Rio2016 Olympic Games communications director explains how the city is getting ready for 30,000 journalists
By the time the Olympic Games start in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 5, 2016, the communications team will have spent three years preparing for the influx of more than 30,000 media workers, millions of fans and scores of critics with eyes on Brazil.
Mario Andrada, executive director of communications for the games, spoke at the University of Texas at Austin on Oct. 23 about his team’s planning and preparation for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The Brazilian is no stranger to the world of journalism or public relations, having worked as director of communications for Nike and reporter for a score of publications and outlets including CBS, Reuters, Folha de São Paulo and Jornal do Brasil.
After being hired, he brought a strategic profile to his team that included elements such as transparency, coordination of a single voice between the different parties involved, dialog with the media, proactive communication and taking similar measures for national and international media.
This involved replacing official statements and press releases with personal phone calls to reporters, as well as the mapping of influential media around the globe and making special efforts to get coverage with them.
While Brazil is going through a “complicated moment” with a troubled economy and scandal in government, Andrada said that, for the moment, the Games are the good news for the country.
"This increases our responsibility, but on the other hand gives us a chance to enjoy more space in the media," Andrada said.
The communications director expects 25,100 accredited and another 5,000 unaccredited media professionals for the Olympic Games. More will come in town for the Paralympic Games that follow. With so many journalists, influencing coverage is a real challenge; not all of those media professionals will be looking for the “good news.”
"Having 35,000 people looking for news in your city means that they're going to find anything they want to find. So there are no secrets. And you have to be smart in a way to cope with that," Andrada said.
For that reason, Andrada said it’s important to be relaxed and find an answer and dialog for any questions that arise.
Some of the most frequent questions in the news have been about spending.
Many saw the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as the testing grounds for the Olympic Games two years later, so the world watched closely as millions took to the streets in the summer of 2013 to protest spending on the mega event.
Spending is the number one reason why Brazilians have negative opinions of the games, Andrada said.
A good deal of funding for the games, about 60 percent, comes from private sources, he explained. Additionally, those in charge of venues and infrastructure have come up with solutions such as building temporary structures that can be dismantled and used to build schools or canoe competition facilities that can be turned into a pool when the games are over.
Andrada explained that 90 percent of their work so far has been to communicate and make clear and tangible the Games' "legacy," the lasting impact of the Games for not only the world, but also for Brazil.
"If you're building games that will cost US $20 billion, they need to do something more; you need to justify your investment, and that's called legacy," Andrada said.
In addition to increasing the tourism capacity of the city and adding new training facilities for high performance athletes, he sees a new transportation system that combines rapid bus and rail lines as one of those main legacies. Others are education programs in schools that teach students about different sports.
Yet, convincing Brazilian residents and journalists of that legacy is not always easy.
In July 2015, the Associated Press reported that water in game venues contained “dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria from human sewage.”
"The media is prepared for negative stories. They know that the Games are such a huge operation that somebody is going to drop the ball somewhere. So ahead of the Winter Games in Sochi they were complaining about spending and they were complaining about readiness. With us, they are complaining about the Guanabara Bay which is not very clean and they were trying to find stories about readiness," Andrada said. "So if you're not late or if you're doing things right, you need to find a way to convince the media and to provide some negative stories because otherwise they are going to look for negative stories and will not report on your good stories."
The Games organizers have 283 days to work out the rest of the kinks before millions of tourists and journalists descend upon Rio de Janeiro. If past games are any indication, the world will be listening to and reading stories about human triumph over life's challenges and incredible athletic feats. There will also be articles and broadcasts about traffic, negative social impact, and possibly, scandal. Andrada and his team will spend the remaining weeks and months until next August getting ready for all of it.
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