Special Olympics Turns to Young & Rubicam

Agency assumes lead global marketing role through 2015

Special Olympics, a U.S.-based organization that in the past decade expanded its footprint to 170 countries as it branched out beyond sports, has hired Young & Rubicam to lead global marketing efforts.

The assignment came after a relatively fast review that was managed by Select Resources International in Santa Monica, Calif.

In early June, Special Olympics issued a request for proposals to 23 agencies, according to Kirsten Seckler, vp of branding and communications. Based on replies, the organization narrowed the field to two contenders: Y&R and another undisclosed shop. Final presentations took place last month.

"Y&R has already brought us an incredible idea big enough to work across all of our programs," said Tim Shriver, CEO of Special Olympics. "It is a galvanizing idea that we believe will accelerate and intensify the progress and impact of Special Olympics."

The agency's first campaign, which will include TV, print and digital ads, social media efforts and events, is expected to break in late March or early April 2014, Seckler said.

Y&R global CEO David Sable described the assignment as a calling, noting that Special Olympics "brings out the best in everyone, and our team—all our employees, all around the world—feel the importance and the excitement of their mission."

Y&R is donating its services and Special Olympics relies on media companies to donate time and space for its ads. That said, corporate sponsors like Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble also have incorporated Special Olympics images in their paid ads.

Seckler characterized past Special Olympics campaigns, from BBDO and Arnell Group, as public service efforts that helped build awareness around the organization. With Y&R, which is contracted to lead marketing through 2015, Special Olympics aims to redefine itself more deeply beyond sports, particularly in the eyes of youth.

"While we offer great sports training, competition and programming for people with intellectual disabilities or athletes, we were hearing from volunteers and other people in the organization that they felt like they were getting so much more out of their participation as well," Seckler said. "So, we've really taken a hard look at ourselves and said, 'You know, we're really for everybody.'

"We have a new story to tell about our organization," Seckler added. "We have a longtime history of perception and this kind of stereotypical perception that we need to [address] and we're hoping that Y&R will help us do that."