SBD/Issue 224/Olympics

On The Ground In Beijing: The Marketing Arm's Mary O'Connor

Today, THE DAILY continues to touch base with Mary O’Connor, who heads The Marketing Arm's Olympic division and is in Beijing leading all Olympic sponsorship initiatives for the agency’s clients. She took time to answer our questions over the weekend from Beijing and will periodically answer our questions during the two-week event.

O'Connor Feels Air Quality Will Have
Impact On Some Athletes' Performances
Q: The first thing that struck you about Beijing upon arrival was?

O’Connor: The finishing touches. When I was here in March, there was still a great deal to be done. The Chinese have done a good job of making sure that they are ready….and early!

Q: Much has been made about the air quality in Beijing. How do you find it to be and will it have an impact on the Games?

O’Connor: The air quality is visibly poor -- but it is not any worse than it has been in my past visits to Beijing. I do think it will have an impact on the athletes who compete outside, which is unfortunate.

Q: The brand that has emerged initially to you as having the most noticeable presence? Is that brand an official sponsor? If so, of what NGB?

O’Connor: TOP sponsor Visa has a done a phenomenal job of securing prominent advertising placement throughout Beijing. The Visa brand is visible every step of the way -- from the moment a person steps off the plane at the Beijing airport, all the way to the Olympic Green. Using athletes from around the world in the campaign also makes the brand standout. It’s hard to miss a billboard that has Yao Ming and Michael Phelps on it, especially on the streets of Beijing. Hats off to Visa!

Q: What is the buzz and/or general feeling in the city about the Olympics?

O’Connor: The first few days I was here, it seemed very quiet. There was a kind of lull around the city. As the Opening Ceremony grew near, it started to liven up a bit. I’m excited to see how the city comes to life in the first few days of competition.

Q: Much of the coverage so far has been about the lockdown in security. What have you experienced so far and what are your general observations?

O’Connor: Security around the city is definitely at an all-time high. Members of the Chinese military and Beijing police are patrolling the city and are very visible. In the past day, metal detectors have been placed in the entry to my hotel and security guards are searching bags. At the Opening Ceremony last night, however, security was a bit lighter than I would have expected. They did not require passports for entry, but from what I could see, they did take a picture of everyone who entered the stadium. (Ed Note: This was answered before Saturday’s tragic murder of U.S. tourist.)

Q: The best meal so far has been?

O’Connor: There have been two: Wood fired pizza at The Tree -- a great little restaurant in the heart of the Sanlitun bar area of Beijing, and a wonderful organic Chinese lunch at The Schoolhouse -- a restaurant near the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.

Q: Any other thoughts or comments or observations?

O’Connor: My first four days in Beijing were fantastic. I was lucky enough to spend August 5th and August 6th with the USA Diving team. We went to see the Chinese Acrobat Show and to the Great Wall (events sponsored by client AT&T). The acrobats were amazing. For anyone reading this from China, go to the show! It’s Cirque meets Beijing, and while it costs more than the typical Beijing ticket, it’s well worth the price. As for the Great Wall, it never ceases to take my breath away. It was also fun to watch the athletes take it all in. They did handstands on the wall, posed for fun pictures with fans walking by, and really seemed to enjoy themselves. At the end, we all took the toboggan run down. Needless to say, it was awesome!

Friday night I had the best treat of all -- a chance to go to the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games. WOW! That’s the best word to describe such an amazing show. Out of the three Opening Ceremonies I have attended, this one definitely takes home the Gold! I was surrounded by Americans, Chinese, Germans and Australians just to name a few, and every single person was enthralled. It was long, and very hot (I think I was sweating from every pore of my body), but well worth it! When Li Ning began the final leg of the torch relay along the rim of the Stadium, I got chills. From the vast magnitude of participants to the wonderful display of talent and creativity, the Chinese nailed a perfect 10. They definitely put on a show they can be proud of.

O'Connor (l) With U.S. Diver Troy Dumais (c)
And AT&T's Jason Simpson At Great Wall

Mary O’Connor heads The Marketing Arm's Olympic division, leading all Olympic sponsorship initiatives for agency clients. She will be answering our questions from Beijing during the Games.

Do you have a question for Mary? If so, let us know at

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