Go to LA24 and you will find marketing, branding and storytelling on an Olympic scale. Under the powerful direction of Mayor Eric Garcetti, Casey Wasserman and Gene Sykes, a truly remarkable team has been assembled to get the LA bid over the finish line for an Olympic Host City Threepeat! The stakes are high, the rewards are great, and selling the LA brand couldn’t be more important.
Danny Koblin is the Chief Bid Officer of LA24 and the primary point of contact with the IOC (International Olympic Committee). He has oversight of all materials that are submitted and he coordinates all events associated with the bid. Danny’s career started back in 1996 (when the Olympic Games were last in the US). He was working as an intern for NBC and ended up being the driver for Tom Brokaw. He and the legendary anchor hit it off and before he knew it he was helping Mr. Brokaw at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago that same year. Danny’s personal story is great but here’s just a quick sketch: gets a job with MSNBC working in news, switches over to NBC Sports writing promos, returns to LA and gets a role with Discovery Channel, starts traveling the country marketing their shows, is encouraged to get his MBA (which he does at Northwestern), winds up at Mattel working on Hot Wheels among other things and about four years later he’s at Wasserman working in sports promotion.
At Wasserman he found himself with an interesting challenge in promoting a series of High School Basketball Tournaments. And here he hit upon an idea that I think probably informs his exciting work with the LA 2024 bid. He developed a promotional approach that talked about helping kids “think about sports from a participation perspective and how it enhances your life, and not necessarily just your athletic life, but all those great things that sports teach, the dedication, the teamwork, the discipline, the things that you can’t necessarily learn in the classroom.”
When the mayor tapped Casey Wasserman to head the initial US bid, Casey tapped Danny to help lead the charge. As many of you know, LA lost that bid to Boston. But the team felt so strongly that they had a great bid. They knew that LA had over 80% approval of the community wanting to bring the games back to LA. Boston wasn’t even close to 50%. It was heartbreaking, confusing and frustrating to the team. But they all went back to their day jobs. Suddenly, seven months later, Boston withdrew their bid and LA was back in the game.
I spent some time with Danny talking about the LA 2024 bid and how one even thinks about branding and marketing a place like Los Angeles. He set me straight early on in the call, “We weren’t branding the city. The city of LA already has a brand and is already known for certain things…. Our goal was not to create a brand for the city but to create a brand for an Olympic candidature.” His point was that the work of the committee is to identify the characteristics of LA that will position this city in this competition more favorably than the other cities. And we’re down to the final three now: LA, Paris and Budapest.
Danny talked about LA as a city of youth and innovation, of forward-looking, of dreams, of skateboarding, and Space X. “People come to LA to chase dreams,” he said, “to make dreams a reality. It happens day-in and day-out in this city.” He also extolled the virtues of our physical beauty, the mountains, and beaches and the weather. The city, he said, expresses a world recognized “spirit of optimism.”
But the branding and marketing challenges go deeper as well. In order to tell the stories of the campaign they needed to be able to “distill it to the basic level… to identify the characteristics of LA.” Danny said, “In order for us to articulate what our vision is, it’s 100% through the stories we tell… it’s taking our consumers and all the IOC members and all the influencers across the movement on a journey of LA 2024.
So how does one capture that in a brand identity, a slogan, a look? Well, it takes a village. With the help of Teneo Sports (a firm that specializes in Olympic marketing) and under the guidance of Terrence Burns, over a lengthy and inspiring process, a tag-line was born: Follow the Sun.
Danny was quick to point out that “it wasn’t something that all of us reacted to so favorably right away. Like any brand strategist, you are going to question every single word. Is “follow” too passive? Is “sun” too masculine? Is it direct enough in terms of what we are trying to say we can do?” But over time, as the team worked with it, it really just “started to feel right.” Danny went on, “We started to use it and say it and it became ingrained in the culture of the team.”
It’s interesting to note that the slogan was born before the visuals. Once they had the slogan they developed a brief which went out to the creative ad agencies including LA-based 72 and Sunny which ultimately resulted in “our angel leaping toward the sun — very athletic.”
That angel soaring forward in full color speaks to me of freedom and of world peace. It resonates like a white dove. It calls forth the imagination of a heavenly orchestra richly proclaiming the arrival of the future. It celebrates the human form in all its glory. It represents the great and diverse diaspora of LA’s communities and does indeed inspire the dreams of dreamers everywhere. As Danny concluded he said, “We’re not only thinking about great games for 2024 but also great games for 2024 that are going to prosper the movement for generations to come.”
It all comes down to a final 45-minute presentation on September 13, 2017 in Lima, Peru. About 90 IOC voters will make up their minds. Winning takes 46 votes or better. I, for one, am hopeful they “follow the sun!”