Thursday, October 30, 2008

Coke Is It!

For one of my early posts, the topic of The Coca-Cola Company and its longstanding support of the Olympic Movement was briefly detailed. In the months since that post, several new Coca-Cola Olympic experiences came into view both in Beijing and stateside.

It came as no surprise, Coke's pavilion on the Olympic Green was magnificent. Luck and timing took me to the site on three occasions during the Games.

First, our crew for B.C. Canada Pavilion visited Coke Olympic Central with the Premier of British Columbia (a VIP guest early during the Games). This afforded a few of us the opportunity to pose with a Beijing Olympic Torch at a photo- or postcard-ready window looking out to the Bird's Nest.

A few nights later, en route to retrieve photos taken on site (a generous gift for visitors to that makeshift photo-opp-spot), I ran into several Atlanta-based reporters in China to cover the Games, including Jennifer Brett from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and a crew from WXIA-TV, Atlanta's NBC affiliate. They were wrapping up reports from a Coke-hosted evening media event at which I learned about a special film project of Coca-Cola.

I was also slated to visit the Coke pavilion -- which will become a new World of Coca-Cola Museum for China (like the original in Atlanta) -- for a media event involving VIP Olympic Family members chosen for a special award presented to them by Coca-Cola (unfortunately, my arrival was late due to taxi snafu, but the venue staff gave me a refreshing beverage in spite of my tardiness). Of all the grand pavilions on the Olympic Green, the Coca-Cola experience was in the tops list (right up there with GE and Johnson & Johnson, two clients of the p.r. firm where I work).

Back in Atlanta a few weeks ago, The Coca-Cola Company's senior manager of marketing communications, Petro, shared the stage with other Olympic sponsor representatives at the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Georgia Chapter luncheon on Olympic P.R. His presentation filled in a few blanks on how Coca-Cola executed some of their highly visible Olympic activities -- such as the Torch Relay and pin trading centers -- before and during the Beijing experience. We learned the company brought several employees to Beijing, and in spite of many challenges they apparently generated gazillions of media "hits" that were 96 percent positive. I was glad to learn of their commitment to the Games extended to at least 2020.

Coke also hosted a recent photo opp at the Atlanta World of Coca-Cola destination during which IOC Member and pole vaulting gold medalist Sergey Bubka joined Coke's archivist to install an official Beijing Torch into their vast collection of Olympic memorabilia (thanks, Petro, for the photo with this post).

All this Coke Olympic activity serves as a reminder of one of my earliest exposures to the public relations industry.

During the summer of 1993, while volunteering at the U.S. Olympic Festival in San Antonio, Texas, I spent two of the hottest summer weeks ever as a driver on the Festival's Texas Torch Relay around the city. On our last day of the relay, the crew chief assigned the primo driving assignment -- lead car ... a convertible -- as the team hosted three VIP guests from The Coca-Cola Company who were visiting as observers of the Torch Relay process (and more specifically how media were part of this Olympic Movement public relations tradition started in 1936).

Spending the day visiting with those Coke P.R. executives in the car convinced me to take a closer look at the P.R. track at college (to that point, I was undecided between newspaper journalism and P.R. -- thanks, Joan, Carlton and the other guest whose name escapes me while typing this post). And many of the elements they observed later became part of Coke's participation in the 1996 Olympic Torch Relay from L.A. to Atlanta.

I'll be sure to keep drinking in Coke's many Olympic touch points -- can hardly wait to see what they unfold for Vancouver, London, Sochi and beyond.

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