CAMPAIGN: Sochi triumphs in Olympic Games bid

Russia has never hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, despite being the world’s largest and most successful winter sports nation with 293 medals. The Black Sea city of Sochi was an outside bet for the 2014 Winter Games, so it appointed Weber Shandwick Worldwide to lead an 18-month global communications campaign.

Campaign: Gateway to the Future: Winning Russia’s First Ever Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in 2014
Client: Sochi 2014
PR Team: Weber Shandwick Worldwide
Timescale: January 2006-July 2007
Budget: Part of a bid budget of £13.5m

To deliver a global media relations programme to generate support for Sochi 2014’s bid. To convince the voting members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that it was Russia’s turn to host in 2014.

Strategy and plan
Weber Shandwick pulled together a team of Olympic experts who worked on the Beijing 2008 and Paris 2012 Summer Olympics to work with Sochi 2014’s small in-house comms team.

As well as daily media relations activities with key Olympic media, the campaign created various high-profile events to spread Sochi 2014’s ‘Gateway to the Future’ message around the world.

When the IOC visited Sochi in February, 300 journalists were given access to Russian President Vladimir Putin, members of the Russian government, the bid committee and several reigning and former Olympic champions.

An ‘Ambassadors Programme’ saw more than 100 sporting, political and cultural icons back Sochi 2014 around the world.

The week before the 4 July IOC vote in Guatemala City, ‘Winter Wimbledon’ in London saw tennis star Maria Sharapova hold a skills session in the shadow of Tower Bridge on a purpose-built court to show her support for Sochi 2014.

The campaign ended in a flurry of activity in Guatemala City on 4 July. This included daily press briefings, media events with Russian Olympic champions and Guatemalan youngsters, and stunts to ensure Sochi 2014 was the bid being talked about in Guatemala.

During the campaign, Weber Shandwick responded to 24-hour media enquiries from around the world, provided thousands of images to media, arranged hundreds of one-on-one interviews with bid committee members, high-ranking politicians and Olympic stars, and distributed more than 200 press releases.

Measurement and evaluation

The international press corps provided extensive coverage. Hundreds of journalists attended Sochi 2014 press events in Guatemala City and the campaign generated coverage in more than 100 countries.


On 4 July, Sochi secured 51 votes from the IOC delegates in Guatemala City, beating its South Korean rival Pyeongchang by just four votes and securing Russia’s first ever Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

Sochi 2014 was widely recognised to have won the media battle between the competing bids of Salzburg, Austria and Pyeongchang.

Dmitry Chernyshenko, CEO of Sochi 2014, praised Weber Shandwick’s programme and support for his team throughout the 18-month campaign at key points of the bidding process.


Susan McMahon (l), managing director, Bell Pottinger Sport & Sponsorship: The Sochi 2014 bid for the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games was managed well from start to finish.

Pulling together a global taskforce from the Weber Shandwick (WS) network was key. Having experienced personnel who had worked on Beijing 2008 and Paris 2012 gave the agency a natural advantage and a strong starting point. Running a 24-hour global media office that can respond within an hour was excellent.

This type of service is often talked about in pitches, but it requires a lot of hard work to actually implement. We did a similar thing to help the Beijing 2008 bid in 2000-01, and WS made this happen for Sochi 2014 in an apparently seamless manner.

Brand consistency is very important and the Sochi 2014 message ‘Gateway to the Future’ was clear and present in nearly all communications, making sure that it became synonymous with the bid.

The Ambassadors Programme, while predictable, worked well – particularly the use of tennis ace Maria Sharapova. The winter tennis clinic was well picked up because of the timing, and using the week before Wimbledon guaranteed coverage close to the vote in Guatemala.

Providing access to President Putin and other government officials and former sporting champions is not easy to co-ordinate, manage or plan, so to implement this for 300 media was no mean feat. This was one of the highlights of the campaign.

All in all, WS got the global and local mix right. Big events and stunts were picked up internationally, and sat side-by-side with strong local activities in multiple markets.

It made the bid a ‘must see’ campaign.

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