For Ann Wool, Beijing will be the ninth Olympic Games she has worked on, the first dating back to the 1992 Barcelona Games. She spoke with Alexandra Bruell about those experiences, and negotiating different cultures and regulations to get the job done.
What has been your most fulfilling Olympic experience?
One of the most amazing aspects of working on Olympic programs is that it gives me such a worldwide perspective. It's given me a professional opportunity to work in Japan, Australia, Norway, Greece, China, and of course in America. I've spent a lot of time in all those places, and obviously working with teams in all kinds of countries running programs on a worldwide basis.
How does working on an Olympic PR program differ from working on other PR campaigns?
Whenever I work with anybody in the lobbying space and they know DC really well, they say, ‘You can't do that in DC.' I always think of this as working on the Hill. It's by no means rocket science, but it really is one of those environments that you know or you don't know. One of the things we're trying to do is help our clients push the boundaries because it's absolutely ridden with all kinds of guidelines and rules. That, by the way, changed with every host city.
How do you keep on top of those different rules?
You take your time to learn it. In China for example, we have a fantastic Beijing team. There's an office on the ground that helps us understand the environment [and] the city. We also visit and take a look around and learn the city. We read the media, and we also obviously have to meet with the organizing committee and the people who are negotiating with the organizing committee from our client side. We help navigate through those elements where if at first the organizing committee says “No, you can't have media or visitor credentials to go into this or that venue,” we say “You should probably push back on that because at previous games we've been able to get media into those venues.” Everything is a negotiation.
What are some of the major challenges of working on an Olympic PR program?
We obviously battle with clutter. There are a lot of Olympic sponsors from all different countries. They're all looking at the same calendar.
NBC is notorious for wonderful human interest stories about the athletes, and we'll say, how do we get our client message in some of those stories because our clients are supporting some of those athletes? Brian Cazeneuve [one of the long-time Sports Illustrated Olympic writers] said ‘Look, if it's not so integral to the athlete's story that my story is not complete without it, it's going to get cut.' We really have to work hard to make sure that our clients are really integral to the athlete training, support mechanism, and all of that. Otherwise the message won't make it in.
What's made Beijing unique to work on?
I'd like to turn the question on its head and say what hasn't made Beijing unique. The economics of China have put a microscope on that country even before anybody was paying attention to the protests. Everybody is publishing stories about China almost every single day of the week and doing special issues. That's been going on for almost more than two years. That's why we know there will be about 20,000 non-accredited media. The non-accredited media who are just there to cover China and the culture and everything and— it's going to sound silly— the bars and the clubs and the wine, and the business and the people, that's going to be 20,000 media. That has never happened before. There's always been non-accredited media who've covered the Olympics, but it was a relatively small handful of a few thousand media. It's bigger and more important to more companies and I think that's taken on a different scale.
How do you think the current games will affect the way you approach PR for games in the future?
I don't think it will. We'll take the same approach which is let's maximize the really great opportunities and go in with eyes wide open on what the challenges are going to be. We really have always taken that approach and we will always continue to because as with any major campaign, whether it's a political campaign or a brand marketing campaign, you always look at the upsides and the risks and go full force.
Name: Ann Wool
Title: SVP and director
Agency: Ketchum Sports Network
Olympic clients: Bank of America and Lenovo