Dating back to the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, we have helped brands activate their Olympic sponsorships at a dozen subsequent Olympic Games on four continents.

The most important lesson we’ve learned is that failure to prepare is preparing to fail.

With the Tokyo 2020 games a little more than one year away, if it hasn’t already begun, now is when your planning should start. Brands that push preparations to the last minute risk missing important opportunities for sponsorship activations. We’ve seen it happen.

Official Olympic sponsors, U.S. Olympic Team sponsors, and the sponsors of the various Olympic teams must remember these organizations provide little support where brand activations are concerned. There are the usual press releases and grip and grin photos with brands and Olympic officials, but after that, you’re pretty much on your own. That’s especially true after the Olympic Games begin when attention turns to competitions and athletes.

Our area of expertise is broadcast and digital communications before and during the Olympic Games. We produce satellite media tours, internet media tours, radio media tours, B-roll and online content for U.S. and international audiences that present how sponsors are supporting the Games, teams, and athletes. This worldwide stage is something most all media want to cover and by offering them creative content at no cost, they can take part in the Olympic Games.

Notice I said creative. What the media doesn’t want is blatant advertising. One major sponsor that didn’t work with us produced and distributed B-roll of what amounted to brand commercials. In contrast, at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, we had broadcast positions overlooking the popular beach volleyball venue and the Olympic park. Here, sponsor spokespersons could discuss their Olympic experiences with news anchors, tying in the brands they represented in a logical way, thus bringing the Games to life for the media and its audiences.

But to secure those kinds of locations, you need to think ahead. Well ahead, in fact. Media are most interested in athlete spokespersons, especially those experiencing success during the Games. A gold medal winner is publicity gold. But those athletes need to be secured and scheduled well in advance.

Former high-profile Olympians are likewise attractive. In Sochi, Russia, the effervescent Kristi Yamaguchi conducted a brand’s satellite tour packed with national and major market media outlets. Last year, in PyeongChang, South Korea, former speed skating phenom Apollo Anton Ohno attracted a solid slate of interviews for a well-known candy brand.

One of the worst things you can do is to not take full advantage of the access you have to Olympians. One brand, an official Olympic sponsor no less, lined up five big-name athletes and then shot and posted a video on its web site of them sitting around talking about how great the sponsor is. That was it. Talk about a wasted opportunity.

Among the most memorable Olympic events we covered was the 2002 Olympic Torch Relay ahead of the Winter Games in Salt Lake City for a major automobile brand. Our satellite truck followed the relay and we shot and distributed B-roll almost daily, garnering an audience of hundreds of millions of viewers over the course of the relay. In our hometown of Atlanta in 1996, we covered everything from Olympic pin trading to nightly concerts at Olympic Park, again generating big audience numbers for sponsoring brands.

All of this required a lot of planning, creative thinking, and often, lengthy approval processes. Some places are more challenging than others, too. Sochi and Beijing, for example, were complicated. Beyond language and time issues, Tokyo will be less so. The Japanese will love seeing their Games and their nation widely publicized. But it’s important to remember things like production facilities, transportation, local help, and housing book early.  


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