Our Own Gold Medal Olympic Performance

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.

Victors from the Super Bowl’s Battle of the Brands

If there’s one thing better than the big game, it’s being the judge and jury for the commercials. It takes months for an agency to produce a TV spot, and only seconds for us to decide the fate of their work. According to our crew, these guys did it right.

Tide, “It’s All the Tide Ads”

Tide’s approach to the Super Bowl was an avalanche of awesome. At first, it was a fun play on trite commercials, followed by piggybacking on iconic brand identities that are also members of the P&G fam. By the end of the game, it had everyone guessing which commercial might also be a Tide ad. Poor, poor Persil.


Amazon, “Alexa Loses Her Voice”

Recent campaigns for Amazon’s Alexa are :15 commercials. They tossed aside brevity, and showcased a whopping :90 spot. It was worth every million. It was a spot with a simple premise and packed with unexpected celebrity personalities. However, we will dock this spot .01 points for a missed opportunity to utilize Tom Hardy and his inability to enunciate.


Doritos & MTN Dew, “Tongue Twisters”

Good riddance to 2017’s puppybabymonkey. In an ad of redemption, the Dew-v-Doritos spot was flawlessly bizarre. The execution here made all the difference. The juxtaposition of actors and artists was an excellent choice. Anyone with the ability to lip sync to Busta Rhymes is next level.


Tourism Australia, “Crocodile Dundee 2”

This spot was a payoff for a lot of ground work, including weeks of teaser ads for what appeared to be an actual movie. Just as the audience might have been chalking this up to just another film debut, it presented a twist. Plus, if it were a real movie, it would likely be terrible.


Avocados from Mexico, “#GuacWorld”

Adding avocado to anything is always extra. And this spot was extra. We’re not quite sure if the ideal world would only wear khakis, but we are convinced the perfect avocado would be included and worthy of pandemonium. Of course, a reference to avocado toast is also a directed wink at those coveted millennials.


The One Talent All Great Creatives (and people) Work to Develop

Faktory is the second agency we’ve owned. The first was a huge success, but not in the way most people define it. (By most measures, it might be defined as exactly the opposite of success.) We failed a lot more than we succeeded. Many of our decisions were questionable. We didn’t lead the company as we should have. But we learned, and that learning has helped Faktory fit into the more standard definition of success.

One personal failure I distinctly remember happened with a certain employee (I won’t use her name). She was an excellent designer; talented, hard-working, drama-free, etc. She was a valuable part of our company. At the time, we were struggling. The dot-com bust had just happened and, like many agencies, we were strapped.

With the financial stresses weighing heavily on my mind, one evening while working late I walked to the printer to retrieve something. There, sitting on our expensive large format printer was a number of freelance projects by this designer (who was also working late). She arrived as I stared at her projects and looked at me sheepishly, knowing she hadn’t gotten permission to use company assets for personal work. I don’t remember our conversation, but I do remember I chastised her quite harshly. I felt justified. We were watching every penny and she was using our printer for her personal projects, costing us money. Probably not coincidentally, she quit about a month later.

I’m sure I’ve had many less-than-stellar moments like that in my life. But this specific encounter has stuck with me because I later found out she was dealing with some hard things at home that made the personal projects (and her need for a way to print those projects) make sense.

I sat down to write about empathy being the one talent all great creative people work to develop. And I believe that. Effective, exceptional creative contains truths people relate to, and only empathy can help a writer or art director find those truths. But as I wrote, it felt too narrow. Empathy is a talent all great people work to develop, not just great ad people. Had I been seeking for the talent of empathy while standing at that printer, I would have handled the situation differently.

Empathy is what lets us step outside of our narrow, self-focused world and understand others. It helps us assume the best about people rather than the worst. Empathy allows our minds to be softened a little by our hearts. It makes us better humans.

The people I most respect in my life — both professionally and personally — work to obtain the gift of empathy. They don’t practice it perfectly, but they strive for it. They attempt to put themselves in others’ Vans, Tom’s or Nikes. It’s a talent that makes creatives better at their jobs, and all people better at life.