Are Olympians an Untapped Resource for Spreading Good Will? PR Tips for Working with Hometown Olympians
By Marilyn Haese, Principal, Haese & Wood
It could be said that U.S. Olympians who have participated in past Games are the most untapped resource of good will when it comes to public relations and community outreach. Of course the Olympic Stars, the multi-medalists, are understandably focused on corporate sponsorships following their moments in the sun. But what of the majority of competitors who make the Olympic Games what it really is: a stage showcasing the pinnacle of endurance and athleticism? This supposition was put forth, and answered, in a happenstance event recently put together in prepping for a “view the Summer Games from here” restaurant promotion. We contacted the Southern California Olympians organization and invited its president, Olympian Cathy Marino, to lunch.
Barney’s Beanery, a roadhouse/sports bar in Westwood, CA, which sports 60 HD plasma screens throughout its 2-story complex is a perfect venue for watching the Summer Games. Ms. Marino is the president of the local Olympians alumni group and a Kayaker who participated in two Olympiads (Atlanta and Montreal). She was in fact headed to London later during the games but had time to summon, through an email invite, the games’ past stars living in Los Angeles for an official Reunion Viewing Party to be held and hosted by Barney’s Beanery the night of opening ceremonies. The restaurant group also made a donation to the nonprofit organization and its scholarship efforts.
There are an estimated 450 Olympians living in Southern California. Of those invited, 12 Olympians (with 13 gold, silver and bronze medals between them) joyfully responded. They attended the gathering decked out in their own opening ceremonies’ paraphernalia and with many great personal stories to tell. This was a good thing because the press alert brought in more members of the press than Olympians, including local radio and TV stations, NBC’s local station, KNBC, and a mix of international press. The timing must have been the key to great turnout in this otherwise “hard-to-get-press-attendance-to-anything” city. And while NBC clearly owns the broadcasting rights to the Summer Games, other stations and print outlets did want to salute the games’ opening with some news coverage of their own.
In addressing the media throng gathered that evening, Marino managed to sum it all up: “We’re gathering to re-capture what it’s like to enter the Olympic stadium for our country. We’ve all decided to wear jackets we wore at our Games. And most of all, we’re looking forward to seeing our new brothers and sisters revel in their moment in London. We will certainly be cheering them on!”
The nonprofit organization of Olympians provides a number of outreach efforts including providing scholarships for Olympic hopefuls in the area and a “Ready, Set, Gold!” fitness programs with Olympians working out with students attending schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
As a venerable roadhouse diner/sports bar with large plasma HD screens broadcasting every sports package known to man, and a plethora of seating choices, including couches, stadium seating, booths, tables, and the bar, Barney’s Beanery is a logical place to watch sports of any kind. All five Beaneries located throughout the LA area are running NBC’s six channels of coverage continuously throughout the two-week period.
Chiming in about the appropriateness of the reunion being held in the diner’s Westwood venue just 2 blocks from UCLA, co-owner David Houston commented “Westwood was a very special place during the Los Angeles Olympics. This was one of two Olympic Villages, where thousands of Olympians rested, ate and practiced at the university’s campus during the ‘84 games. “We wanted to bring back that feeling by hosting these very special Americans.” The group of local Olympians who turned out for each other, the media and this fundraising effort was as follows.
- Paul Gonzales, 1984 Gold Medalist, Boxing, Los Angeles
- George Stanich, 1948 Bronze Medalist, Track & Field, London
- Craig Dixon, 1948 Bronze Medalist, Track & Field, London
- Cathy Marino, 1988 & 1996 Kayaking Team, Torch Bearer in ‘96 in Atlanta, Montreal
- Sherri Howard, 1984, 1988 Gold & Silver Medalist, Relays, Los Angeles and Atlanta
- Cliff Meidl, 2000 USA Flag Bearer, Kayaking, Sydney
- Michelle Berube, 1984 Rhythmic Gymnastics, Los Angeles
- Pat McCormick, multi-medal legendary diver, 1952, Helsinki & 1956, Melbourne, considered one of all-time diving greats
- Andrew Strenk, 1968 Gold Medalist, Swimming, Mexico City
- Connie Paraskevin, 1980, 1984 Speed Skating; 1988, 1992 & 1996 Cycling: Bronze Medalist in 1988 Sprint Cycling, Moscow, Seoul, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Barcelona
- Brian Goodell, 1996 Gold Medalist, Swimming, Montreal
- John Nunn, 1968 Bronze Medalist, Rowing, Mexico City
Tips for Working with Hometown Olympians
1. Olympians are everywhere. It’s estimated that more than 10 thousand Olympians reside in the U.S. and hail from all 50 states in the union. So while it’s possibly true that Southern California may have more Olympians per square foot than elsewhere, every city in the U.S. possesses some of these great stars. A click on the U.S. Olympic Committee can be a first step to searching your home town. And while most Olympians do engage a manager and request honoraria, there is a willingness to take part without a fee in what has been sanctioned as a good will effort.
2. Regardless of how much good will you expect to shed, use of the Olympics trademarks and Olympic Rings are only with express permission as they include defined copyrights. It’s critical that you adhere to these copyrights and legal provisions.
3. Olympians are always referred to as just that: Olympians, never former, never past.
4. The biggest treasure to be found when working with Olympians is their own stories. With amazing tales about how they prepared for competition, and the feats they undertook at the games, these are exceptional historical encounters that could be of great interest to the press.
5. Know that by and large you will be working with personalities who can emit extraordinarily positive “can do” attitudes about everything and everyone around them. It’s refreshing to bring these exceptional personalities together with the press.
Marilyn Haese is a principal of Haese & Wood Marketing and Public Relations, in Century City, Calif. In 1984, she had the honor of serving as Assistant Medical Press Chief for the 23rd Olympiad in Los Angeles.