Living in a Bubble: Life in the Spotlight for 2012 Olympic Sponsors
Written by Phil Savage, SportBusiness Group
Staging the Olympics in London was always going to be a risk although not for many of the usual reasons. London’s ability to build venues, organise the logistics, sell tickets and generally put on a world-class show was never in doubt. Security might be high in the minds of some but the biggest risk was always with the media.
It is hard for non residents truly to appreciate what the London media environment is like. The British press is a force of nature which, in full flight, is a truly awesome phenomenon. Yet it is this beast that will determine the marketing success or failure of the companies who pay millions to associate their brands with the Olympics.
Part of the challenge lies in the values that the Olympic movement represents which tout such high ideals that it almost invites parody. Commentators make great sport highlighting the “hypocrisy” of all those involved in areas where they fall short of the Olympic rhetoric.
Keen Vancouver 2010 watchers will recall that sponsors fall into two categories: those in the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) TOP Programme and national brands recruited by the local organising committee. Life will be generally easier for local sponsors like British Airways and (former state telecom monopoly) BT who have the advantage of being seen as patriotic.
Local partners do not avoid scrutiny entirely, however. BP has been criticised over its environmental record as has Rio Tinto, which is the company supplying the metal for the medals.
Confectionary brand Cadburys campaign linked to school sports equipment was greeted with howls of derision when journalists worked out the mountains of chocolate that would be consumed as a result.
The fortunes of international brands like Adidas and Dow Chemical recruited by LOCOG, have also been mixed. Adidas enjoyed/endured 48 hours of heat when it wrapped itself in a slightly blue Union flag to launch the TeamGB kit. Its inspired choice of designer Stella McCartney (daughter of Beatle Paul) proved decisive as her unimpeachable British credentials won the day for the brand.
Dow, by contrast must regret its decision to provide the wrap for the Olympic stadium. Protests from the Indian Olympic Committee over the company’s links to the Bhopal disaster have been a gift to critics who have held the sponsor’s feet to the fire for months.
Other IOC sponsors have also had had their triumphs and disasters. Timing brand Omega popped up to brand the countdown clock which promptly stopped, causing the company to duck back behind its brand ambassadors.
GE has majored on its status as a major British employer – a good call given the current uncertainty in the jobs market.
Visa has annoyed most Londoners with its deal to be the exclusive credit card for all ticket and merchandise purchases but as it takes a percentage on every sale is probably happy already.
P&G has favoured a message around motherhood designed to play well on social media which has probably not had the pick up it might have hoped. Additionally, the company simultaneously announced a huge cut in its ad spending which didn’t exactly endear them to the media moguls.
Given the mixed reaction to sponsors and the significant risk of brand damage one is tempted to ask ‘why do they do it?’ No doubt once the Olympics are over there will be the usual post-rationalisation by sponsors: I guarantee none will declare 2012 a failure. By then the media monster will have moved on to devour something else and a new town will be getting ready for the Olympic wagon train.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.