Two Lessons from the Sochi Winter Olympics on Online Exposure

With Putin & Co. spending over $50,000,000,000 on the Sochi Winter Olympics (more than all of the Winter Olympics EVER combined!) and the many things that have gone wrong in the lead up to the games, there are plenty of takeaways for Public Relations and Digital Marketing. This is especially true since the message Putin is trying to convey is that Russia is an advanced country and has reclaimed its rightful place in the world hierarchy (see: Cold War).

But how does this apply to you as a business owner? When you look at it, the mistakes that Putin and his cohorts are making are (unfortunately) the same mistakes small businesses make when building an online presence, so without further ado here are the two lessons:

1) Ensure you “own” the story before Social Media does.

In a bid to get Sochi prepared for the expected hundreds of thousands of visitors, corners were cut in the accommodations and other non-essential facilities. While I’m sure you’ve seen the actual facilities for the sporting events and thought they looked fine (and they do), it is the hotels and entertainment venues in Sochi itself that remain unfinished, and in some cases hazardous to guests.

Exactly the color you want your water to be in a hotel.
Exactly the color you want your water to be in a hotel.

The picture above sums up how your carefully planned Public Relations and Branding can be destroyed in one picture, on one social media platform. Not only do Putin & Co. get their projection of Russia as an advanced country wiped out – they don’t even get a chance to respond, the damage is done. Some say any publicity is good publicity, but this mantra is not the case in the social media age.

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Juxtapose this with yourself. Imagine you’ve created a promotional event for your company and made it the hype of your target audience in your local market, and then when you actually host it, some easily avoidable slip up happens, like the food has visible mold on it. One “twitpic” is all it takes for your credibility to be ruined, no matter if it’s unrelated to your products or services/how much you prepared for your event/ how much free stuff you give away to repent.

Just as with the mysteriously colored liquid in the pic above, you (as the Russians could also do) need to make absolutely sure you are “covering all of your bases” and preventing slip ups like this in the first place. However, if the worst thing possible happens (like moldy food at an event), you need to figure out a creative way to respond to it, instead of just coming out with a boring statement that no one listens to anyways. What’s going to deal with it better? A boring press release in a newspaper like the 1950’s or a funny joke about your business and the gaffe, promoted through Social Media?

This is a nice segue into the next lesson.

2) Don’t use graphics and branding to tell your story alone, use actions as well.

Putin and his yes men seem to think that slick, “Web 2.0” style branding will help dispel Western images of Russia as a backwards, semi-feudal state that is usually up to something adversarial to our interests. How wrong he is.

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We know this is the case, because in the run-up to the Olympics, Putin “solved” all of these self-created problems (see: Greenpeace Activists, Pussy Riot, Khodorkovsky). This was a clear attempt to show that Russia is addressing the problems I talked about before, except there is one thing Putin has not addressed – the rampant corruption of the funds allocated to the games.

Just like Putin had only one real thing to dispel:  corruption.
Just like Putin had only one real thing to dispel: corruption.

An estimated $30,000,000,000 was siphoned from funds allocated for the games, and has not been talked about at all by the Russians. The corruption of Russian officials has probably been the single most covered news story of the whole games, and Putin & Co. have only passingly mentioned it is as a non-issue.

There is a clear lesson from all of this (as a small to medium size business owner), which is if you aren’t truthful with your prospects/customers, they will find out. And that will direct the conversation more than anything you can say.  Picture your business having a PR disaster (like a picture of visibly moldy food being tweeted from your company’s promotional event). If all you did was try to rebrand yourself with slick new graphics, do you really think people will trust you again?

Of course not.

To combat the particular PR disaster of the moldy food example, you would firstly address it straight away at the event, then reorder food. In terms of fallout, there would be little you could do. If you have the attendees’ contact information, you could follow up with an email/letter apologizing for the mistake, and offer a discount for your products/services. You could go on to specifically spell out that you hope this will undo some of the damage caused in their minds from the moldy food.

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The point above is that the only way to deal with an image problem is to approach it head on, especially because of this age of social media and instant communications we live in. Russia has a corruption problem, and no amount of slick branding and money will change this. The only solution is to address it head on and launch a full investigation of the program to build the Olympic facilities.

And there you have it, a definitive guide to how lessons from a $50,000,000,000 event can apply to your small business. We pride ourselves on spotting trends that define small businesses online in all walks of life, so drop us a line if you’d like to discuss how these trends can help improve your company’s bottom line.

Logan Overstreet works for a Digital Marketing firm in Washington, DC called Nova Digitus. He helps small to medium sized businesses leverage the power of the internet to drive just one thing: Positive ROI. Conact Logan at [email protected] or visit

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