Neha Mathur Rastogi, founder, WordsWork PR has long been at the forefront of sports communications with marquee clients such as Khelo India, Hockey India, Roland Garros (Paris), Pro Volleyball, and JSW Sports among others.
With India winning its first track and field Gold with Neeraj Chopra and its first hockey medal in decades, Neha shares her experience in planning communication for the mecca of global sport-the Olympics-held in an unusual year in 2021 in Tokyo.
PRmoment India: The challenges of communications during an Olympics held during Covid?
Neha Mathur Rastogi: This Olympic cycle was different for more reasons than one. The onset of the pandemic shifted the iconic games by a year breaking the four-year cycle for the first time after 1948. After a lot of protocols being set the games were finally held this year in July-August 2021 but not without its challenges. A sporting extravaganza of mammoth scale was pushed into a closed-door event.
Limited contingents, limited spectators, and many protocols for media to ensure safety made all of us face some never-before obstacles. To cover athletes and their performance with no eyes and very limited media on ground meant that we needed to innovate. Players were not allowed to give interviews outside of specific spaces.
We ended up relying on virtual press sessions and written content basis telecast and photos. The outcome however, was least affected due to the incredible efforts of the media to work with what they got and do proper justice to covering the games in a majority of the cases completely remotely.
PRmoment India: Your experience with communications for the Indian hockey teams?
Neha Mathur Rastogi: We worked with the Indian Hockey teams and select individual athletes across wrestling and athletics. The build up to the games was intense and we ensured we never got in the way of critical training. We worked basis the directive of the team coaches and created opportunities via special media days where the team members could virtually interact with the media. During the games, our team was designated to write match reports for the India matches and took shifts to do the early morning reports as well.
During those days it was absolutely normal to wake up at 5 am and put out a release by 7:30 am. Finding ways to get media the best access while the team was away, was our constant endeavour. The best experience for us however was to witness the athlete’s arrival back to India and the sheer fan fare they received.
The airport was packed with processions coming from athletes hometowns and villages, the deafening sound of the celebratory dhol and sheer patriotic pride. The athletes were amply covered by all media above and beyond our core sports segments. Sports like hockey were on primetime news with primetime anchors.
The athletes ever since are still receiving an overflow of affection from fans across the country. The sense of deep happiness we feel seeing them achieve this level of well-earned recognition is hard to explain. It makes the immense hard work extremely gratifying. It’s all about the athletes welfare for us. Always.
PRmoment India: Your take on the future of sports communication post-Covid-19.
Neha Mathur Rastogi: As Covid has changed how we communicate across the board, it holds true for sports as well. The most intrinsic change is being able to cover sport remotely.
We as a team are used to being on ground, in the thick of action, managing press centres at stadiums, doing several press conferences in a month. This panoramic scale and magnitude that we are accustomed to being shrunk into a small laptop screen has not been an easy journey to say the least.
But we have all adapted well. In a strange way it has brought us closer and built stronger bonds. We have become an essential conduit between media and bio bubble format sporting events. We need to be that constant source of content and visuals for them to be able to do their stories justice.
The virtual format has taken over and we conduct press conferences and interviews with ease. Perhaps even more members from the media can be accessed given the lack of locational constraint. So while we may take these benefits forward in the future as well, we at the same time cant wait to get back on the field in the literal sense.
PRmoment India: India View on congratulatory messages by brands keeping in mind the PV Sindhu incident.
Neha Mathur Rastogi: There is a fine line between genuinely congratulating an athlete for an achievement and on the other hand using an athlete without any consent for your brands or products communication. Period.
It is not fair to the athlete and to the brands who actually pay a fair price to gain their endorsement. This is a learning curve we need to cross quickly and develop some professional SOPs when it comes to athletes IP specially in the digital space.
PRmoment India: Your personal evolution in being a sports communicator and the changes you have seen along the way?
Neha: The industry has seen a lot of change over the last decade or so. Communications for sport started as a seasonal occupation and we actually had a distinct calendar of events bunched between October and February. We used to pretty much run dry during the summer months.
Today, our calendar for our sports team is blessed to be packed the whole year round. The development of a league and club culture across sports beyond the usual suspects really helped us gain volume along the way. I started my career in motorsport and used to focus on a few niche sports. One by one my team gained confidence across over twenty odd disciplines, and we also went through some seriously intense learning opportunities with the management of leagues and global tournaments which helped us develop our own best practices.
Each experience took us one step further, building essential goodwill along the way. The sports industry in itself shows a lot of variety of work between the governing bodies, private stakeholders and individual athletes. They appreciate a specialised approach. And there is never a dull moment.
Neha Mathur Rastogi is Founder, WordWork PR