Spokespeople key to Olympic plan

Mary Lou Retton. Carl Lewis. Mia Hamm. Michael Phelps.

Mary Lou Retton. Carl Lewis. Mia Hamm. Michael Phelps.

Gold medalists? Absolutely. Media darlings? For sure.

Effective spokespeople? No doubt, even dating back to 1984, when athletes became legally allowed to endorse products while remaining "Olympic eligible."

With the Olympics less than a year away, companies are scrambling to develop their strategies. They're figuring out who to use, how to use them, when to begin the program, and, of course, the cost and their value vs. price.

Here is a back-pocket cheat sheet to help you navigate Olympic spokespeople in the coming year.

Talent. Don't limit your thinking to the "few stars" of the Games. Consider coaches, retired legends, and Olympians with compelling human interest stories. You'll get a better feel for whom you want and really need after you determine your goals, strategies and tactics.

Remember, retired athletes have no commercial limitations during the Olympics, while current athletes do. And retired stars can serve as "resident experts."

Time/schedule. Media hype will start after New Year's, so programs should be in place so you can capitalize on the increased advance coverage. The talent's schedule of competitions will help dictate when and where you launch your program, as well as days when the media's appetite for your spokesperson will be increased.

It will be a busy year for the talent. Try to develop marketing ideas that don't always use their time.

Think differently. Find talent that brings tangible benefits (e.g., books, blogs with visitors, merchandise). Built-in audiences can only enhance your efforts. Post-Olympics tours are a smart, cost-efficient way to bring medalists directly to retailers, media, and consumers.

Everyone will be considering traditional media opportunities like Today (because of NBC's partnership). Be different. The other networks, Web sites, and social networks will have a clean canvas to promote quality programs and will be keen for exclusive content.

Legal issues. Put media blackout language in your agreement so you don't get scooped a week before your SMT. Be sure to also include category exclusivity language.

If you aren't a US Olympic Committee or governing body (e.g., USA Swimming) sponsor, make sure you know all the rules of using a current Olympian. For example, Rule 41 dictates, "No athlete participating in the Olympic Games may allow his or her person, name, picture, or sports performance to be used for advertising purposes during the Olympic Games unless a Rule 41 waiver is signed."

Money. The marketing value of Olympians rises in an Olympic year, and companies are there to take advantage. In your negotiation, think ahead. If you can use the talent in future years, it will bring down your 2008 cost, as the talent/agent will be thrilled with guaranteed income beyond 2008.

Also consider adding bonuses into your compensation plan. Reward the talent for non-obligatory product plugs and product placement during interviews. Performance bonuses can also be used as a media hook.

David Schwab is MD of First Call, the celebrity consulting unit of Octagon, a sports and entertainment company.

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