The Olympic Games missed PR opportunity

The Summer Olympics buzz has been building for months. Now that we’re less than a week away, I’m as jazzed as the next person to watch amazing displays of athletic prowess. This year, I also can’t help thinking about the missed PR opportunity.

Obesity is a worldwide epidemic. Childhood obesity rates are especially alarming. Obesity was brought to the Olympic stage a few weeks ago when the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges openly criticized long-term Olympic sponsors McDonald’s and Coca-Cola for their roles in propagating the problem. The Olympic governing body weighed in as well, stating their concerns about obesity, but the millions of dollars in sponsorship are much needed and cannot be turned away.

McDonald’s countered with statements about the healthy choices they are providing like porridge, smoothies, and salads alongside fries and Big Macs. McDonalds also plans a multichannel exercise program aimed at kids. Admirable efforts that would be far more impactful, as well as credible, if positive health messages played a bigger role in, and were pulled through more of, its communications.

I just saw a story about a new McDonald’s TV spot, for example. The ad is cute, focused on some tension between a son who stays up far into the night to watch the games and his dad who turns off the TV knowing the boy needs sleep. The commercial ends with the father proffering a peace offering of a bag of McDonald’s fries and then they watch together happily huddled beneath a sheet. Would the impact be lost if the dad pulled out a bag of McDonald’s apple slices instead?

McDonalds, Coke, and the US Olympic Committee could each handle this situation better from a PR perspective. I also wonder why no company, group of companies, or industry association operating in the healthcare space sees the Olympics as a platform for a powerful, global message about an important health issue. The high price tag for sponsorship is undoubtedly a deterrent.

However, now that British doctors have thrust obesity into the headlines, I am cautiously optimistic the healthcare industry will step up to the Olympic plate. Already GlaxoSmithKline is serving as the official laboratory services provider for the Games this year, providing anti-doping testing. But what if a group of the leading worldwide pharmaceutical companies each diverted a portion, say 5% to 10%, of their annual DTC budgets to a pooled global Olympic sponsorship dedicated to awareness of a worldwide health issue. The PR opportunities are endless, from multiple stakeholder engagement and global media coverage to the overall halo effect that would last well beyond the games.

The most effective campaign, of course, would be a cooperative affair including PR, advertising, CRM, digital, and professional outreach.

The Winter Olympics are in 2014. It is not too soon to begin planning.

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