Sponsorship training of Olympic proportions

Guest blog by ANTHONY WESTENBERG, account director, Palette PR

When I was working in Amsterdam as the global communications manager for Randstad, I had the honour to represent my company in the Public Affairs Task Group, established for sponsors of the Dutch Olympic team to share ideas and map out a common communications strategy for our participation in Beijing.

Our first meeting was a roundtable discussion about our motivation for supporting the Dutch athletes. We all had similar goals: associating with top performers, striving for perfection. However, during the coffee breaks, the sponsors quietly asked about the other companies’ business presence in China. Though unspoken, I think we all wanted to be reassured that none of us had any skeletons lurking in the closet.

Then we held a brainstorm session identifying issues and scenarios that could happen in China – from an athlete pulling out a Tibetan flag at the opening ceremonies, to corruption, censoring reporters and major human rights infractions. We categorized each as either ‘within’ or ‘outside’ our influence.

An ‘outside our influence’ example would be the chosen location of the games (an IOC decision); while our sponsor support focused on the athletes themselves. For this reason, we felt it would have been misguided for a group in the Netherlands to boycott the products and services of sponsors on an issue outside of our control; such as pollution in Beijing.

Our group drafted talking points and helped provide some athletes with another form of training: how to handle media interviews. We were careful not to tell them how they should comment about the various issues swirling around China, from pollution to child labour.

Perhaps the IOC chose China with the idea of encouraging change from within. The spotlight on China will hopefully encourage their government to become more open while also showcasing China to the rest of the world.

With Canada taking centre stage during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, I wonder what issues sponsors will discuss on the peripheral rings of the global soapbox. The field is open: from doping to Aboriginal engagement to the environment.

Regardless, I am assuming that there will be a platform for sponsors to meet and exchange ideas/experiences in preparation for a peaceful, transparent and sport-filled extravaganza.

Unsubscriber blues

Guest blog by LOUISE ARMSTRONG, executive vice president, Palette PR

When I turned 40, I decided to draft some resolutions for the second half of my life. Each goal is designed to simplify my life by eliminating time wasters – things that are a part of my day but which I neither need nor want.

I had no trouble finding my first victim – email newsletters. A weekly scan turned up 25 distinct titles, seven of which arrived on a daily basis. It wouldn’t be so bad if I had requested them but most were uninvited guests to my inbox.

I made it my mission to unsubscribe myself from the lot and set to work with a single-minded zeal. First, I divided them into three categories: those I voluntarily subscribed to and actually read (only one fell into this category); those I subscribed to and didn’t read (six here) and, the vast majority, those I had not subscribed to and didn’t want.

In some cases, I had been systematically placed on the email distribution list of professional groups I belonged to. Others were from stores I visited, hotels I stayed at and restaurants I frequented, all of which assumed that I would be fascinated by their every move. Finally, there were the ones whose source eluded me – monthly real estate reports and investment trends – authored by people who must have received my business card at a networking event.

Removing myself from these lists varied from remarkably simple to downright impossible. The ones I had voluntarily signed up for took the news fairly well, although many asked me to log in, forcing me to recollect ancient passwords. Others acquiesced after some prodding but said they would need up to three months for it to take effect. A few gave up the fight only when I threw myself on their mercy with a tale of how out of control my life had become.

The best response I received was from a community newspaper whose tech person responded that I was now ‘blacklisted’ from their email distribution list. Imagine that.

At this writing, several weeks after the start of my quest, I have reduced my daily newsletter total by about two thirds but I’m ticking it off my resolution list as a ‘complete’.

Next task: deal with snail mail as it comes in.