By Arun Sudhaman
NEW DELHI: Indian PR veteran Rajiv Desai was drafted in to support the Organising Committee of New Delhi’s Commonwealth Games (CWOC) in late August, just before the event became engulfed in a wave of negative publicity.
After months of concern over whether Delhi would be ready in time, the final run-up to the Games was dogged by numerous damaging revelations concerning the state of infrastructure and athlete accommodation, along with major allegations of financial management.
In an exclusive interview with the Holmes Report, Desai – who heads Indian firm Comma Consulting – explains the committee’s crisis response, which he believes resulted in an improvement in sentiment by the time the Games finished earlier this month.
“It isn’t brain surgery,” said Desai, a former comms consultant to the Congress Party. “All you have to do is be a little bit organised.”
“The idea that PR was just media was really the problem,” he added. “We put together a crisis management plan, and we put together a website. Then we started regular briefings, and I myself went on a couple of shows. We did a huge tie-up with the Hindustan Times newspaper.”
The net result of these efforts, said Desai, was that “while the negatives remained, for the first time some positive stories began to make their appearance.”
In particular, Desai pointed to two particular themes to the strategy. “Before the Games started one of the first things we did was try to suggest that the costs being attributed to the CWOC are not correct, because you are including the Metro, the streets, the lighting,” he said. “It is these agencies that are letting everyone down and the real test of the CWOC will come when the Games began.”
“If there was a person continually opposed, we found others willing to listen.”
The second factor, said Desai, was a recognition that once the Games started, matters would improve. “Threatened pullouts were all figments of the media imagination.”
Desai, admitted, however that the controversy hurt India’s global reputation. “But in the end I think all the people that came and went – their word of mouth will probably negate the bad rap.”
The various agencies involved in hosting Delhi’s Commonwealth Games are currently facing a Government inquiry, but Desai declined to comment on whether he will continue working with CWOC.
CWOC also retained Percept Profile as its PR agency for the event, after earlier parting ways with 20:20 Media.