ANALYSIS: Gold medal for PROs in Manchester - Press cynicism notwithstanding, the Commonwealth Games have proved a PR triumph - not just for the games, but also for the future of their host city, says Andy Allen

Britain's athletes may have picked up a larger than expected haul of medals, but the real winner in PR terms at Manchester's Commonwealth Games has been the city itself.

Whereas curmudgeonly journalists have cast doubts of the value of the medal tally in the absence of competitors from countries such as the US and Germany, almost none have been able to find fault with the host city's performance during the biggest multi-sport event ever held on these shores.

As athletes, spectators and journalists began leaving the city this week - to be followed by the ten-strong PR team at the end of the month, Manchester may have felt strangely empty compared to the previous week.

Yet at current estimates the city will have raised more than £600m in public and private investment through the Games, according to Cambridge Policy Consultants, an economic consultancy commissioned by Manchester City Council to investigate the long-term effects of the Games on the city.

Following the vast media success of last year's Sydney Olympics was never going to be easy, but the equivalent of 6,100 full-time jobs will have been created - a figure comparable to the Sydney games. Every year from now on, an extra 300,000 visitors will spend an extra £12m in the region, according to estimates.

Speaking halfway through the Games, council press chief Janine Watson, said: 'We've been delighted with the coverage - though the real test will be if we're still seeing benefits next year and in ten years' time.'

Watson, along with press officers from the council, Games, police, government offices and other agencies, has been based for the duration in the MIG (media information group) communication centre to ensure a rapidly co-ordinated media response.

She believes MIG has served its purpose for crisis management and beyond, and cites the fifth day when four days of glorious sunshine in Manchester gave way to a far more typical downpour. Such was the rain's severity that it threatened to put key car-parks in the park-and-ride scheme out of action and derail the entire transport set-up.

As diggers were ensuring the threatened car-parks would remain open, the MIG team was reassuring the public that travel arrangements were unchanged before confusion could set in: 'Because we were working alongside each other it was easy to get these messages out very quickly,' says Watson.

In response to grumbling in the press by England gold medallists Jonathan Edwards and Paula Radcliffe about the fact the stadium will be handed over to Manchester City Football Club rather than becoming a permanent home for athletics, Watson is unapologetic. She points out that athletics doesn't have the means to sustain such a stadium and that renting it to the club once the Games were over guarantees its long-term future.

Indeed, the central message of all those promoting the Games has been that the stadium - and numerous other leisure facilities built in East Manchester, an area that has been in steep decline for decades - can take credit for regenerating the area to the extent that Fujitsu and other major firms are announcing plans to move in.

And as well as investment, the facilities have helped build a new image of the area among its community as well as outsiders, says Charlotte Batra, press officer for the urban regeneration company New East Manchester.

'Regeneration would have happened in the area, but it may not have been as comprehensive and extensive without the Games,' she says.

However, the city and the athletes have not been the only winner in PR terms. Ketchum director of sport PR Steve Martin believes sponsors will be delighted with the wall-to-wall athletics coverage granted by the BBC and Commonwealth Games sections of up to seven pages in the tabloids.

Martin says doubts as to whether the Games really would catch on among the public have been dispelled. He saw the Games as something of an unknown quantity, but: 'They've been hugely helped by not having to compete with football and other sports, and the sponsors have seen the benefits.'

First-class facilities and infrastructure mean Manchester is now being talked about as a potential Olympic venue, he adds. This line, which has been increasingly touted in the media, is music to the ears of the Games' senior press officer Roz Hughes, who, like her colleagues, will be looking for a new job next month.

Hughes says coverage and feedback from sponsors and athletes has been remarkably positive and most importantly, stadiums have been packed - allaying the PR team's biggest fear.

One internal crisis did occur in July when the Games' head of comms Mike Hales had to leave his job for family reasons. But the post was promptly filled by Jackie Brock-Doyle, who was handling PR for the Queen's Baton Relay, on secondment from local agency Capital PR.

Reflecting on a hectic couple of weeks, during which Hughes and her colleagues were working '17 hours a day', she says: 'The cynics in the press have been struggling for anything negative to say.' They have failed.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in