Sports PR Olympics: The Race After The Games End

This article is a summary of a podcast recorded by the PRSA Entertainment & Sports section on August 2nd with Drew Johnson. To listen to the full recording, log in and listen here.


With another Olympics coming to an end, many functions related to the global event have begun to simmer down. Media coverage slowly returns to its normal routine, reporters fly back home, athletes earn much needed breaks and stadium seats get broken down. But for those working in sports PR, especially for Olympic athletes, the hard part is just beginning: how do we keep Olympic athletes relevant after the games end?

Drew Johnson, Director of Strategic Communications at Octagon Olympic & Action Sports, recently sat down with PRSA's Entertainment & Sports section to discuss the strategy that goes into preparing for an Olympic year, and his tips for keeping these athletes top-of-mind during the years in between.

With nearly 20 years of PR experience, Drew provides insight on athlete marketing, building strong media relationships, breaking through the digital noise, and achieving success during non-Olympic years.

On keeping Olympians relevant:

With four years of downtime between each Olympics, you need to plan ahead to keep athletes top-of-mind. It's important for athletes to enter the Olympic year with a support group. Use the four years in between to create a platform for athletes to connect with their key stakeholders and fan base. The plan for every athlete is different, based on respective goals and aspirations.

On keeping the media interested in non-Olympic years:

It can be a challenge to get your athlete in front of a reporter or publication during a non-Olympic year, but if you’re waiting until the Olympics to introduce your athlete to the media, it’s too late. The goal during non-Olympic years isn’t quantity, but quality. Your job is to educate the media on your athlete and what they’re working toward. Three important steps to keep in mind:

1.     Identify key messages

2.     Identify key outlets and reporters

3.     Concentrate more on building relationships with reporters rather than getting the story

On breaking through the digital noise:

With the growth of the digital age, the media landscape is forever changed. Not only do larger publications need to break through the noise, but so do you on behalf of your athletes. The impact of a TIME magazine cover isn’t what it used to be 10 years ago, so you have to identify the niche markets that fit your athlete’s key messages and strategy. Readership and reach has changed and now a big publication doesn’t necessarily mean success for your athlete.

You must concentrate on creating a lasting impression for your athletes in a 365, 24/7 news cycle.

On executing PR growth for athletes in non-Olympic years:

All PR starts locally. You are not going to land big-name publications from the very start. You need to build rapport with local reporters and establish recognizability for your athlete. PR grows with recognizability.

When you’re first starting out, although pitching sports seems like the natural fit, it's important to branch out. Find out more about your athlete, discover their hobbies, talents and interests, and find ways to pitch them to lifestyle, fashion, cooking sections, and more.

Throughout all of this, it’s important to remember some stories take months to develop and some take weeks. Reporters are busy too and it’s crucial to be efficient and smart with your approach — that’s how you achieve success.  

On marketing strategies for bigger-named Olympians: 

During an Olympic year, demand begins to outweigh the time athletes can provide media. For athletes like Michael Phelps and Simone Biles, it becomes harder to accommodate every publication and reporter. This is when you have to consider your strategy and respective goals, and why it's so important to build those media relationships.

Ask yourself which reporters you have good relationships with, who has been there for the most meets and most importantly, how the media opportunity helps your athlete reach their respective goals. Although there are times athletes pick their own opportunities for reasons as minor as liking the publication, each opportunity should fit your marketing strategy.

Practitioners working in the high-profile worlds of sports and entertainment face unique challenges. PRSA’s Entertainment and Sports Section offers opportunities to connect with peers through in-person and virtual networking events, newsletters and other resources. To learn more, go to www.prsa.org.