Having your spokespeople suddenly generate global adulation may seem like a gift from the PR gods.
But maximizing those opportunities, rare as they are, can challenge even the most accomplished communications professionals.
Burton, the maker of snowboards and accessories, found itself in this enviable position when two of the riders it sponsors, Shaun White and Hannah Teter, won gold medals in the halfpipe at the recent Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. "We knew going in that the window of opportunity might be small," says Missy Farren, president of Missy Farren & Associates (MFA), Burton's AOR. "When a competitor wins a gold medal, the time to capitalize is typically only until the next gold medal is won. So our strategy was aggressive and definitive, and is always aimed at growing the sport."
Burton was sponsoring 18 snowboarders at Turin, so about six months before the Games, MFA began working with Burton's in-house communications team.
"We did a lot of prep work, with situation analysis, to make sure there was flexibility in how we were going to achieve our goals," explains Shana Frahm, Burton's PR director. "We had our entire game plan in place well in advance, and we made sure we had eight PR people on the ground in Italy, so whatever situation arose - we were ready."
Part of the strategy was to contact the media it most wanted coming out of the Games to make sure those outlets were ready in the event any Burton riders won.
Both White and Teter won their events fairly early in the Olympics, and MFA and Burton made sure both athletes were available to the sports press that had gathered in Italy.
Although it purposely didn't have a traditional media kit, Burton did distribute biography cards to the media with information on its riders, ranging from age and interests to what music they listen to and what equipment they ride, which eased some of the burden the two riders faced when dealing with the immediate media onslaught. Media were also directed to a special press Web site featuring updates, background information, and photos.
Farren says the PR team then decided to get White and Teter out of Turin following their victories to take advantage of non-sports press interest in the pair.
"We flew them first to New York and then California," she says, "because we knew if they had stayed in Italy, they would have been part of the overall Olympics story instead of stand-out stars."
Teter and White overcame the public's lukewarm interest in the 2006 Games, emerging as the US' most high-profile success stories.
In addition to numerous sports page profiles and a joint appearance on MTV's TRL, White was on the covers of Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated, and appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Martha, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and Live with Regis & Kelly.
Teter also was interviewed by Kimmel and appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Show with David Letterman.
Additional Associated Press coverage included a profile of Burton founder Jake Burton.
More important, coverage of White and Teter spiked overall interest in snowboarding, leading to record crowds at the next major event, the mid-March Burton US Open in Vermont.
Although snowboarding is a seasonal sport for the recreational rider, it's a year-round business for Burton and MFA. "We're going right to Australia and New Zealand, so the snowboarding season never ends," says Frahm, adding that Burton will continue to work with MFA. "They now have six years of experience with the brand, and the energy they still bring is incredible."
PR Team: Burton Snowboards (Burlington, VT) and Missy Farren & Associates (New York)
Campaign: Gold Medal Victory Tour
Duration: October 2005 to mid-March 2006
Budget: $100,000 range
This is a solid example of how fortune favors the prepared. Burton did benefit from having two of its more charismatic riders win gold - as well as the fact that few other American stars emerged from Turin.
But Burton deserves credit for using this opportunity for more than just a short-term spike in brand awareness.
This also shows the importance of determining your media targets well in advance, so you can quickly cut through the requests that come with instant international acclaim.