C-suite brand executives are descending on Sochi to do what big companies often do at the Olympics and other huge sports events—curry favor with clients and partners by showing them a fantastic time. But behind the scenes, the execs typically have specialized operatives who quietly but painstakingly make sure the guests' trips go well—though history continues to complicate what that means.
Because of the Munich massacre in 1972, the '96 Atlanta Olympics bombing, Sept. 11, last year's Boston Marathon and other politically charged situations, such operatives these days are challenged with preparing contingency plans in case there is a terrorist act. Dave Mingey, president of GlideSlope, is a brand strategist who has advised his clients' security teams in Sochi. His global sports marketing firm's customers include Dow Chemicals, Citi and The North Face, helping with events to entertain business partners while utilizing real-time analytics and trend mapping to navigate the scene.
Mingey landed in the southern Russian city midweek and gave Adweek a glimpse into what brands are up to due to threats of groups such as the "black widows." Mingey has worked other Olympics in a strategic capacity, while also spending considerable time in Iraq to get that nation ready for the 2004 Athens Summer Games.
"Scenario planning. Crisis planning," he said. "That planning, at least from a global sports perspective, has gone to an all-time high with these Games. You saw a lot of brands reaching out to consultants and advisors that typically wouldn't intersect in the world of sports marketing. Former FBI agents have come in to consult them, or they developed close contacts with the State Department."
Brands' security teams include private contractors, Mingey said, while having charter aircraft services in Europe on call to fly into Russia in the case of an emergency to pick up his clients and their parties. In some cases, pilots would have to be granted governmental permission before entering the country amid such theoretical chaos.
"You could have a massive amount of people trying to exit this very small, somewhat secluded locale that doesn't have a lot of flights in and out," Mingey said.
The GlideScope chief predicted that an attack on Sochi would not have to be major to send shock waves among those who came to see the athletic action. "I think one of the real scenarios we had to plan for is mass panic more than mass casualities," he said. "We have fall-back locations. We have secondary fall-back locations. People here have those [services providers] ready in their cellphone contacts, clearly spelled out."
When Mingey arrived in Sochi, his first surprise was the lack of Olympics-themed, celebratory activations as he rode to his hotel room. "There seems to be less signage here than maybe at a Home Builders Association convention in Las Vegas," he said. Another thing he noticed right away: There wasn't a big military or police presence.
But logistics could be the Sochi Games' most-unheralded worry. It's rumored that The North Face—a major sponsor for the U.S. skiing team—has canceled its program due to the issues of getting in and out of the country. Mingey wouldn't confirm that development.
Though he said, "You are hearing reduction from various programs. We are getting word right now that private aircraft are being denied their landing slots. So you have a number of CEOs, who of course are on very tight schedules, who are trying to come in [but can't]."
Logistics are "why several companies have altered their plans significantly," he added. Some U.S. firms, Mingey said, have moved their camps to Grindelwald, Switzerland, where they are going to show clients a vacation-worthy time but watch the Games on TV.
Meanwhile, thanks to a slew of journalists' tweets, much has been made about the lack of necessities and amenities at Sochi's hotels. Mingey said he's been luckier than those scribes, with running water and room service during his short stay.
"The hospitality situation doesn't meet expectations for some of the West," he said. "But obviously, the issues of security, respect to sexual orientation and general corruption are much more important to focus on here in Sochi."
At the same time, part of his job is to help make sure that groups being entertained by Dow Chemicals and Citi stay safe. Interestingly, he said brands' client entourages usually come in for a few days in waves for the Games competition, cocktail parties and sightseeing, with the groups staggered throughout the two-week event.
"It's a fine balance," he said. "If you are bringing people here to have a wonderful experience on sport's grandest stage, the last thing you want to do is freak them out. But you don't want somebody who is part of your business think you haven't properly planned all the way out to a, God forbid, serious terrorist attack."
The world will be watching and hoping that more peaceful minds prevail.