NBC Olympics’ CMO on the Herculean Task of Marketing the Games

And his network’s promotional blitz

As one of the men behind NBC's storied '90s slogan "Must See TV," John Miller knows what it takes to win over an audience. And for the past dozen Olympics, first as CMO of the NBC Sports Group and then last year as chief marketer of NBC Olympics, Miller's marketing and promotional efforts across the network's vast television and digital portfolio have made coverage of the games top of mind. Promoting the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro was a yearlong effort, which kicked off last July with 60-second spots across NBCU's 18 networks, online and social media. The campaign will go full throttle in the weeks before the opening ceremony.

For Miller, marketing the Olympics has been a gargantuan and exhilarating task—and an achievement that he will be recognized for at the upcoming Clio Sports Awards. Miller, a Clio Sports juror for the past two years, will be honored with the Stuart Scott Lifetime Achievement Award, which will be given during the 2016 Clio Sports ceremony in New York on July 7.

Adweek: You were involved in the first two Clio Sports Awards and chaired the jury last year. What has that experience been like for you?

John Miller: It has been an opportunity for me to see some very good work. While I give my time to the Clios to be a judge, quite honestly it's a class unto itself about trends that are happening, what's working, what's effective, and you're forced to analyze why. This has been a great experience.

From a marketing perspective, what can we expect to see for this year's Olympics that we haven't seen from NBC before?

There are two significant changes this Olympics from a marketing perspective. One is the digital/social component, which has grown exponentially compared to the last Summer Games, which was London. Another change is on the entertainment side. The number of musicians who have come to us with the idea of collaborating in some way around Olympic marketing is impressive. Initially, it was the winner of The Voice, Jordan Smith. Now, Alicia Keys, will.i.am, Fifth Harmony, The Band Perry have all hopped onboard, and there are a couple of other acts who we are still talking to. Sometimes you have to chase these entertainers, but in this particular instance, many came to us. I also think a lot of the interest has to do with the way they launch and the changing status of media consumption these days. These musicians know that if we put their music on the air, it's going to get a significant amount of exposure.

The elephant in the room is the Zika virus and its potential influence on marketing for Rio. How is NBC preparing its employees, and will this impact the amount of on-site marketing that goes on?

The company has been very proactive when it comes to Zika. Anyone who has to go down to Rio has to take a rather elaborate online tutorial, not only regarding Zika, but being in Brazil and staying safe in general. Honestly, anyone who feels that they don't want to go because they're thinking of having a family, or are pregnant, can opt out. Only a few have, with [Today anchor] Savannah Guthrie being the most notable case. But what we also look at on an ongoing basis is the overall awareness of the Olympics, as well as the intent to view. So far, the awareness is higher at this stage than it was for either previous Summer Olympics in London and Beijing. I give a significant amount of credit for that to marketing. On the other hand, I do think that conversations about various things that are happening in Brazil, whether it's Zika or water or political issues, have added to the awareness. The question of intent to view is a vital one. The awareness is strong, but will the issues in Brazil hurt people's desire to actually watch the games? I have found that the answer to that is no. We are finding that the intent to view is currently on par with London and Beijing.