Olympics in Review; Focus Is on Spirit of Competition

TBWA to defend business it has held since 1999

Accusations of impropriety have tarnished the image of the International Olympic Committee during the past two years. Board members have resigned, a new president has been installed, and now the men who led Salt Lake City’s successful bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics are being tried on bribery and fraud charges in U.S. District Court.

Olympic ideals and the spirit of competition, however, are the focus of a review being conducted by the IOC as the organization seeks an agency to promote the Summer 2004 and Winter 2006 games.

A handful of finalists made presentations to five IOC executives late last week in New York, said sources. The finalists run the gamut from a creative boutique—Siltanen/Keehn in El Segundo, Calif.—to a who’s who among global networks: WPP’s Young & Rubicam; Publicis Groupe’s Saatchi & Saatchi and Leo Burnett; and the incumbent, Omnicom’s TBWA Worldwide, according to sources.

By week’s end, however, it appeared that Burnett had dropped out.

Y&R’s pitch is being led by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/ Y&R in London, sources said. Siltanen/Keehn’s entrée is due to the fact that former TBWA\ Chiat\Day creative director Rob Siltanen was part of the team at TBWA that won the business in 1999, said sources.

Most finalists tapped executives from multiple offices to pitch the international business. The agencies either declined comment or could not be reached, and executives at the Lausanne, Switzerland-based IOC, including marketing director Michael Payne, could not be reached on Friday.

When TBWA last won the business, it was billed as a $150 million account. But since the commercials run on the network that airs the Olympics, in this case NBC, there is no “paid” media. As a result, the account is not a big money maker.

Still, it is a coveted prize, considering the prestige and the potential of billions of viewers. “It’s a labor of love,” said an executive from one contending shop.

As an executive from another participating agency put it, “It’s about helping them do good things, helping them sort of change the world.” Noting how host cities have been transformed by the experience, the executive added: “It’s more than just games.”

TBWA’s last campaign, in 2001, featured archival footage of Olympians, choral music and a voiceover from actor Robin Williams. Tagged, “Celebrate humanity,” the effort, which included TV spots, radio and print ads, focused on Olympic values such as courage and camaraderie.

One TV execution, “Silver,” even took aim at a 1996 Nike spot that asserted, “You don’t win gold, you lose silver.” The IOC commercial depicted a weight lifter from Romania leaping up and down after winning a silver medal. “Someone once said, ‘You don’t win silver, you lose gold,’ ” the voiceover said as the lifter celebrated. “Obviously, they never won silver.”

Agency presentations will continue this week, and a decision could come down within the next few weeks, according to sources.