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Sponsors reach for Olympic gold

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Fears of terrorism, charges of steroid use and behind-schedule construction have dogged the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, which begin this week in Athens, Greece.

Nonetheless, Xerox Corp., Monster and other b-to-b marketers sponsoring the games, either through the International Olympic Committee or the U.S. Olympic Committee, remain confident their efforts will yield marketing gold when the world's attention turns to the games over the next three weeks.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with being associated with the Olympics," said Al Ries, chairman of branding consultancy Ries & Ries. "This may be a bad year to do it, but it's just luck of the draw."

Despite the woes that are occasionally associated with the Olympics-boycotts, protests and violence-Don Hinchey, VP-communications for the Bonham Group, a sports marketing firm, remains a believer in the games' power. "There is no larger platform than the Olympics for a company to be associated with," he said. "It is the premiere marketing opportunity in the world, especially for multinational companies that are looking to do business throughout the globe."

Xerox, which is severing its Olympics ties at the end of 2004 after having sponsored the games for 40 years, is making one last big push to take advantage of the international spotlight shining on Athens Aug. 13-29. While security is a concern for the company, it won't stunt Xerox's marketing effort.

"We are clearly working with the IOC to ensure security," said Carl Langsenkamp, manager-public relations for Xerox. "We're taking customers over. We'll have employees over there. They have to be safe. We're doing everything we can to ensure that. It's the No. 1 priority for us."

Like most b-to-b companies, Xerox will approach the Olympics using classic integrated marketing techniques that combine TV spots on NBC and other stations telecasting the events, outdoor advertising, public relations and hospitality. For example, it has trumpeted the fact that it will produce 120 million documents-including results tabulations for the media-at the Olympics. From its Athens office building, the company has draped a six-story banner that bids the Olympics, "Welcome Home." The banner is a mosaic of photographs of 27,000 Xerox employees from more than 60 countries.

Xerox is using the games for hospitality and will bring numerous European customers to Athens. It has also used its sponsorship for internal marketing: About 20 Xerox employees carried the Olympic torch in Athens. And, of course, Xerox will run TV spots during the Olympics telecast.

Since 1993, Xerox has been a top IOC sponsor, a relationship that can run upward of $40 million for a four-year cycle, according to industry observers. Xerox has sponsored the Olympics since 1964's Summer Games in Tokyo.

Xerox ending sponsorship

Nonetheless, Xerox won't renew its IOC sponsorship when its current deal expires this year. "As much as we've benefited from the Olympics, we want to do a little more focused advertising to where our customer base really lies," Langsenkamp said. "The Olympics have given us very good brand awareness, but when it comes to people buying high-end products, we need to focus a little more on those people."

The Bonham Group's Hinchey said, "Xerox has been an Olympics sponsor for a while now. In some respects they have realized the benefits of being an Olympics sponsor. They've entered into a high level around the globe."

While Xerox is a U.S. company using its Olympic sponsorship to make a global name for itself, DHL is a Brussels-based company looking to penetrate the U.S. market. The shipping company, which is taking on United Parcel Service of America and FedEx Corp. in a rebranding campaign launched earlier this summer, is a USOC sponsor.

"We were looking at opportunities with a sports marketing kind of angle," said Karen Jones, DHL's VP-branding and marketing. "We wanted to find those things that delivered the sort of competition we're bringing to the U.S. The Olympics was a really good alignment for us."

DHL will use hospitality marketing at the games and run advertisements in publications including Sports Illustrated, People and Forbes. It is also running online advertising with an Olympics theme.

But the heart of DHL's efforts will be its 15-second TV spots, which also have an Olympics theme. In one spot, for example, a weight lifter struggling with the bar is aided by a DHL forklift.

A key benefit of Olympics sponsorship is that DHL enjoys category exclusivity and won't face off against any ads from UPS or FedEx during the games. "Exclusivity is a great thing," Jones said. "When you can own the mindshare, that's an important part of it."

Online recruitment company Monster, another USOC sponsor, is incorporating Olympic athletes such as its own employee Jimmy Pedro in its marketing efforts. Pedro, who joined Monster to help develop its Olympic marketing program, won a bronze medal in judo in the Atlanta Games in 1996 and is returning to the Olympics this year.

Team Monster competes

The company has four other Olympians on its "Team Monster": swimmer Lenny Krayzelburg, wrestler Patricia Miranda, fencer Keeth Smart and badminton player Kevin Han. Explaining the marketing idea behind the sponsorship, Doug Hall, Monster's director of marketing services, said, "Olympians for the most part are not professional athletes. They have to think about their careers after the Olympics."

Monster created TeamUSAnet, a Web site where Olympians can post their resumes. It is also running a series of ads featuring Team Monster members.

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