All eyes were on Simone Biles as she entered the Tokyo Olympics waiting to make history, again.
After getting a case of “the twisties” (a sudden inability for gymnasts to make necessary spins) and choosing to withdraw from some events in the competition, Biles made history, not because of a gold medal but instead for taking a stance on mental health.
While Biles faced tough criticism for withdrawing from the competition, she sent an important message to fellow athletes and fans — mental health is more important than any medal.
Biles’ decision was not made lightly, and there are three key lessons we can take away from this for effective PR programs.
In the press conference following Biles’ withdrawal from the team finals, she explicitly told the world that she was not physically injured but instead felt that she could not safely compete, as her body and mind were not connected. She took to her personal Instagram account later, explaining what the “twisties” meant with videos of herself practicing. She even set up a question feature for her fans to ask whatever they liked.
This is an important lesson for PR professionals, especially when dealing with crisis communications. Generally, the best way to handle a crisis is to be transparent and authentic with your audience. Getting caught in a lie makes matters worse, and crises can often be mitigated by open and honest messaging.
Know Your Brand
Biles was in tune with her body and what was best for her — in a way that is similar to how PR professionals should know their clients’ brand and needs.
No matter how great an opportunity, if it is not suited for the client, it is best to let the opportunity pass; client needs should come before anything. It is important for PR professionals to be experts in their clients’ industries to align opportunities with their clients.
It is also vital for organizations to have solid messaging that perfectly speaks to their brand and unique value proposition. If an organization cannot concisely communicate who they are, how can consumers or journalists be expected to understand the messaging?
Remember Your Audience
In interviews, Biles has discussed how tough it can be to have millions of eyes watching her at all times and judging every decision she makes. It was first reported that Biles was possibly physically injured, and she was willing to answer questions about what really happened to her.
In doing this, she demonstrated that keeping her audience’s trust was paramount to anything she was going through.
PR professionals should always consider the target audience and acknowledge their interests and needs across all messaging.
While it was unexpected for the greatest gymnast of all time to withdraw from events at the Olympics, Biles’ decision underscored the importance of both mental and physical health. We all can learn from Biles, but, as PR professionals, the need for transparency, staying true to the brand, and knowing your audience are especially important.