POSTED: July 18th 2011

Terrence Burns: Olympic bidding key is to create a compelling new identity for the city

(L to R) Gold medal figure skater Yu-Na Kim, Terrence Burns and PyeongChang 2018 spokesperson Theresa Rah / Helios Partners
(L to R) Gold medal figure skater Yu-Na Kim, Terrence Burns and PyeongChang 2018 spokesperson Theresa Rah / Helios Partners

LAURA WALDEN / Sports Features Communications

TAMPA/ATLANTA, Jul 18: Terrence Burns, president of Helios Partners, takes time out to talk to about the complex strategy behind Olympic bidding and the PyeongChang 2018 bid presentation.

Helios Partners developed the bid's overall communications strategy and managed an extensive network of Olympic Games experts, drawing upon the team's experience to create a winning bid.

They joined the bid in mid-2009 and ceo Yang Ho Cho commented about their input, "Helios has outstanding success helping cities bidding for major international sporting events. Their expertise and know-how were crucial to our selection.

"Our technical bid was strong, but Helios helped make the difference by creating and managing our brand - 'New Horizons', key messages, presentations and providing overall strategic advice."

Burns went into detail about painting the picture behind the mechanics of a home run bid.

How exactly do you work with potential bids to define the main compelling focus point of their message?

Terrence Burns: That’s a bit of a proprietary question to be honest but we do a lot of qualitative research, and some quantitative, to determine the strengths, weaknesses and perceptions of the city, the nation and the culture in question. 

We compare and contrast that with our competitors.  Those two parts are fairly easy.  The hard part is finding the unique selling proposition that is ALSO valuable to the IOC…then we turn that into a narrative for the bid. 

For example, it was fairly easy to determine the functional or hardware differences between PyeongChang, Munich and Annecy – the hard part is to determine the emotional or software differences – and then – to determine what if any of those are valuable to the IOC.  

We actually create a new brand for each bid city – separate and distinct from the touristic brand, if one exists.  A brand is truly the only thing one owns because it is based in emotional attributes – not functional ones; all else is duplicatable.

When Helios takes on a bid - how many parts of their image do you manage?

Terrence Burns: We have refined and evolved our approach over almost ten years of bidding; to be honest, we have to be the brand manager for the bid or it doesn’t work. 

The story, the graphical representation, the key messages, the presentations – all of it we have to impact and manage in order to be most effective. 

We work closely with the communications and PR teams to ensure consistency of message and continuity of the brand promise’s context.  We work closely with the IR team on messaging to hear and learn if our message is breaking through to the Olympic Movement and how effective – or not – it is so that we can make adjustments. 

For PyeongChang we were told early on that we were focusing too much on Asia, so we broadened our messaging to “new regions”.  It seemed to have worked.

What do you think was the key component to this PyeongChang 2018 bid that you were able to utilize to the best advantage? What made this one so different from the other two?

Terrence Burns: We gave them the story of “New Horizons”…we gave the IOC a reason to believe in this bid that was not based on “peace between North and South Korea” because frankly, that message from the 2010 and 2014 bids was nonsensical to most IOC members. 

It’s that simple – we said “here is what we can do for you and for the Olympic Movement that our competitors cannot do”.  And we stuck to that message all the way to Durban.  It was powerful.  It was durable and in the end, it was irrefutable. 

We have been told that our final presentation picked up between 6-10 votes…but, who really knows?  I can say it was the first time I have had multiple IOC members tell me “that presentation moved me.”  And I’ve done a lot of presentations.

Now that PyeongChang has won the Games, how do you see their New Horizons message and branding being expanded througout the actual Games graphics and merchandising?

Terrence Burns: The bid phase is distinct from the OCOG phases in that they both have two different missions…thus, the positioning for PyeongChang 2018 OCOG should be an evolution of New Horizons – not a repetition of it.  Now they have to “put meat on the bones” and give life to the rhetoric and lofty statements we made in the bid. 

This means refining “New Horizons” to something else but with a similar, broader reaching meaning for the Movement and it means taking that understanding of “who we are” and developing a new set of visual identity and imaging for the OCOG.

The IOC has chosen to branch out to the first South American Games with Rio 2016, and is now opening the winter sports market for Asia with PyeongChang 2018. Do you think they will go for a more traditionally established bid or do you think they will once again go to a new area?

Terrence Burns: I think that continental rotation is an old fashion notion.  I think that the IOC’s process is so thorough that now, once a city gets into the finals, it’s anyone’s race to win – or lose. 

The city that wins now is the city that can touch the hearts of the IOC membership with a message that is inspiring yet at the same time answers the very real needs of the Olympic Movement.   

Like we wrote in PyeongChang’s Durban presentation – “this isn’t a race about geography, it’s a race about dreams…it’s a race about human potential…” 

Whichever city can articulate that best wins.  If you have a great narrative, virtually any counter message that the competition tries to make, actually reinforces your message.  “New Horizons” was almost impervious to attack because of its simplicity – and its truth.

What advice would you give to cities considering a YOG bid?

Terrence Burns: The YOG is still in its infancy as an event…so I would challenge any city looking at hosting a YOG to be as creative as possible…The YOG is really a test-tube for the IOC; cities need to understand this and help the IOC define the future of the event itself not by looking at what went before, but by pushing the envelope in all areas – the sport program, the promotion and presentation of the YOG and most importantly take a sobering look at how, and if, it really impacts young people around the world. 

Right now, the only to measure that is via media consumption.

Keywords · IOC · Helios Partners · Terrence Burns · PyeongChang 2018

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