• Guinness makes big impression in short time

    The Guinness commercial featuring Olympic biathletes Tracy and Lanny Barnes lasted 65 seconds and lived 48 hours, but it attracted 600,000 views and more than 4 million media impressions.

    The Diageo brand developed the spot in less than 10 days. It is the first, real-life story about people’s character that Guinness marketers plan to use to underscore the “character” of their product highlighted by its “made of more” slogan. The brand had told its agencies, Taylor, BBDO and others, about its vision for using real-life stories to promote its slogan. The staff at Taylor heard the story of the Barnes sisters and approached Guinness marketers about it.

    The Barnes were both competing to make the Sochi Olympic team. Tracy, a 2006 Olympian, qualified, but Lanny — who made the U.S. team in both 2006 and 2010 — was sick and dropped out of the last event. Tracy gave up her spot on the team for her sister.

    “Coincidentally, we’d been working on ad concepts that weren’t too far off this real instance,” said Guinness Brand Director Doug Campbell.

    The brand contacted the sisters to see if they were open to being in an ad. They agreed, and BBDO New York designed a spot featuring a still image of the sisters side by side. It recounts their story with subtitles in Guinness gold and culminates with the on-screen words: The choices we make reveal the true nature of our character.

    Guinness debuted the ad on Jan. 28 but had to take it down by Jan. 30 to comply with the IOC’s rule 40, which kicked that day and prevents non-Olympic sponsors from featuring Olympians in promotions.

    “When it came in, I don’t remember who said, ‘There’s this (IOC rule) we might need to be conscious of,’” Campbell said. “It could have been someone in legal or with an agency. (But) we would have done the story whether there had been an Olympics or not. The Olympics makes it more complicated, but that’s OK. The fact that it was the pinnacle of the sport is part of what gives the story its power.”

    Guinness’ media buying firm, Carat, bought inventory on ESPN, Comedy Central and USA for the ad. Its digital agency secured space on Facebook. Between Facebook and Guinness’ YouTube page, the ad was viewed 600,000 times. It also netted 4 million media impressions.

    “You could look at it (as a lot of effort for a very short window of time),” Campbell said, “or you could look at it as a real-life story wrote an ad for us. Guinness is a small brand. Any opportunity we can get to showcase our values we want to pursue. The fact that it has to come down after 48 hours is regrettable, but looking at what we invested compared to what we get out of it is an easy trade. It’s part of the model of marketing. You’re looking for, arguably, bigger or smaller moments in culture where there’s your brand story.”

    Tags: Media, Olympics
  • Government gives Sochi investors some relief

    Russia's state-run bank Vnesheconombank is to give an extension to investors at Sochi Olympics venues.

    RIA Novosti quoted Deputy PM Dmitry Kozak, who is in charge of the Sochi Olympics, as saying that Sochi investors will not have to make any credit payments until the fall of 2015.

    "Let's see what revenues will be generated (from the Olympics), and in the fall of 2015 we'll make decisions," Kozak said.

    The move comes in response to longtime complaints from Sochi investors, including Basic Element, Gazprom, Sberbank, Interros and other major corporations, that the Olympic venues are potentially loss-making and the government should extend privileges to the investors to keep them from incurring losses.

    The investors welcomed the decision but said that the measure is not going to be sufficient.

    A Basic Elements spokesperson told SBD Global, “As investors, we are interested in restructuring of Vnesheconombank loans and welcome the extension of the repayment date to late 2015. However, we believe that just extensions on loan repayments are not sufficient. In addition to that, a program of subsidizing interest rates on all Vnesheconombank loans over the entire loan period should be adopted.”

    He added that tax privileges on the operation of Olympic venues also should be introduced. Vnesheconombank extended 241 billion rubles ($6.8 billion) in loans to Sochi investors. In addition to sports venues, huge investments were made in the transport and hotel infrastructure.

    Vladimir Kozlov is a writer in Moscow.

    Tags: Russia, Olympics
  • Vonn’s Olympic role starts with a whimper on “Today”

    If I’m an executive at NBC Sports, I’m certainly hoping Lindsey Vonn brings more energy and enthusiasm to her new role as an Olympic on-air correspondent than she did during this morning’s promotional interview with Matt Lauer.

    She appeared via satellite on her couch in a knee brace and bandages while petting her dog, Leo, on her lap. Truthfully, I can’t even imagine how difficult it is for Vonn to deal with the bitter disappointment of not being able to ski in Sochi, and it was clearly evident that pain remains during this morning’s interview. 

    Showing little emotion or enthusiasm, she flatly responded that she was “recovering well” from her recent surgery. She was honest while admitting, “It’s going to be really, really hard to watch the alpine events.” She said, “It’s already hard enough. You guys run commercials about Sochi every two minutes, and it’s killing me.”

    Lauer tried to lighten the mood by adding a humorous, “You’re welcome.” But Vonn didn’t take the bait. When he transitioned to promoting her role during the Games, instead of saying what she was looking forward to, she instead flipped it, “I’m NOT looking forward to waking up this early. That’s not going to be fun.” 

    Again, Lauer tried to make light by saying, “You’re welcome.” She finally concluded saying, “I’m looking forward to this new challenge.” Maybe it was the early wake-up call, or still struggling with the immense disappointment of not going to Sochi, but Vonn didn’t bring her “A” game for this one. Following Twitter after, I thought this person, Diane Kaufman, summed it up well:

    Tags: NBC, Olympics
  • Security takes the spotlight

    News around the Sochi Olympics last week began with reports of “black widows” and ended with a flurry of stories about families of athletes and fans canceling trips to the Games.

    Hospitality agencies and Olympic sponsors said it was the first time since the 2004 Athens Games that they could recall this much concern about terror threats. Agency and sponsor executives said the recent bombings in Volgograd, Russia, and reports of female suicide bombers in Sochi hadn’t resulted in any canceled trips — at least not yet — but they acknowledged that it has affected preparations for these Games.

    “It’s the most talked-about thing in many circles,” said Dave Mingey, president of GlideSlope, a consulting group that works with several Olympic sponsors. “There’s been heightened communication around various entities in terms of crisis needs should something occur. It’s questions like: Should an incident occur, how many planes could take off and get out? Should they strike down the mobile network, what is the viability of landlines? You’re seeing crisis plans go to a different degree.”

    What’s different about these Games from any other is that there’s been an announced and specific threat, said Doug Arnot, the director of Games operations for the 2012 London Olympics. A little over a week ago an Islamist militant group released a video taking credit for two recent suicide bombings in Volgograd that killed 34 people. They also said that there would be a “present” in Sochi.

    “If you’re a sponsor and you’ve seen a threat like this, and God forbid something does happen, and one of your principals or guests is impacted, you have a lot of explaining to do because effectively you’ve been warned and have disregarded the warning,” Arnot said. “Even if security advisers don’t feel the threat is all that significant, merely the fact that it’s been announced forces them to be doubly cautious in advising clients.”

    Most corporate sponsors have their own security staff assisting with planning. McDonald’s security staff, for example, talks regularly with the U.S. State Department and other Olympic sponsors about the threats. Last week, the security team briefed company executives on the state of security in Sochi and its contingency plans. But John Lewicki, McDonald’s head of global alliances, said the company is not making any changes to the size of its guest and employee program due to the escalated security threats in Sochi.

    “Every Games there are security matters, and this one seems to be more elevated,” Lewicki said. “At this point, we’re not changing anything. Diligence is the word of the day. We’ve got risk assessments and contingency plans.”

    A spokesman with Dow Chemical, which has been hosting hospitality programs at the Olympics since 1996, said the company has had some inquiries from guests about security. The company plans to have a security operations center in Sochi to support its guests and will be in regular communication with Russian officials and the U.S. State Department as well as other sponsors and the International Olympic Committee.

    Several sponsors, including McDonald’s, are supplementing their security staff with support from global emergency and security companies. Both Global Rescue, which is working with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, and International SOS, which is working with 350 organizations representing more than 10,000 travelers to Sochi, plan to have planes available in Sochi for medical or emergency evacuation.

    John Rendeiro, vice president of global security and intelligence for International SOS, said the company fielded calls from clients regarding Sochi security last week. Clients wanted to review contingency plans and discuss what to do if something happens. Concern, he said, was “above average” and exceeded anything the company had seen since the 2004 Athens Games.

    “There was some concern about terrorism in Athens, but you weren’t talking about the terrorists having an operating base so close, so this is pretty high on the scale of concern and caution and requiring sophisticated preparation,” Rendeiro said. “You want to know where you’re going, how you’re getting there and be prepared with … a response plan if something happens.”

    A Russian officer searches a driver while his car is checked at an entrance in Sochi.
    Photo by: AP IMAGES
    Russia reportedly is spending more than $2 billion on its security operation and will have more than 60,000 security personnel in the area. There will be almost a 1-to-10 ratio of security personnel to guests.

    “We have never seen the type of security that we are now seeing in Russia at any prior Olympic Games in terms of credentialing, surveillance and amount of resources that have been committed,” said Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics, which is sending a staff of more than 900 to Sochi.

    Arnot, the London Games’ operations chief who is consulting with Sochi organizers, said that the specific threats ahead of these Games actually should help security.

    “In many cases, you spend so much time preparing that you become almost numb, but these incidents and videotapes have served as a wake-up call that this is very real,” Arnot said. “I don’t mean that security forces don’t realize that, but it puts them on a higher state of alert. It also sort of makes everyone else a part of the security team. Spectators, volunteers and others will be a bit more vigilant and a bit more careful. They can be helpful.”

    While many companies aren’t changing travel plans, security concerns have caused some sports industry veterans to reconsider their trips to Sochi. Circe Wallace of Wasserman Media Group, who represents Australian gold-medal snowboarder Torah Bright, was planning to bring her 12-year-old daughter, Ava, to the Sochi Games. It would have been Ava’s first Olympics, and Wallace was looking forward to sharing the cultural experience with her. But last October, amid reports about hotels not being completed and construction being delayed, she decided to leave Ava home.

    When reports surfaced last week that a female suicide bomber described as a “black widow” was in Sochi, Wallace felt good about her choice.

    “It didn’t sound fun anymore,” she said. “It didn’t sound like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It sounded difficult.”

    Staff writer John Ourand contributed to this report.

    Tags: Olympics, Russia
  • New access will pay off in daily show for NHL

    In agreeing to send its players to the 2014 Winter Olympics, the NHL and NHL Players’ Association were able to obtain unprecedented access in Sochi for their own media platforms — NHL Network, NHL.com and NHLPA.com — along with an agreement to coordinate key public relations efforts.

    The NHL at previous Olympics has been frustrated by its lack of access to its own players. Commissioner Gary Bettman has publicly questioned the benefit of shutting down the league for more than two weeks every four years for the Olympics compared to any promotional value gained.

    The NHL could not present content from Vancouver venues, but that changes in Sochi thanks to new agreements.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    Negotiations for the Sochi Games aimed to address those concerns. The player-participation agreement that ultimately was reached with the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation is for the 2014 Games only but will provide a notable change from what was seen in 2010, in Vancouver.

    Among the gains is a daily, 30-minute show from Sochi that will air on NHL Network. “NHL Tonight: Sochi Edition,” a wrap-up of the day’s events from the hockey tournament with highlights, interviews and analysis, will air at 3 p.m. ET and loop until 8 p.m. ET. The show, hosted by the network’s Kathryn Tappen, will be produced from an NBC set location at the Olympics.

    NHL Network also was granted access to hockey players for live and taped interviews from the NBC in-arena set locations at this year’s Olympics and the mixed media zone, the press area the athletes walk through after fulfilling any interview requests with broadcast rights holders after their competition.

    NBC, which gave its consent to the NHL for the increased activity of NHL Network, is the U.S. broadcast rights holder of the NHL and, of course, the Olympics. NHL rights holder CBC is the IOC’s rights holder for Canada.

    The IOC traditionally has allowed only broadcast rights holders to bring cameras into Olympic venues and to conduct interviews with athletes. As a result, at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, NHL Network could not present any content from Olympic venues. The same held true for NBA TV in London at the 2012 Summer Olympics, where reporter David Aldridge’s news bulletins were broadcast from locations outside of Olympic venues.

    This will be the fifth consecutive Winter Games to feature NHL players, dating to Nagano in 1998. There are currently 147 NHL players on rosters for this year’s Olympics, including at least one player on each of the 12 national teams.

    In addition to the planned daily show, the NHL and NHLPA gained rights to the following from their agreements with the IOC and IIHF:

    n NHL.com will be on-site to cover all NHL players in the Olympics and will present previews and recaps of every game, a daily digest of each NHL player’s performance, and other features.

    n NHL digital platforms will provide links to video and additional Olympic content available via NBC and CBC sites.

    n The league and NHLPA will receive 12 media credentials that allow access to the Olympic Broadcast Center, and NHL.com and NHLPA.com will have a total of four seats in the main press box at all hockey games.

    n All releases and statements related to the hockey tournament, including those pertaining to any on-ice and off-ice issues that could arise, will come from the coordinated efforts of the IIHF, NHL and NHLPA.

    NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly negotiated with the IOC and IIHF in seeking the increased access, with consultation on access requirements from Jamey Horan, the league’s vice president of player development and event communications.

    NHL COO John Collins; Bob Chesterman, NHL senior vice president of programming and production; and NHL Network executive producer Mark Preisler struck agreements with NBC so NHL Network could produce the daily program and use studio space.

    “There have been stringent rules in place in the past, so as a programmer, it’s exciting to be able to provide this level of reporting from the Olympics on NHL Network,” Chesterman said. “We wanted to serve our fans with the best coverage possible of our players, so we’re very happy with how the agreement turned out.”

    Staff writer Tripp Mickle contributed to this report.

    Tags: Olympics, NHL, Media
  • Q&A: Michael Spencer, Wasserman Media Group

    A former competitive mogul skier, Michael Spencer became an agent just as skiers began migrating from the mountain to the terrain park. He landed his first freeskiing client, Simon Dumont, in 2003, and he’s been working with freeskiing athletes ever since. In 2008, he became a co-founder of the Association of Freeskiing Professionals, which played an integral role in getting the sport onto the Olympic program. Freeskiing will make its debut with halfpipe and slopestyle competitions at the Sochi Games, and Spencer, an executive with Wasserman Media Group, will be there.

    There will be a large audience watching this. The question is: How do you capture that audience afterward? My thought is that our group as a whole really needs to bond together and create new opportunities to tell the story and continue to engage fans. How we do that.

    On freeskiing joining the Olympics vs. snowboarding joining in 1998:
    It’s very different. In ’98, the X Games had only been around two or three years. Now, with snowboarding being in X Games as long as it has and it being in the Olympics as long it has, there’s already a larger audience tuned in to freeskiing.

    How to measure that?:
    If an American wins halfpipe or slopestyle, we’ll be able to tell based on the corporate demand and media demand afterward.

    How is that demand in advance of the Games?:
    The media demand is there, without a doubt. USA Today and others have taken an interest in sending writers to [freeskiing’s] U.S. Grand Prix events. The corporate demand hasn’t been as good as I thought it would be, but the corporate demand for freeskiers was already great. ... I thought [freeskiers] might be bombarded with opportunities because it’s a new sport and it’s skiing, but I’ve heard they had so many other sponsors that [new sponsors] were afraid they wouldn’t have access to those athletes.

    On Tanner Hall, Simon Dumont and the Olympics:
    The sport of halfpipe was elevated by Tanner (age 30) and Simon (27), no question. The days of turning on X Games and watching them go head to head, people loved that. ... Tanner [who opted not to compete in Sochi] will be missed, but Simon’s still in a good spot to be there. He started at 14 and has been at every X Games since ski superpipe was added. Hopefully, he can make it.

    Tags: Media, Wasserman Media Group
  • NBC halts Sochi ad sales for now

    Weeks before the Sochi Games are scheduled to start, NBC has stopped taking ad sales orders for the Winter Olympics.

    The network is reserving an undetermined number of ad units for advertisers in case it does not hit ratings guarantees during the Sochi Games. If ratings fall short of those guarantees, NBC would need to have a certain number of spots available as make-goods. Olympic networks typically hold ad spots back in this manner, but in recent years NBC has not had to halt ad sales so far before the Games start.

    At NBC Sports’ press event (from left): Bob Costas, Steve Burke, Mark Lazarus, Gary Zenkel.
    Photo by: HEIDI GUTMAN / NBC
    “We have put sales in abeyance until such time that we get to the Games and we’re satisfied with the ratings we’re delivering, at which time we’ll go back into sale once we’re comfortable that the Games are going to proceed as we expect them to,” said Seth Winter, executive vice president of sales and marketing for NBC Sports Group and NBCUniversal News Group. Winter said NBC is in its best ad sales position before a Winter Olympics in memory.

    SBJ Podcast:
    Olympics reporter Tripp Mickle and media writer John Ourand discuss NBC's decision to halt Olympic ad sales and its prospects for the Sochi Games.

    At a press event in New York last week, NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus said that the network has brought in more than $800 million in ad sales revenue around the Olympics, “and we’re going north.” NBC expects to make a profit from the Sochi Games, for which it spent $775 million in rights fees.

    “We’re doing quite well,” Lazarus said. “Marketers and sponsors are buying one of the very few events that gather large numbers across all demographics in front of their televisions.”

    It’s not known how much inventory NBC is holding back. NBC’s ratings guarantee has not been made public. Sources say the guaranteed number generally is around 10 percent below what they had been getting in past Olympics. For the last Winter Olympics in Vancouver, NBC’s ratings guarantee for prime-time telecasts was a 14.0. During those Games, NBC pulled a 17.3 rating for the Opening Ceremony and a 13.8 average rating for its prime-time broadcasts.

    This situation is unique to an event like the Olympics, which for Sochi spans 18 days, from Feb. 6-23. If, for example, the Opening Ceremony on Feb. 7 under-performs ratings-wise, NBC would still have 16 days left during the Games to offer make-goods to advertisers.

    “It was a long conversation with NBC,” said Jeremy Carey, U.S. director for Optimum Sports, which counts Olympic advertisers McDonald’s, Visa and Chobani as clients. “It took some time, but we feel really good about where we netted out.”

    One potential hiccup occurred last week when U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn pulled out of the Games because of a knee injury. Carey said he was concerned that the loss of a big star would negatively affect the ratings.

    “She’s probably the most well-known star of the Games,” he said. “We’re confident another athlete will step up and fill that void.”

    Tags: NBC, Olympics
  • Tier, placement changes to boost NBCSN numbers

    NBC Sports Network will add around 7 million homes to its distribution footprint in the next few weeks, moves that potentially could add close to $30 million per year in revenue for the channel.

    The channel’s biggest distribution gain will come from Dish Network, sources said, which will move the channel from its America’s Top 250 tier to its more popular America’s Top 200 tier. Dish Network will make the move by Feb. 1.

    NBC Sports Network also will see distribution gains from better placement on Cablevision and Suddenlink systems, among other distributors.

    NBC Sports Network will be in 85 million homes by Feb. 1, NBC executives said last week. The most recent Nielsen estimate had the channel in 77.5 million homes as of the beginning of January.
    Distributors pay around 35 cents per subscriber per month for the channel, according to figures from SNL Kagan.

    SBJ Podcast:
    Olympics reporter Tripp Mickle and media writer John Ourand discuss NBC's decision to halt Olympic ad sales and its prospects for the Sochi Games.

    The timing of the moves comes just before NBC’s coverage of the Sochi Olympics starts. NBC Sports Network will have more than 230 hours of coverage during the Games, most of any NBC network. Inside NBC’s “30 Rock” offices, NBC executives refer to the channel as the “Home of Team USA,” with plans to schedule live figure skating and hockey on it.

    Historically, NBC has used its Olympics association to grow distribution and license fees for its cable channels. In the 1990s, USA Network, in particular, achieved full distribution thanks to deals made around the Olympics. USA is in 98 million homes and is scheduled to carry 43 hours of programming from Sochi.

    NBC executives credit the Olympics for the current distribution push, adding that NBC Sports Network’s other sports properties also helped.

    “It’s the power of the Olympics, along with what we’ve been doing with the NHL, along with NASCAR coming, along with EPL,” said Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Sports Group. “We’re finding our way. This has always been a multiyear game of patience with us for NBC Sports Network. We’re never where we want to be, but we’re making good progress.”

    NBC Sports Network’s push to 85 million homes puts it closer to one of its competitors, Fox Sports 1, which is in 87.7 million homes. Both ESPN and ESPN2 are in close to 97 million homes.

    Tags: NBC, Cablevision
  • As Games attract activists, sponsors adjust

    Nearly a year before the Sochi Games, U.S. Olympic Committee Chief Communications Officer Patrick Sandusky received a call from a reporter wanting to know what the USOC thought of a law winding its way through Russia’s parliament that would ban gay propaganda.

    Sandusky, who was hearing of the law for the first time, declined to comment and released a statement in the following days saying the USOC opposed the law but was focused on supporting athletes. For the veteran public relations executive, media questions and activist pressure about the law has underscored a new reality about the Olympics.

    Anti-gay legislation in Russia has drawn protests leading up to Sochi.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    As the Games have grown in size and scale, they’ve become not just a platform for brands looking to tout their products and services but also for activist organizations looking to promote everything from environmental to human rights agendas. Pressure from those groups pushes public relations issues to the forefront before the Olympics and forces sponsors and national Olympic committee officials to respond.

    “We assume there are going to be [communications] issues going into a Games,” Sandusky said. “There’s generally something we have to respond to. I don’t think anyone could have anticipated this would be it.”

    That reality is changing the way sponsors prepare for an Olympics. Companies increasingly see their community and international relations groups work hand in hand with communications and sports marketing staff to respond to issues that arise, and more time, energy and money is devoted to anticipating and responding to everything from environmental to political activists.

    “Over the course of seven years, which is the time an Olympic city has to prepare, they’re going to deal with almost every issue, from political to environmental,” said Ann Wool, partner and managing director at Ketchum Sports, which works with Olympic sponsors such as Procter & Gamble and Liberty Mutual. “Everything is going to bubble to the surface, and you’re going to encounter all of them. Preparations haven’t changed, but the bigger the Games have become the more likely an issue is to catch fire.”

    Looking back

    Activism is no stranger to the Olympics. U.S. athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos protested from the medal stand in 1968.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    The Olympics have put international political and human rights issues on stage for decades. From Jesse Owens competing in Nazi Germany during the 1936 Munich Games to John Carlos’ and Tommie Smith’s Black Power salutes during the 1968 Mexico City Games, activism has a strong history at the Olympics.

    In the 1990s, that activism began to transition from the field of play and news pages to the world of sponsorship and marketing. Wool said environmental activists called for a boycott of the 1994 Lillehammer Games because of Norway’s whaling industry. But those early protests were muted.

    That all changed when the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2008 Summer Games to Beijing. The IOC was criticized from the outset for awarding the Games to a country that was known for human rights abuses. That criticism only escalated in the years before the Olympics as activist groups criticized the IOC and sponsors for China’s role in violence in Darfur, a crackdown in Tibet and lax environmental regulations.

    Groups like Mia Farrow’s Dream for Darfur garnered major attention and forced sponsors to respond to letters criticizing their support of the Beijing Games. Protesters also disrupted the international Olympic torch relay, wreaking so much havoc that the IOC decided it wouldn’t host another international relay.

    Activists are able to sell the media on the parallels between what they’re advocating, like peace in Darfur, and the IOC’s own values, peace through sport, in ways they can’t with other global sporting events, such as FIFA’s World Cup or Formula One, which aren’t built on those same ideals. They also are able to pressure multinational corporations that espouse certain values.

    “Certainly, politics, human rights and the Olympics have always been tied together,” said Minky Worden, Human Rights Watch’s director of global initiatives. “What is new, starting in 1985, the TOP sponsor program was developed. That was when there started to be a big corporate presence. … We’ve called for the sponsors to engage and use the power they manifestly have. … We say, ‘You’re paying for the Games. You have leverage with the IOC.’”

    In 2008, activist groups criticized all Olympic sponsors for their support of the Beijing Games, but at times the issues can be direct and personal. No sponsor knows that better than IOC sponsor Dow Chemical.

    Dow bought a company in 2001 that 17 years earlier had been responsible for a gas leak at an Indian pesticide plant that killed thousands of people and injured more than 500,000. Protesters called on London Olympic organizers to drop Dow as a sponsor. The episode undermined Dow’s Olympic activation plans.

    “When I talked to other partners [before we signed our sponsorship], I was told this is a bit of a free platform, this Olympic world, for activists and others to tell their story,” George Hamilton, Dow vice president of Olympic operations, said last year during the London Games. “We expected that. I’ll be honest and tell you the level … in London was higher than we expected.”

    Preparing for Sochi

    The Sochi Games are only the latest in a string of Olympics to be preceded by controversy. The public relations crisis this time has centered on Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law, which bars public discussion of gay rights.

    Companies have been more proactive in responding to criticism from activist groups than they were when criticism mounted before the Beijing Games. When Human Rights Watch mailed a letter this year outlining Russian rights violations to all 10 of the IOC’s sponsors, only two (Atos Origin and Visa) didn’t respond, and Coke, Dow and GE also met with the organization.

    Coke then followed through on one of Human Rights Watch’s demands — that sponsors condemn Russia’s anti-gay legislation — by issuing a statement saying it does not “condone intolerance or discrimination of any kind.” Most of the sponsors said they raised the issue with the IOC and touted their own corporate policies of equality and diversity. Their letters also emphasized that they support the Olympics because they stand for those principles.

    Dave Mingey, founder of the sports marketing agency GlideSlope and a former marketing executive at Johnson & Johnson, said that’s critical to preventing criticism from activist groups from undermining the value of a sponsorship.

    Before the 2008 Beijing Games, protesters in San Francisco and elsewhere criticized China’s record on human rights.
    Photo by: NEWSCOM
    “You have to do what you can to demonstrate why you’ve associated with the Olympic movement in the first place,” Mingey said. “Every sponsor can point to the value of the Olympic Games and the IOC’s commitment to inclusion, equality, respect and fair play, but that sport is not the only tool to foster dialogue and change in these political, diplomatic and sensitive areas.”

    Doing that isn’t easy. More than 80 percent of Russians support the law, but many people in Western countries oppose it. They have to find a way to speak to the opposition, which most agree with, while not alienating people in the host country.

    “You have to be careful because Russia is a critically important market, as was China, so sponsors are trying to do the right thing but don’t want to be the ones leading the charge,” said one Olympic sponsorship executive.

    The way sponsors are responding to criticism ahead of the Sochi Games is different from what they did in Beijing. In 2008, companies’ public relations teams managed most of the communication. Today, other departments are increasingly getting involved. For example, GE’s chief diversity officer and Procter & Gamble’s corporate responsibility officer wrote letters to Human Rights Watch.

    Public relations experts said that pulling in corporate responsibility officers and diversity officers was always a part of company playbooks, but those individuals taking the lead on the Sochi-related focus on gay rights has meant they have needed to take more of a lead in communicating companies’ positions.

    The changes also can be seen at public relations firms working in the Olympics. Edelman’s Matter Inc., which works with Olympic sponsors like Dow, GE, Kellogg’s, Citi and others, has built out its staff to have a group that’s focused on sports crisis communications. Those experts are embedded with client groups advising sponsors prior to the Games.

    “It’s changed fundamentally how we look at it and counsel clients,” said Mary Scott, managing director of Matter. “Crisis has to be at the forefront of communications planning. It’s no longer something that gets dusted off if something happens.”

    Ketchum’s Wool added, “There’s a bit of a blueprint now. The challenge now is on making the good news stand out.”

    The faces of most good news for sponsors are the athletes at the Games, and the USOC meets with every Olympian headed to the Games to discuss PR issues. The meetings are part of the Olympic ambassador program that the USOC developed before the 2006 Torino Games. It devotes about 15 minutes in every two-hour meeting with groups of athletes to PR.

    When it comes to the anti-gay legislation in Russia, the USOC has encouraged athletes to be open and say what they want.

    “They should not feel pressured by us to say or not say something,” Sandusky said. “We’re a sports organization, and we’re focused on preparing the team. We’re not an advocacy organization.”

    Tags: USOC, Russia, Media, Olympics
  • NBC, Yahoo to partner for Sochi

    NBC Olympics and Yahoo will partner to promote video highlights and live streamed video of the Sochi Games, ending years of competition and public sniping over what outlet drove the most traffic during an Olympic Games.

    SBJ Podcast:
    Tripp Mickle and Eric Fisher discuss the NBC-Yahoo Olympic deal, whether the two sides will be able to get along during the Sochi Games and whether the partnership will last past 2014.

    The agreement extends the content, promotional and distribution partnership that NBC and Yahoo signed a year ago and announced to great fanfare on “Sunday Night Football.” That alliance helped Yahoo Sports-NBC Sports Digital clinch the No. 1 or No. 2 spot in the monthly comScore multiplatform reach rankings of U.S. sports sites throughout the past year. But the partnership notably excluded the Olympics, in part because NBC and Yahoo historically competed for traffic during the Games.

    Under the new deal, NBCOlympics.com and Yahoo will remain independent and continue to sell their own inventory, but link to each other’s stories and videos in order to boost each other’s traffic during the Sochi Games. Yahoo Sports and NBC Sports staff will contribute to Olympic news and digital segments that air on NBCOlympics.com, and NBC Olympics will integrate Yahoo Search, Flickr and Tumblr into its website during the Games.

    “We have had a great year on the sports side,” said Rick Cordella, NBC Sports Digital’s senior vice president and general manager. “It makes all the sense in the world that we match the uniqueness of what Yahoo can do with the uniqueness of what NBC can do. It’s a great partnership that we hope to see manifest itself in later Olympics.”

    For NBC, the deal is designed to boost video views during the Olympics, so that it can meet its guarantees to advertisers who bought digital inventory during the Sochi Games. Its site, NBCOlympics.com, will offer more than 2,000 hours of live Winter Olympics video coverage over 18 days in February, a first for the Winter Games.

    For Yahoo, the partnership bolsters its existing Olympics coverage by allowing it to link directly to highlights and live video on NBCOlympics.com, a move expected to help Yahoo attract more visitors.

    “This is a peanut-butter-and-jelly deal,” said Ken Fuchs, vice president global media and commerce at Yahoo. “It brings to our users the one thing we haven’t had [video] around the data and stories we tell. They can jump in and watch live and watch highlights in ways they couldn’t before. That’s a very unique thing for us.”

    The partnership was approved by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus.

    As early as February of this year, a full year before the start of the Sochi Games, NBC Olympics President Gary Zenkel confirmed negotiations of a potential Olympics partnership. But as talks dragged on through the summer and fall without resolution, uncertainty grew over whether an agreement could be reached in time to deploy for Sochi. Last winter, Zenkel had said a decision would have needed to be made by the summer in order to execute properly. But as talks continued, that artificial deadline was extended.

    Some NBC executives harbored reservations about working with Yahoo because the company had boasted in press releases during the four previous Olympics (2006-12) that it drove more traffic than NBCOlympics.com, particularly during the high-profile Beijing Summer Games of 2008.

    NBC worked with MSN to boost traffic during the Beijing Games and partnered with YouTube in an effort to improve its digital reach during the 2012 London Games. But the company, which streamed all Olympic competition live for the first time in 2012, found that most of its 2 billion page views and 159 million video views came from NBCOlympics.com and not YouTube. As a result, it considered operating its site for the first time without partnering with a portal.

    Cordella said NBC’s and Yahoo’s competition during years past wasn’t an issue in negotiations, particularly as the sports partnership grew during the course of this year. He added that he expects NBCOlympics.com and Yahoo will still compete to draw users to their own respective properties during the Sochi Games, but the hope is that making video available on both NBCOlympics.com and Yahoo will boost traffic for both sites.

    “We’re doing this for our collective audience,” Cordella said. “The ultimate beneficiary is the consumer.”

    Outside of the Olympics, the NBC Sports-Yahoo partnership has generated an extensive amount of content integration, particularly around events such as college football’s National Signing Day and the creation of the daily “SportsDash” sports talk program that appears on NBC Sports Network and both partners’ websites.

    Similar content integration is expected to happen during the Olympics. Yahoo will embed some of its staff in Stamford, Conn., where NBC’s digital team is based, to work directly on that.

    “We expect to have a historic level of interest for Sochi,” Cordella said. “You think about this compared to Vancouver [in 2010], the iPad wasn’t even out yet back then.”

    Tags: NBC, Olympics, Yahoo
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