In PR terms there’s nothing worse than something unraveling in front of your eyes, while you have absolutely no control over it. But now I think about it, there probably is – have it happen at the most televised, watched and written about sporting event on the planet.
That’s exactly what unfolded this week at the Rio Olympics, during the final of the women’s synchronised 10m platform. Athletes, spectators and global viewers witnessed the diving pool gradually changing from a clear azure blue to murky green.
The Olympic press office has already been dealing with negative pre-games media attention. First the International Olympic Committee’s highly controversial decision to allow Russian athletes to compete in the games was countered by the International Paralympic Committee’s decision to impose an outright ban – and another dropping of the PR baton. Meanwhile, another media focus point was the highly polluted waters of Rio’s Guanabara Bay, where the sailing regatta is taking place.
The last thing the press office needed was pollution spreading to the purpose-built Maria Lenk Aquatic Center. British medal-winning diver Tom Daley added to his respected role of diving industry influencer by tweeting to his 2.5 million followers.
Ermmm…what happened?! pic.twitter.com/pdta7EpP2k
— Tom Daley (@TomDaley1994) August 9, 2016
Tom’s Tweet amplified the story, triggering a barrage of Tweets about #GreenPool.
High scoring hot-topic heist
Meanwhile, Clorox picked up the PR baton and ran with it.
— Clorox (@Clorox) August 10, 2016
In the PR business we call this tactic ‘hijacking’ trending media topics to gain journalist, prospect and customer attention, see one of our recent blogs.
Clorox received over 1,000 likes and 450 retweets of this tongue-in-cheek photo. To put this into context its social account usually gets around 20-40 total likes and retweets for a post.
In fact the Tweet’s reach went even further than that. Journalists are now commonly putting together ‘how social media reacted’ stories around trending topics. The Clorox Tweet was used by national publications around the world – NBC in the US, The Guardian in the UK, HR3 in Germany and even the Huffington Post in Greece.
I’d score that a 10.0.
Gold medal public relations?
But what to award to the Olympic press office?
You might think from the above that the press team would find themselves out of the medals, perhaps not even qualifying for the team final.
Yet actually, let’s look at how they responded to the green pool incident. Firstly after testing the water, a short statement from the official Twitter account.
The water quality at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre was tested and there were no risks for the athletes. We are investigating the cause.
— Rio 2016 (@Rio2016_en) 9 August 2016
So the organizers showed themselves to be on the case while assuaging any fears for athlete’s health, all in 140 characters. Remember, you’re always best to respond through the same media if you have the ’instant rebuttal’.
A statement followed. “As a result, the pH level of the water was outside the usual range, causing the discoloration. The FINA Sport Medicine Committee conducted tests on the water quality and concluded that there was no risk to the health and safety of the athletes, and no reason for the competition to be affected.”
A straightforward answer nipping all this in the bud, and since then even Tom Daley himself has defended the green pool – great third party influencer endorsement.
So perhaps a tentative bronze medal for the press office. They have coined this the Green Games after all!