The Olympics are about competition. They’re about gold medals, clutch performances and wiping away tears through the national anthem. They’re about sponsorships. Wait, what? Yep, the golden opportunity to associate your organization’s name with the world’s most iconic and honorable — closing our eyes to the figure skating judging scandals and teams shooting steroids — athletic competition. And when you pay for your sponsorship, you deserve to be recognized for it.

 

For the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympics, that was our responsibility: ensure sponsors received the recognition for which so many corporate dollars had been sacrificed. As a young group of advertising executives at a small agency in Utah, this was our Michael Phelps moment. The eyes of the world were upon us; okay, not the eyes of the world, but definitely the eyes of the sponsors who shelled out the money for recognition. So, we launched into it like Shaun White launches off the lip of a half pipe (unfortunately, without the flowing red locks).

2002 Winter Olympics, Opening Ceremonies (Credit: Steve Greenwood Photography)

Mark Spitz, renowned for his swimming gold medals and his rowdy moustache, once said, “If you’ve failed to prepare, you’ve prepared to fail.” So, like any dedicated Olympian or agency overseeing Olympic sponsorship recognition, we knew our success would start long before the actual games. We began planning meetings with marketing executives from the likes of Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Panasonic and Samsung (shameless name drop). Where should logos and signage be placed in-venue based on attendee traffic patterns? What local, national and international media would be used for recognition? Which organizations should be most prominent based on spending levels and sponsorship tiers? We felt like Simone Biles: 12 hours a day of Olympic preparation. (Note: at the time we didn’t know we felt like Simone Biles, because she was only 4 in 2002. But looking back, we definitely felt like Simone Biles.)

Then the Games began. We had curves thrown at us, even though baseball hadn’t yet been reinstated as an Olympic sport. But we managed them well. There were moments we doubted our abilities to pull it all off, much like we’re certain Rulon Gardner doubted he could beat Alexander Karelin. There were long hours walking venues checking placements, and longer evenings putting together emergency ads or signage. And somehow fitting in work for other clients in between it all. Of course, it wasn’t all labor. There was the occasional perk of attending an event for free with our special venue passes. We’ll never forget watching that hockey game between Canada and Finland. Or was it Canada and Switzerland? (Our passes weren’t of a high enough level to get us into any of the really popular events.)

2002 Winter Olympics, Skyline (Credit: Deseret News)

After all was said and done, those marketing executives from the likes of Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Panasonic and Samsung (in case you missed the first name drop) left the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympics with smiles on their faces. Sure, those smiles might have partially been due to the amazing skiing they did here in Utah, the excellent seats they had at events (sponsors had much higher-level passes), or their visit to Mormon Temple Square. But, there was no question in our minds those smiles existed mostly because they were recognized for being part of a successful Olympics. Which meant, like team USA that year, we had a successful Olympics, too.