Priceless Media Gaffes from London 2012 and What Anyone Can Learn From Them

Few events command the sort of global attention as the Olympic games. The London games’ International Broadcast Center hosts more than 20,000 broadcasters, photographers and journalists, and with millions of Olympics-related tweets each day of the games, what happens in London most certainly does not stay in London.

Photographers at the London 2012 aquatics center.

The athletes of these 2012 games have instantly become unofficial national spokespeople, and in some cases, global celebrities with all the scrutiny and visibility that comes with it. This is the perfect time to underscore the benefits that a well-managed social and traditional media presence can provide for anyone engaging with media – in person or online, on the field or in the boardroom, athlete and executive alike.

In the week since the games’ official start, a number of athletes have managed to prove that a natural-born Olympic athlete does not necessarily guarantee a natural-born spokesperson.  Take 23-year-old Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou, whose 17-word racially charged tweet last week resulted in her immediate removal from the Greek team – even before the games were underway. Or Ryan Lochte, who’s recently started to gain notoriety for all the wrong reasons after a series of botched interviews, bizarre tweets, and news reports of his mother dishing on his “one-night stands” left us all feeling very perplexed. Switzerland’s Michel Morganella found himself cut from the Olympic soccer team on Monday following another round of racist tweets targeted at the South Korean team after the Swiss lost 2-1 on Sunday.

It’s important to get athletes in front of media and out into the social discourse – yes – but as unexpected ambassadors for their home nations, and as rising celebrities in their own right, every single one of them could benefit from a little practice and coaching. In the business world, the same applies. For anyone connected to an organization, be it the Greek triple jumper representing her national team, and by extension that very nation, or an executive representing a company or product, the distinction is rarely drawn between personal comments and an official message. Focusing a small amount of time and effort toward recognizing this inevitability and employing a few lightweight methods of staying focused and avoiding missteps like this goes a long way – and is even doable on an athlete’s busy schedule.

Media training can be quick and painless, and a little goes a long way, but at the very least keeping a few basics in mind will help anyone survive a few minutes in the spotlight:

– Understand who your audience is and what organizations or groups you represent.

– Keep your comments short and easily understood – even when they are taken out of context.

– Try your best to stay on message.

Check back in the next few weeks for the second piece of this post with more specific tips and techniques for easy ways to develop a good spokesperson out of just about anyone. Just remember, what’s true in sport is always true in the media – practice makes perfect.

Dave Gifford can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @david_gifford.