Post Beijing, Games remain attractive venue for brands

With the 2010 Winter Olympics set to begin February 12 in Vancouver, several major sponsors are leveraging their affiliation with the iconic Games in communications efforts.

With the 2010 Winter Olympics set to begin February 12 in Vancouver, several major sponsors are leveraging their affiliation with the iconic Games in communications efforts.

Among them, GM Canada, a national sponsor of the Games, is changing its strategy this year away from events and more toward getting visitors to try its new fleet of vehicles.

Of course, GM has undergone drastic restructuring since emerging from bankruptcy last year and has worked hard at remaking its reputation and pushing its revamped fleet as more fuel efficient. At the Olympics, GM is trying to turn this message into action by supplying a fleet of 46,000 cars for the Olympics' use, says Tony LaRocca, communications director at GM Canada.

"The Games are focused on being the most sustainable and we wanted to be involved in that," he explains. "And when looking at all the sponsorship options, we really narrowed this to focus on supporting the Games' sustainability initiative and letting our products speak loud and clear."

In addition to its main fleet, GM will have eight fuel-cell vehicles in Vancouver and at least one Chevy Volt. Offering the fleet, rather than putting on expensive events, makes sense for the company from a PR perspective because it is still carrying baggage from accepting a US government bailout last year.

The team will demonstrate the fuel-cell cars in various drive events, providing opportunities for the media, influencers, and others to test them. The team is also holding tweet-ups, food collection drives, event shuttling, and other on-site events to promote the fleet's availability.

"This is the biggest fleet ever put together for an event," LaRocca says. "Given the year we've had, the fleets are an easier choice."

Mary Scott, GM for Edelman's sports and entertainment practice, says the most effective sponsorships look to further a company's business objectives, the way GM aligned its sponsorship with its strategy to sell more cars.

"Companies need to look at what they're planning to do in 2010 and see how their Olympics assets fall into that, rather than building an entire strategy around the Olympics," she suggests.

Olympic fatigue

However, Scott notes, there is some "Olympic fatigue" lingering from Beijing's historic 2008 Games, as well as diminished interest in the Olympics because of the economy.

"There also isn't the same interest in the Winter Games as in the Summer Games," she adds.

Suzanne Valliere, senior manager of global communications for McDonald's, says the fast-food company approaches each Olympics "at the same level, certainly recognizing that the Winter Games are smaller." McDonald's is a worldwide sponsor and official restaurant for the Games.

"I don't think any Games can be compared to Beijing," she adds. "That was a once-in-a-lifetime [event]. But a lot of the media coverage was focused around China more than the Games."

Similar to its Beijing strategy, McDonald's planned a media webcast on January 11 about its activities around the 2010 Olympics. On February 11, the day before the opening ceremonies, it will also hold a media event featuring its CEO and other executives to showcase new products.

"We found that one month before the Games is when the media really shift their focus to the Olympics," Valliere says.

Jose Cardona, manager of corporate communication for Samsung, says it plans to connect its Olympic involvement back to consumers. For example, Samsung is using social media to build on its sponsorship through its "Samsung Mobile Explorers" campaign.

The campaign is a video contest in which five teams of two people were selected to go to the Games as video editors and reporters. Samsung even expanded its relationship with Weber Shandwick, its North America corporate AOR, to include outreach around the Olympics, Cardona adds. It also brought on reigning women's halfpipe Olympic gold medalist Hannah Teter to launch the competition and build online buzz around it.

"It was a great kickoff and we had a lot of coverage for it," Cardona recalls. "And [Teter] will keep conducting interviews with media outlets leading up to the Games."

McDonald's on-site activities for the 2010 Olympics: "Champion Kids"
Will continue this pro- gram, which started with the 2008 Beijing Summer Games. It gives 6- to 14-year-olds a chance to be youth correspondents at the Olympics Venue restaurants
Will have three new eateries open for the Winter Olympic Games "Own the Podium"
Working with Canada's campaign to encourage local athletes to win gold medals in 2010

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