The Sochi Question: Is There Such a Thing as Bad PR?


By: Lauren Lehocky

Who doesn’t love a good PR disaster? When you’re on the outside looking in, it’s hard not to laugh when someone’s ill-timed comments go viral. But what happens when a person, business, or place you’ve never even heard of suddenly hits the PR news circuit? Thanks to social media, even the little-known town of Sochi, Russia is getting their 15 minutes of fame.

This year’s games have not been without scandal. At one point the Sochi Olympics were hailed as part of the vision for a new Russia, but thanks to the speed and reach of social media, the country has not fared well.  These games are said to be the most expensive in the history of the Winter Olympics, with a hefty price tag of $50 million. The fruits of their so-called labor, however, have yet to be seen by visitors, and tourist struggles have been made public by the trending topic #SochiProblems.

We’ve seen bricklayers scrambling to complete streets just days before floods of tourists arrived. Our stomachs turned when we heard about the government killing stray dogs in the street. Photos of rooms without doorknobs and dysfunctional toilets flooded the internet.  All that plus the lack of heat, Internet, and clean water for athletes and reporters at hotels in the Olympic Village made all of us at home glad to be stateside.

The government’s response to these problems sounds straight out of a syndicated sitcom. Aside from advising people to steer clear of the drinking water, claiming that journalists are overhyping problems, and hinting at bathroom surveillance, the Russian government has generally remained silent, letting the games speak for themselves.

Well, maybe this PR isn’t all bad.  After all, who had even heard of Sochi before media coverage began? The amount of publicity that Russia received prior to these games was the perfect excuse for the government to spend millions of dollars revamping a once-forgotten town. Now that they’ve used the money to create a new world-class tourist spot (one that has more hotel rooms than Moscow), a bump in the economy is almost inevitable, even with the issues that visitors are facing. In fact, Sochi is set to host a G8 Summit in just a few months.

So does the old saying, “There’s no such thing as bad PR” ring true for Sochi and the Russian government? We’ll have to wait and see once the Olympic Village leaves. For now, scrolling through Twitter is enough for us.

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