SBJ/20090921/This Week's News

CMO Baird outlines marketing strategy

Lisa Baird joined the U.S. Olympic Committee as chief marketer in January. Last week, she opened a permanent USOC office in New York and spoke to staff writer Tripp Mickle about the organization’s marketing efforts since her arrival.

Looking ahead to Vancouver, what’s your sense of how the recession will impact sponsor activation?
We’re pretty encouraged by the activation programs that we’ve seen from our sponsors. While everybody is conscious of spending in the recession, our partners have very long track records of doing Olympic activation. We’ll see interesting stuff at USA House, which is a property we’ve grown over time. The property has gotten more appealing and fits our sponsors and their need to be associated with a U.S. property. That’s maybe one difference we’ve seen.

When do you anticipate we’ll begin seeing activation programs?
Our partner NBC really drives a lot of that. You’ll start to see NBC promotions and there will be a ramp-up. It will begin in the fourth quarter and become big time in January and February.

What strategy will the USOC employ in order to increase the number of sponsors it has at a time when sponsorship dollars largely have dried up?
We’ve tried to stick to the market leaders in their categories. That’s always been important to us and I know it’s been true at the [International Olympic Committee] level. We want to stick with partners who will be with us long term and really collaborate with us to bring athlete stories and Team USA to the market.

Broadly, across the industry, you’re seeing partners willing to work with companies to make sure activations are strong for partners by having the right marketing program. That’s been our focus. We launched our first [marketing program] this summer with America Supports Team USA. In total, we delivered $5 million of marketing support to our sponsors through that program, and we’re looking on building a few more [programs]. I don’t think we’ll ever be a 365-day-a-year property, but the right marketing programs are what we’re looking to create.

Should Chicago clinch the 2016 Olympics, the USOC’s value proposition to sponsors will be self-evident. But what happens if Chicago doesn’t win and how is the USOC’s marketing department preparing for that possibility?
There’s no doubt having a home Games would be a huge game-changer for us. In addition to having Team USA to support, that’s how America responds best to Games activation, (but) no one on my team is sitting there doing what-if scenarios. We’re focused on building recognizable athletes who will help our sponsors, and building the right programs to help build interest before and after the Games is important. We’re going to do that with the (Chicago) Games or not because it’s the right thing to do. We’re going to look at new revenue streams like any property — where and how is media being consumed? It’s not a result of what-if scenarios but what we’re doing anyway.

What categories are out there that present an opportunity for the USOC in the current economic climate?
One thing that I’d really like to put into place as a building block is a stronger licensing business. The licensing business can’t be developed by waving a magic wand, but we’ve taken a number of steps to establish a framework for a stronger licensing business. Chicago has a chance to be a catalyst, but either way, if we can get people to buy and wear Team USA apparel, that’s a big strategic underpinning for a successful sports property.

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