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Olympic-Sized Opportunity for Sponsorships

Posted At: April 18, 2012 1:00 PM
by Savannah Bass

Every two years, people across the world turn their televisions on to be a part of one of the most anticipated sporting events in history: the Olympics.

With men and women from hundreds of nations competing against one another in their respective sports, it’s hard to resist watching the Olympics. Whether it’s to learn the rules of sports you’ve never heard of, or tuning in to support your country, it’s hard to not feel as though you are a part of something big.

Perhaps it’s just me, but during the two weeks that the Olympic Games take place, it feels as though the world comes together, trading hostility and/or issues for healthy competition and a chance to make a statement. Enemies shake hands and allies support one another. The Olympics physically represent the best athletes from each country, but above all, the Olympics represent tradition, friendship and pride.

So at an event as grand as the Olympics with over 205 participating countries, more than 10,000 competing athletes, 8.8 million ticket holders (London 2012) and hundreds of millions of people watching from home, it’s essential for sponsors and companies to have a congruent message, easily accessible by a variety of people across the world.

But what does it really take for a sponsor to become a part of the festivities and incorporate its product or service into the mainstream content of the Olympics?

Know your message

It is critical to have a message that can be received and understood by a wide variety of publics at a such a colossal event like the Olympics. Understanding what you want viewers to take away from your product, athlete, sponsor and/or brand is essential, but it is also key to incorporate the main themes of the Games, respectively.

“The message for the Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games and, I believe, for all Olympic Games is to focus on the athletes and the spirit of competition,” said Nancy Volmer, member of the media relations team during the Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games in 2002. “The Salt Lake Olympics also had the theme ‘Light the Fire Within,’ which was incorporated into all aspects of the Games.”

As Volmer explains, focusing on the competition amongst athletes and within various sports is a must, but also incorporating that message with the overall theme of the Games is what makes or breaks a message. Each Olympic Games has one overlying theme created by the International Olympic Committee but that congruent theme needs to be tailored down to support your specific message.

Have an edge

In an opinion blog written by Joshua L., associate at the London office of Hotwire, a global public relations and communications firm, Joshua gives important tips to remember in light of the upcoming summer Olympic Games in London.

Joshua quoted Andrew Ager, deputy head of Weber Shandwick Sport, saying: “Do something Olympic. Push boundaries. Now is not the time to tick boxes.”

For sponsors, this means doing something innovative and remarkable even if it appears to be over the top or out of your brand’s comfort zone. Sponsors often go up and beyond for championship events like the Superbowl, but unique to the Olympic Games is that it lasts nearly two weeks and has more international exposure time than any other event in the world.

In addition, the Olympic Games only happens every two years (or every four, depending if you prefer to market in a particular season). Spending time being overly creative and putting all your effort and time into promoting your brand for the Olympics will have high rewards if executed in an extraordinary way.

Know how to interact with your publics

In his blog post, Joshua expressed the need for sponsors to have continuous interest and involvement with social media before, during and after the upcoming Games.

Citing Naomi Trickey of Brandwatch, Joshua said statistics project between 1 and 10 million tweets per day during the London Olympics. During last summer’s World Cup Games, the number of tweets per second was 3,283 and professionals believe these Olympics will demolish previous numbers.

Simon Hart, sports writer for The Telegraph, notes the importance of social media and the Olympics. “The first Games ever to be held in the full glare of social media could prove every bit as competitive as the action on the field of play,” he said.

This means sponsors need to be up to date and aware of their images on social media and maintain a strong presence throughout the course of the Games. Furthermore, sponsors need to be conscious that on Twitter, free speech exists and is regularly exercised, so monitoring feedback from fans across the world is essential.

Know the chain of command

Another tip to note is to be aware of the boundaries allowed in the host country of the Olympics and the chain of command involved in hosting the Games. It’s natural for public relations practitioners to go with a familiar, Western way of business; however, when dealing with clients, athletes and governments a world away, it’s essential to know how to execute a campaign and how long it may take for that to happen.

Nick Gold, executive of Gold Concepts Public Relations in Atlanta, served as the press secretary for former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell during the 1996 Olympics. Gold weighed in on who coordinates with whom in a grand scale event like the Olympics.

“It takes the International Olympic Committee as well as the local government, state government and federal government to coordinate that effort,” said Gold. “It’s a massive undertaking that takes many years.”

Gold referred to promoting the Olympics as a “monumental task,” but elaborated that in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, sponsors had around-the-clock people working to ensure they were on the right track with their campaigns, tailoring them to the specific city, region and theme of the Games.

“In Atlanta’s case, sponsors like GM & Home Depot each had assigned people who worked full time with the International Olympic Committee to ensure their messages were being heard and events were well crafted and attended by athletes.”

Know the country

The Olympics Games is so glorified and spectacular in part because it incorporates virtually everyone. This includes athletes, media, fans, family members, government personal and others from an ongoing list of people from 205 countries involved in the success and acceptance of the Games. It’s easy to assess the success of a campaign in one’s own country because of extensive research and experience, but marketing a brand in perhaps uncharted territory can cause unforeseen issues.

In an article for China Business Review, Gregory Gilligan, managing director at APCO Worldwide’s Beijing office, explained how PR practitioners can be successful in a foreign country, his knowledge drawing from the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing.

“To maintain effective public relations in China, foreign executives should be open to challenges, and understand that engagement in China is much more complex than in almost any other business environment,” Gilligan said. “An effective PR professional in China must understand, accept, navigate and continually reevaluate those complexities to identify threats and opportunities.”

As the 2008 Games in China displayed, issues with a government-controlled media and all-around different customs and beliefs challenged PR professionals to adapt to the culture and still get their message across. For the upcoming London Games or the 2014 winter Games in Sochi, Russia, PR practitioners must be aware of regulations, firm beliefs and cultural values. In addition, they must hold themselves accountable for educating their clients about the country prior to launching any campaign.

The Olympic Games has served as a platform for healthy competition for thousands of years. Immersing your brand or client into all the Games has to offer and marketing effectively can give any sponsor big rewards if done correctly. Taking risks and making a statement are what the Olympics is all about, and by allowing your brand to push the envelope, you might just take home the gold.


  1. Post comment

    I really enjoyed this article. As viewers, we do not really think about the different considerations with ad campaigns in different countries. The Olympic Games a chance for the world to compete in every aspect. Each country is put on display under a gigantic spotlight, especially the host country. If there ever was a time to know your audience and be certain of their wants and needs, this would be it.


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