Friday, August 13, 2004

Five Ring Circus

The Olympics officially kick off tonight in Athens, Greece. Much pomp and circumstance surrounds the international event, in which countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe will attempt to swim, dash, shoot and run into the gold-leafed books of history.

The competitors’ movements will be judged, timed, and ultimately assigned a grade; only the top three performers in each contest earn the right to step to the podium.

Call it the world’s largest product review.

In this case the product is people, who have toiled relentlessly to hone their skills in a bid for Olympic Gold, the standard against which all others will be judged. From a PR perspective, it’s an awful lot like the competitive landscape in which our clients ply their trades – they just do so without the pageantry or glory. The prize? Cold hard cash.

Athletes eat right, train hard, study the tapes of their competitors and steel themselves for the endurance tests that will define their legacies. Businesses must continually develop product, sell like nobody’s business and strive to define, or in some cases redefine, their respective categories.

Olympians looking for a competitive edge sometimes resort to drastic measures, namely the use of performance-enhancing drugs, known in athletic parlance as “doping.” And while this can indeed enhance performance, it’s frowned upon to the extent that those caught using illicit drugs are history – athletes with drugs in their systems don’t get to make history.

Fortunately for businesses hoping to throttle the competition, PR happens to be perfectly legal. In fact, it’s best if the whole world knows a company is “using” PR, because that means the whole world knows about the company.

But using strong PR, even the really pure stuff, is no substitute for hardcore product development. Even the most potent PR can only do so much: it can create the perception that your company is the one to beat. It can convince the cynical masses that your operation is on the fast track. It can get more partnerships and more ink in the publications you care about.

But you’ve got to pay off its promise by putting in the time to make sure your products truly outshine the competition. Strip away the PR and, just like athletes who stop using drugs, you are what you are.

If there’s a moral to this blatant attempt to tie this entry to the Olympics, it’s that even great PR can’t make your products better. At the end of the day, reviewers, like Olympic judges, will grade the performance of your products – not the performance of your publicity.

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