Third Time's The Charm - Part I

IMG_1608 2 PyeongChang’s 2018 Path to Victory

Part I:  Autumn 2009 – SportAccord Dubai 2010

Terrence Burns ©2014

As I have written many, many times - consultants and advisors do not win Olympic bids; Bid Committees win bids.  To do so they must have a great team, great leadership, great relationships throughout the Olympic Movement, a great technical plan, a great message and the ability to communicate that message to the Olympic Family in a myriad of effective ways throughout the course of the campaign.

This series of four articles is about the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games bid's journey to victory from my perspective as an external advisor consulting on the bid's brand messaging strategy (helping the bid define the answer to "Why PyeongChang?").  I was also responsible for the development and preparation of PyeongChang 2018's presentations to the Olympic Family.

Many other crucial moving parts of the bid were working hard as well, simultaneous with our team's efforts during the course of our almost two years together.  The bid's administration, technical planning, communications, international relations, and sport and venues teams to name a few worked equally hard in their respective areas to ensure the final, victorious result in Durban.

Can we be friends?

Our first meeting with the PyeongChang 2018 bid was a brief one.  The meeting took place in an almost springtime snowstorm, with Governor Jin Sun Kim at the Denver SportAccord during March 2009.  Governor Kim (Governor of Gangwon Province, where PyeongChang is located) was the instigator, driving force and leader of PyeongChang’s two previous bids, 2010 and 2014 respectively - both of those bids almost won, by the way.  I worked for Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014, both of whom eventually defeated PyeongChang.  Given those facts I wasn’t really sure how the meeting would go.

During the discussion, Governor Kim listened politely and nodded periodically.  He spoke to us through his interpreter, though without committing to anything.  I remember thinking that he seemed very tired - time zones are a killer.  At the end of the meeting I wasn’t really sure what, if anything had been accomplished.

Only later did I learn that Governor Kim was listening acutely, very well indeed.  Although I'd worked closely with Koreans many years before (I worked for Meridian Management, the IOC’s marketing agency in 1997 when Samsung joined the TOP Program), this meeting with Governor Kim reminded me again about the particulars of Korean business meeting etiquette. Today, by the way, Governor Kim is President & CEO of the PyeongChang 2018 Organizing Committee.

Over the course of the next few months we began a dual dialogue with both PyeongChang and Munich.  Truth be told, my heart was with Munich because of my German wife, my love for the country (I worked there in 1991 with Delta Air Lines) and the city of Munich.  Munich’s young bid was, as are most bids at that stage, somewhat chaotic with two initial leaders, Mr. Bernard Schwank and Mr. Richard Adams.  PyeongChang’s team was no less confusing with various powerful entities jostling for internal influence and control of the bid.

In September of 2009, we flew to Seoul to present for the first time.  The initial PyeongChang bid team now included personnel from Korean Air because Korean Air’s Chairman, Y H Cho, was selected to co-Chair the 2018 bid with Governor Kim.  I particularly recall meeting Mr. Jiyoung Jung for the first time who would become a true friend as well as a colleague. The scope of requested work changed a few times – first PyeongChang wanted us to include a PR and Communications partner, and then they asked us to compete against a PR and Communications partner.

This is not unusual.  Young bids generally have little understanding of the bid process, the work ahead, the skills they will need, the roles of advisors and the work that they could/should perform.  And, consultants who claim credit for and/or exaggerate their work performed on previous bids often exacerbate this confusion.  CV inflation is the most reckless, profuse and hidden Olympic "sport".   Lesson for future bid cities:  extensively check references with former Bid CEOs.

Pitching a new bid committee is an exhaustive and often expensive exercise.  For example, we made three trips and presentations to the Tokyo 2016 bid and believed, based on our final meeting, that we were hired. We were so certain that we bought Japanese mobile phones for our team (Japan had a proprietary telecommunications platform at the time).  We weren’t hired, and I heard about buying those phones from my colleagues for years.

Pitching a bid can be exhausting as well because not only are you trying to explain what you do, what you have done and what you can do for a bid, you are often walking a thin line explaining (because bids always ask) what a competitor did or did not do on a previous bid.

For the record: when asked, I shoot straight; never denigrate, but always educate.

A logo for dessert

We were having dinner in Seoul at a Korean barbeque restaurant during the period we were still negotiating with PyeongChang.  Earlier that day, the bid committee told us they were ready to select a logo.  More often than not, new bids tend get this process wrong.  To get to a serviceable logo, one should begin with a brand assessment and positioning exercise.  This work then “informs” the designers so that their visual interpretation of the brand is consistent with its mission, vision and values.

But as I said, this rarely happens.

Usually someone decides that a friend or colleague can create a logo cheaply, or, they farm it out to a few designers with virtually no real briefing for the design.  The designers are left to their own devices and we get bid logos that sometimes defy logic.

But I digress; back to the PyeongChang 2018 bid logo.

We expressed our “concerns” that they plowed ahead with logo development before the bid's brand assessment and positioning work. We asked, “What is the logo trying to express? What part of the PyeongChang 2018 vision is it trying to articulate?”  They listened politely and seemed to understand our points.

Later, at the aforementioned dinner (again, before we were hired) three gentlemen entered the crowded restaurant with 3 large advertising boards.  Each board had a single, different version of a potential PyeongChang 2018 logo.

They cleared the table in front of me and said, “Mr. Burns, would you please tell us which logo you think is best?”  No set up, no explanation of each designer’s intent – just a cold presentation to a jet-lagged foreigner with several Korean beers in him.  I chose one, admittedly purely subjectively, and it eventually became the PyeongChang logo - whether or not my choice had anything to do with it, I do not know. By the way, the logo worked out just fine.


PyeongChang 2018 did eventually win, so I guess we can save the debate about the efficacy of brand positioning work for logo development for a later post – or, maybe even the efficacy of bid logos in general.

As an aside, I remember asking why are you spelling “PyeongChang” with a capital “C” in the middle of the name?

“We don’t want to be confused with Pyongyang…in North Korea,”someone answered.

“Ah”, I said; and the capital “C” stuck.

Finally Official

In late 2009, we had a final meeting/presentation with bid Co-Chairman Cho in the Korean Air headquarters in downtown Seoul. His daughter, Emily,  a Korean Air marketing executive attended as well, and although not part of the bid committee she was extremely helpful to us throughout the campaign. We also had our final meeting with the Korean NOC.

In early January of 2010, we went on a venue tour in PyeongChang.  I was on crutches from a little motorcycle mishap, and I remember standing on the icy ledge at the top of the ski jump.  I think the Koreans were nervous that I would fall off.  Perhaps that is why PyeongChang 2018 finally hired us - maybe they thought we were just as desperate as they were for PyeongChang to finally win. Time to go to work.

The Bid Committee had already written the Application File (they had two solid, previous versions as a foundation).  Their technical plan was very good, not as attractive as Munich’s due to Germany's existing winter sports infrastructure, but certainly very good.

What they lacked was a story and an answer to the question “Why PyeongChang?”

The first real challenge I recall was the IOC Teleconference after the submission of the Applicant File. The bid team already had sectional heads for each functional area, virtually all of whom were academics with excellent knowledge of their subject areas, but with minimal Games or Olympic Movement experience.

This short teleconference presentation to the IOC is designed to give the IOC a better understanding of the bid’s motivation and vision as well as its general technical and operational plans in as an efficient and affordable manner as possible.


Some of the speakers had taken part in previous PyeongChang bids and a lot of the technical material was simply updated and refreshed from PyeongChang 2014’s bid – which was fine, they were able to show progress with each successive bid.


As I read the drafts, again what was missing for me was the answer to “Why PyeongChang?”

Message Matters - A lot

As background, the 2010 and 2014 PyeongChang bids relied heavily on the message of the Winter Games as a peaceful means to unify the Korean peninsula.  Now, there is no doubt that this is a vital geo-political issue, and it is a very personal and passionate issue for the Korean people.  But there’s just one problem:  the message had no real relevance to the Olympic Movement or for the Winter Games.

While working for Vancouver and Sochi, we knew this – and we were able to exploit it with clear, powerful value propositions that illustrated what each of these two cities could provide to the Olympic Movement and to winter sport.

I tried to adapt the presentation remarks (they were already written) around a concept that was taking shape in my mind, but was by no means a formal brand or communications platform, yet.  At this point we could only adjust the texts, not re-write them (it’s easier to re-write than “fix by editing”, by the way, if one has the time).

I flew to Seoul to be in the room with them (off camera) for a few hours of presentation training, and the Q&A.  The presentation went fine.


Then we got serious about creating the answer to the question, “Why PyeongChang?”

Initially, I received a great deal – a great deal – of pushback from some members of PyeongChang 2018 regarding the bid’s positioning and its brand platform.

It was difficult to make them understand that this brand work would serve as the very foundation for every single piece of PyeongChang 2018 communication over the course of the bid (speeches, brochures, press releases, presentations, advertising, direct mail, website, Bid Books, etc.).  It is important to undergo a rigorous process to get it right because in the end, a clear and singular message is a bid’s only true point of differentiation from competitor bids.

We were competing against one of the greatest cities in the world, Munich, (the perceived “front runner” in the race up until a few months before the selection was made in July 2011) and a country, Germany, with a winter sports heritage and facilities second to none.


Munich 2018 also had a sophisticated bid committee, led by the extraordinarily competent Bernard Schwank, the extraordinarily popular Olympic Champion, Katarina Witt – and, for good measure, extraordinarily well-known and highly experienced German IOC member and IOC Vice President (then rumored to be the next IOC president) Thomas Bach.  And, they had the Alps.  It just didn’t seem fair.

We were also competing with another alpine gem, Annecy, France.  Led initially by Olympic champion Edgar Grospiron, and then Charles Beigbeder, Annecy's bid also offered bonafide winter sport credentials that PyeongChang could not compete with on a head to head basis.  Annecy was also a stunning site for the Winter Games: picture postcard perfect.


But the Annecy bid suffered from a venue plan that many considered "too spread out" to be efficient. Nevertheless, we  knew that the French could host a magnificent Winter Games and, they knew their way around the Olympic Family and the world of Winter Sport.

We considered both cities real competitors for the crown up until the last moments in Durban.

But I knew that we helped Sochi defeat Salzburg under similar “image” constraints – we just needed our own story.

One evening at home in Atlanta I spent hours on the phone, literally, arguing with a few members of the bid committee on the other side of the world about a suggested tagline for the bid.  Someone wanted a tagline called “A Bigger Winter”.  Even after accounting for translation and transliteration, I tried to gently explain why I thought "A Bigger Winter" was not a good idea in the context of this bid campaign.

If you have conducted business in Korea, gentle doesn’t always work.  Koreans are passionate – which is why I enjoy working with them.  You always know where you stand.  So, I gave up on being gentle.  We all agreed that we would wait until I delivered a new PyeongChang 2018 brand model before we addressed the “tagline” issue again.

The Journey to New Horizons

We all met for the first time as “the PyeongChang 2018 team” in Vancouver for the Games.  Vancouver was Chairman Cho’s first major Olympic experience as head of the bid committee and we were all getting used to each other.  Bid Cities at Olympic Games are a bit like new kids on the first day of school.  They know they are supposed to be there, but aren’t sure what it is they are supposed to be doing (or what the IOC will allow them to do).

In Vancouver I was also introduced to a young woman named Theresa Rah.  Theresa, I was told, was the new Communications Director.  Little did I know that Theresa would become my creative muse for the bid’s story, and the anchor for PyeongChang presentations over the next 17 months.

In Vancouver I gave a presentation on Olympic branding and PyeongChang, and we agreed  that I would present the final PyeongChang 2018 brand model to the entire team at SportAccord in Dubai in April.

By Dubai, the bid committee included representation from the Korean NOC, Gangwon Province personnel, members of previous bids and new bid members from Korean Air; it was a heady, complex mix of factions.

Y S Park, then head of the Korean NOC and a strong and consistent advocate of our work, was present as well with his excellent team lead by John Moon and Seihwa “Bonnie” Kim.  Governor Kim was also in the room with his team, led by Byungnam Lee and Zoo-Whang Kim.

By this time PyeongChang had hired other consultants such as Vero, Stratos Safioleas (Stratos was onboard from the beginning and had in fact worked on the 2014 bid), Charlie Battle, Young-Sook Lee, and Laszlo Vajda to name a few.  Cheil Communications also had a team led by Jooho Kim, Jace Oh and Alexis Choo.

The brand presentation I shared that day was a 110-page PowerPoint deck.  That’s a lot of pages for anyone to sit through, especially listening to what may be one’s second or third language (or via a translator).Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 11.59.49 AM

But it had to be done to prove why the old messaging would not work and why new messaging was required to win. It also had to be done with painstaking detail and metrics.

It had to be done precisely and with supporting documentation because that is what Korean people respect and expect, and it is how they conduct their own work.

And it is why the muddy fields of emptiness, death and destruction, in which my father toiled for three years as a young soldier in the Korean War, now comprise one of the most modern, dynamic and exciting cities in the world – Seoul.

IMG_0160 3

Measuring Opinions Qualitatively and Quantitatively 

I took the team through the PyeongChang 2018 brand research.

The words most highly associated and relevant to the words Korea/Korean people:

Family, Corruption, Precise, Hopeful, Hard working, Insular and Aggressive

I showed them what foreigners thought about Koreans, and we talked about how to build this research into a "story" for PyeongChang 2018.

Hard working = making and keeping promises

Precise (intelligent) = best plan for 2018

Dynamic = fast growing economy, new markets for winter sport

I showed them purposefully simplistic images of old thinking and perceptions of Korea versus the new Korea today. 

For example, many non-Asians think of this when they think about Korean Culture...

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or this...

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But not about this...

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or this...

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I showed them how foreigners around the world and people within the Movement perceived them and their country - including the previous bids.  And while it is true that cars, mobile phones, refrigerators, ships and all manner of manufactured goods are made in Korea...she, the girl pictured below, is also "Made in Korea" along with millions of other young, hip, Koreans just like her.

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 12.08.35 PM 2

This was not an easy discussion.

We had many veterans of those previous bids in the room.

There were a few uncomfortable moments of silence.

The Road Ahead

But we had only one chance of defeating Munich and it had to be predicated on creating our own story and evaluation set.  If left to comparisons with Munich’s architectural beauty, cultural attractions, leisure options, dining and shopping opportunities – let alone the sporting venues – PyeongChang would lose again.  We had to create something new, something imaginative that could nullify or at least blunt Munich’s many strengths.

We had to look outward instead of inward.  This meant we would not be mentioning reunification of the Korean peninsula as a key message for the bid.   Again, that was not an easy or popular message to deliver, but it's what we get paid to do.

I watched the reactions and tried to read the room. I was keenly interested in Chairman Cho's perception of the message I was delivering, especially given that he was pictured in one photo example of the "old" Korea!  Thankfully, he was in total support. He understood branding and marketing very well as head of a global airline, and he understood that we had to be modern and international in our image going forward.

There was also plenty of words of agreement and support, both from many Koreans in the room and from my fellow foreign colleagues, all of whom knew this was exactly the path that we had to take.

At the end of the presentation, we conducted an exploration in “taglines” and key messages.  We recommended about 5-6 taglines, and I remember specifically leaning towards the concept of “Dream Big.”  I liked the connotation of it; how it related to the people of Korea and the miracle that they have created in the last 60 or so years.

I liked the way it spoke to “persistence” – this was their third bid and they were not giving up.  And I liked the unexpected nature of this bold, modern, international message for a PyeongChang bid because I thought it would surprise the Olympic Movement. (Spoiler Alert: "Dream Big" did not make the cut, it was in use already commercially)

As the presentation drew to a close I felt a general sense of relief in the room – certainly I was glad to have it over.  I felt a lot of “buy-in” from the team.  They understood the call for a new energy, a new dynamic and a new way of thinking about a PyeongChang  Olympic bid.

I admit that the one person I was most concerned about offending was Governor Kim; after all, he led the two previous bids.  Much of my presentation was a comparison of the old versus the new messages.  I was afraid he might take it personally.

Nothing could have been further from the truth; he was a gentleman.

At the end of the presentation he thanked me and said, in English, “…well done, good job – I liked it…” He also liked “Dream Big” as a tagline – I think he and I, alone in the room, liked that option.

As a footnote, Governor Kim was the only person in the bid who sent me a thank you letter after PyeongChang’s victory in Durban.  I received many emails and calls from my friends in the bid, but Governor Kim’s was the only “official” letter of thanks that I ever received– from anyone, in Korea.  It was a gracious gesture.  I still have it.

At the end of SportAccord, the bid team had very good understanding of PyeongChang 2018’s new brand positioning, its new key messages and the answer to “Why PyeongChang?”

We had our story.

We had our answer to "Why PyeongChang?"

And we had our new tagline.

We called it "New Horizons"

Now we just had to put it into practice, which is always harder than it appears.

Next:  Part II - 2010 - The Year of Patience and Humility