeFrantz did not have key messages prepared, but rather relied on her perceived status to convey confidence and trustworthiness. To me, she missed the mark in a big way.
4. Practice, practice, practice
This one is self-explanatory. If DeFrantz did have key messages, it seems unlikely to me that she practiced weaving those messages into her responses.
For example, at the six minute mark, DeFrantz stammers over her words repeatedly with multiple “ums” and “uhs,” which are clear signs of lack of preparation. A few other examples include responses highlighting that she was not aware of how many members were on the IOC committee at the time of voting for the 2016 Olympics and that she learned of factors that disqualified Chicago’s bid from contention after the vote.
As with anything, by not practicing you will often look or sound unprepared, which will erode credibility. In order to have success, it is important to have mastered your key messages and prepared for any potential questions that could throw you off balance.
These four points are very basic guidelines for any spokespeople. By not following them, you could do irreparable harm to your company’s reputation.
In the end though, the IOC has a major advantage over a typical business. Once the Opening Ceremonies begin, the world’s attention will turn to the athletes and medal count rather than the headlines that led up to the games. Your company will not be so lucky. GO USA!
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