Six Lessons from Sochi on Client Relations
Much like Olympic events, business communications programs involve both artful and impeccable technical execution of strategic events -- from client relationships to media outreach. Our Olympics-inspired blog series features medal-worthy best practices to implement as part of your broader program.
With the NFL season now over, the NBA in mid-season doldrums, the NHL on hiatus for the Olympics and MLB spring training still a few weeks away, we've arrived at the dead zone of sports viewing. So, we turn our attention to the Sochi Winter Olympic Games.
There was plenty of news leading up to Sochi and virtually all of it bad. Tales of corruption, construction delays, terrorist threats, mass roundups and presumed killing of stray animals and the Russian government's inexcusable stance on gay and lesbian lifestyles set up an environment just ripe for a crisis. Heck, each of those would be a HUGE crisis by itself if the games were in the U.S. And when the reporters from around the world arrived to find their living conditions ranging from comical to downright disgusting -- which they immediately broadcast to the world through social media -- you could say that this has to be THE case study for crisis communications.
But I'm not going to talk about that. That would be easier than shooting fish in barrel. Instead let's look at what we can learn from the events and athletes competing in the games as it relates to client relations management.
- Preparation. Every athlete has put thousands of hours preparing for this moment. They've put everything they have into giving themselves the best chance of competing at their top level and possibly winning. They've trained, studied their competition and analyzed the track/course/surface they will be competing on. They are striving to leave nothing to chance. This is a good lesson for starting out on the right foot with your client and keeping them happy over the long term. Demonstrating that you are always doing the extra things to understand them, their markets, who matters to them and anticipating their needs sets a great foundation for success.
- Planning. As we watch these athletes compete we marvel at their strength, agility, reflexes and courage. It's easy to forget the mental part of their game, which is planning. The skiers, snowboarders, skaters and sledders all come into their races or competitions with very specific plans of attack to maximize their chance for victory. Same holds true in working with clients. Working collaboratively in mapping out a strategy, tactics and specific goals keeps the overall program on task and ensures that both the client and the agency are on the same page.
- Adjusting. Once the competition begins the athletes are constantly encountering new variables. Those who can adjust the fastest are often the ones at the podium holding the gold. Flexibility and quick adjustments to communications activities is essential in today's business world. Reacting quickly to a competitor or handling a crisis requires nimble thinking and an ability to conceive and implement new programs and tactics.
- Managing risk. The addition of the extreme sports to the Olympics has ramped up the risk factor significantly. But risk has always been part of the equation for these athletes. To win they know they must often push themselves to the brink of disaster to win. Similarly, agencies must often push clients to think differently, which can make them uncomfortable. Asking clients to take chances, i.e., calculated risks, which will take them out of their comfort zone is a requirement.
- Managing expectations. There are thousands of athletes competing for a few medals. Most of them know that they won't get one, but they compete anyway. Why? Because it's what they do and they want to do it the best they possible can and then live with the results. Working with clients to define a clear set of achievable goals is essential. We all want that gold medal equivalent -- the company profile in the Wall Street Journal -- but for most companies that is just not possible given their situation. But other kinds of results that connect them to their customers and prospects is victory as well.
- Celebrating success. While the medal ceremonies honor the top three athletes/teams we all know that it also took many others to help make it happen -- family, friends, coaches, trainers, officials and even competitors. The best of these take the time to recognize this fact. Agencies should see themselves as the support team and their client as the athlete. The client's success is the agency's success. In turn, the best clients know that it takes a great support team at the agency to achieve their goals and recognizes them for it.
As the Sochi games have unfolded, many of the crisis issues I outline above have faded into the background and viewers now focus on the competitions and the athletes. With many events yet to begin, I'm sure we'll see these client relations practices play themselves out many times. I'll be looking for some new ones. What about you? Can you think of some others you've seen? If so, tell me about them.