"Ultimately, we were looking to provide ourselves with a marketing platform to sell more soup,
says John Faulkner, director of corporate and brand communications for Campbell's Soup Company, which yet again lent its support to the Winter Olympics as an official supplier at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. But with Olympic sponsorship becoming standard for so many corporations, Campbell's knew it had to do something extraordinary this time around.
So the company turned the spotlight on some extraordinary people - the ones behind the scenes, responsible for so many Olympians' success. Specifically, the parents who made unparalleled sacrifices in order to raise extraordinary athletes.
Many will forever associate Campbell's with the Olympics, since famed figure skaters Tara Lipinsky and Michelle Kwan became spokespeople for the company following their stellar performances in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano. But to maintain presence in people's minds at this year's Games, Campbell's worked with Coyne PR to develop a creative hook to raise awareness of its involvement.
A series of Campbell's TV commercials showing parents transporting and encouraging their Olympic-hopeful children had already begun to air. With Coyne on board, the company decided to build on the idea with the Souper Olympic Parents program, which called for the US team from each sport to nominate a parent of a current team member.
In January, a press conference was held at the US Figure Skating Championships in Los Angeles to announce the 15 finalists. Each was presented with $1,000 to help with travel expenses to and from this year's Olympics.
Spokespeople at the conference included former Olympians Debi Thomas, Paul Wylie, Eric Heiden, and Phil Mahre. Kristi Yamaguchi, whose mother Carole was the honorary recipient of the first-ever Souper Parent Award, was also in attendance. These spokespeople formed the panel of judges that made the final selections which took place during the Olympic Games.
The gold medal and $10,000 was awarded to Natalie Granato, mother of the US women's hockey team captain Cammi Granato. Jeff and Ruth Fitz-Randolph, parents of gold-medal-winning speedskater Casey FitzRandolph, took the silver and $5,000. And Jill Smith's mother, Peggy, won the bronze and $3,000 for the years of support she gave to her daughter's love for bobsledding.
The story broke with a piece in USA Today in early January, and also gained placements with the AP, Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and The Dallas Morning News. Following the appearance of silver-medal-winning parents Jeff and Ruth FitzRandolph on CNN during the Olympics, 29 different television stations ran the story. Cammi Granato and her SOUPer gold-medal winning mom Natalie appeared together on NBC's Today to discuss the Campbell's honor as well.
The majority of segments that covered the story focused on the reasons behind it. Namely, what an important role parents play in the ultimate success of Olympic athletes - an angle all parents could relate to.
While the Olympics typically involve an enormous amount of preparatory work, "it's really just starting for us,
says John Gogarty, VP of Coyne. In the weeks following the Games, Coyne plans to go back to local markets to ensure that awareness of the SOUPer Parents program continues to generate stories in local media, or appear alongside praise of athletes from those areas. "Hypothetically,
Gogarty explains, "if Casey FitzRandolph's hometown will throw a celebratory parade for him, we would like to be a part of that."