Is brand endorsements for Olympic athletes the new flashpoint for the PR and journo engagement?

An old joke about the print media, with a fair amount of truth in it during the days of non digital media goes like this. Times Of India is read by people who think they run the country, The Hindu is read by people who they think must rule the country, Indian Express is read by people who actually run the country, Hindustan times is read by wives of the people who run the country, Economic Times is read by people who own the country and Telegraph is read by people who think the country should be run by another country. 

Now do these taglines also define the profile of the journalist who works there also is a question which needs answers. This may not be true in case of all journalists (I am not here to generalize) but some of the new entrants are sometimes quick to react on social media. 

With the Olympics event in Japan some brands are making their presence felt who are not directly associated with the mega global sporting event. An international Pizza brand came forward and struck a brand activation deal with Indian weightlifter and also gave her free pizza for lifetime as a deal. 

According to Times of India, "Domino's Pizza pledged free pizza for life to India's silver medallist Saikhom Mirabai Chanu, after the champion said she wished to eat pizza after her feat at the Tokyo Olympics."

While the brand was trolled badly as pizza is considered a junk food and not the best eat for sportspersons, but the brand no doubt wanted to do some quick newsjacking.

Few days later another cement company announced that all medal winners will stand to gain free cement supply to build their dream homes. Going by the offer many felt that this was an ideal offer to those athletes who come from humble backgrounds and do not get attention as other sports actually get. 

Field and track events do not get that attention even in normal situations and they get international exposure only on such limited occasions. However the announcement received expansive coverage and even the share prices of the cement company shot up by 2%.

But few journalists representing their own media houses took to social media started attacking PR professionals for the “bad idea” and “riding on success” opportunity.

City journalists who work from posh offices in an AC atmosphere, or in today’s context from the comfort of their homes with a laptop and an internet connection are little exposed to the pains of training in adverse situations. 

How many journalists understand the plight of those who represent “not so popular sport” or “coming from smaller towns” or “inadequate sports infrastructure” and still rise to the top. They live in conditions which only they know as to how tough it is. Any contribution by brands is welcome for these not so privileged athletes. 

We have heard stories especially in smaller towns, where small businesses give away tiles, paints, pipes, cables and such needy items to these achievers with joy and no expectations. 

Many English language media journalists have an opinion about industries representing old economy and sometimes have pre-conceived notion of non-national brands.  Another narrative created is that English media builds brands while regional media is used as padding. 

As per last IRS English language media which is urban based grew by less than 5% while regional media grew by 18% which indicates that with rising literacy levels (80% now) the first newspaper the reader picks is the regional daily. Moral – give regional media its due and use it for the brand advantage.

Raghavendra Rao is Consultant, Media Influencer and Brand Evangelist