The Olympic Games are not just international sporting events. They have become a platform for discussions about branding, sponsorship, sportsmanship, politics, nationalism, and many other important topics.
In this episode, Abbie Fink and Dr. Adrian McIntyre share their thoughts on the Olympics and the lessons we can all learn about teamwork, mental health, and striving to do better together by facing our challenges with grace.
Read Abbie Fink's blog post for this episode: "The Olympics is About More Than Athletics"
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Copper State of Mind is a project of HMA Public Relations, a full-service public relations and marketing communications firm in Phoenix.
The show is recorded and produced in the studio of PHX.fm, the leading independent B2B online radio station and podcast studio in Arizona.
The Olympics, widely considered to be the pinnacle of athletic performance, are also an opportunity for businesses and audiences and brands to come together in unique and interesting ways. It really is not just the best of the best as far as worldwide athletes go and the contests on the field of endeavor, it's also the best of the best, or it's supposed to be, with communication, branding and other forms of things that interest us here on this show. Joining me to talk about the Olympics in all these different dimensions is Abbie Fink, Vice President and General Manager of HMA Public Relations. Hi, Abbie. You're just fresh back from your own restful off-season.Abbie Fink:
Yes. I took advantage of the work-from-home doesn't-have-to-be-my-home and got a place in San Diego for the last month and so it was pretty fantastic to come to you from a different space and refresh. And certainly 30 degree temperature difference between San Diego and beautiful Scottsdale, Arizona.Adrian McIntyre:
Now, the Olympics is so many different things to so many different people and there's a lot of different ways we could chop this up in this conversation. We could talk about controversies and social media and bullying and opinions about specific athletes. We could talk about brands. We could talk about just the spirit of the thing, nostalgically, and compare that to what it is today. What's on your mind when it comes to the Olympics?Abbie Fink:
It seems like we couldn't let the Olympics go by without it being a subject of the show because it is dominating the airwaves. And finally, for me, a nice conversation that's dominating the airwaves that we can focus and national pride. For whatever country you are from, the Olympics is this sense of pride. What is it on now? 5, 10, 12, 15 different stations, depending on what streaming devices you're using. It's basically a 24/7 program, depending on when they're playing in Tokyo and when we're getting to see things here. And as I think about the history of the Olympics and our modern history of the Olympics, and that it's really become this worldwide stage for businesses of all types to really find an opportunity to be involved with it. The Olympics back in, what, 25, 30 years ago, when it was in Los Angeles, was really the first Olympics that had this concept of corporate sponsorship. The City of Los Angeles and their host committee knew they were never going to have enough money to be able to build out an Olympic village that basically takes over your entire state in and afford it and recoup that, and so taking a playbook from some other organizations said, "Well, what if we went ahead and sold sponsorships and provided an opportunity for businesses to support what we were doing?" That's when you started to see things like Coca-Cola, and AT&T and Bank of America and others that said, "This national pride, we want to be a part of it and we're going to put our name on the women's gymnastics," or tennis or whatever were the sports of the day at the time. That really has evolved. Now we've seen sports sponsorship is common practice. Every college, every professional team now has some sort of branded partnership.Adrian McIntyre:
That's become an area of focus in business schools as well. You can now get a degree focused on the sponsorship deal-making that goes along with athletics.Abbie Fink:
Right, sports marketing. It's a huge business. Those types of brands, those large brands are really finding opportunities there. Do you purchase Coca-Cola brands because they sponsor an event? Well, the likelihood is you may be more inclined, at least during the time that you're seeing it, to be aware of what that's doing. But really sponsorship doesn't have to be these big brands either and it doesn't have to be the millions of dollars that are being spent. Small business owners can also look for opportunities to connect with events and sports opportunities or things of interest to their company in their own hometown and not necessarily have to invest millions of dollars. A $5,000 contribution to an organization of your choice might get you the same naming rights, depending on what the project is. As you said, it's a business now. It isn't just throwing money at something and throwing a logo up there. There's a whole element around developing those relationships and how to deliver on those relationships and what it looks like. What's happening, I think, in the Olympics of this... Well, the 2020 Olympics that was now in 2021, and you'll notice that the Tokyo logo still says 2020, so it is still technically the 2020 Olympics it just didn't happen then. But the platform of the Olympics itself has, at least here in the U.S., and I suspect in other countries as well, is really an opportunity for brands, for social discussion, as you said. We're seeing so much more out of this Olympics on mental health and the impact on the athletes, not only their physical well-being, but their mental well-being. Certainly some high profile athletes are calling attention to that because of their own struggles and what they're trying to do to be an all-around better athlete also means not just their physical strength, but their mental strength as well. We're looking at some equality conversations and what it means to be an equal participant on a team, much like what we do in our business world as well. Everyone comes to the table with strengths and how do we maximize the strengths of our team? So we look at the U.S. women's gymnastics team, and a lot of focus right now is on Simone Biles and her withdrawal from some of the sport because of her own mental challenges and what she's trying to deal with and the pressure that that's causing. But her teammates have said, "We are a team and we can cover for you because you are not able to fulfill your role right now doesn't mean that the U.S. women's team is not competitive or is not part of the conversation." I think that's a really important distinction in what we're seeing in today's Olympics in general is that it's okay to have these kinds of conversations. So it's bringing a lot of this sort of societal challenges that we've had and bringing it to the forefront in a way that allows all of us to feel connected to it and I don't think we've seen that before.Adrian McIntyre:
Yeah. I think in a way it's easy to be somewhat sarcastic or even cynical about, but I want to set that mode aside and try to be really honest about, I think the fact that brave actions like that, putting mental health first, putting one's self and one's longevity in the sport first, is criticized by many people. What that reveals to me is really just how much is at stake here. We need to have grown-up conversations about difficult topics, and some people are unwilling to do that. And rather than dismiss that out of hand, I think that's part of the phenomenon we're all grappling with. We need to have tough conversations about race and racism. We need to have tough conversations about sexual and gender equality, equity, inclusion and all the rest. We need to have tough conversations about nationalism, patriotism and blind pride in something. We all need to grow up a lot in order to do that and so the fact that there have been such... Well, I still want to call them toxic. There have been toxic responses to these things, but I think there's also been some really thoughtful, helpful responses to these things. And my firm belief is that if we continue to invest in the productive and difficult conversations, even though there are naysayers, detractors jeering from the couch or the bleachers, folks, listen, we're all going to have to come through this together and hopefully we can do it better.Abbie Fink:
Yeah, I agree. If we think about what, in my view, what the Olympics represents, and it is this incredibly talented group of individuals that have achieved... They are the best of the best in their sport, in their country and they have earned this right because of all of their hard work to represent their company on the worldwide stage. And there are some of those athletes that this is the pinnacle of accomplishment and this may be all that it ever will be. We've seen some stories of this is their last opportunity, and I always question the reporters there that say, "Are you disappointed in your silver medal? Are you disappointed in your bronze medal?" Yes, they're disappointed because they certainly hoped that they would have won gold. But even at the bronze level, you are the third best athlete in your sport in the world. That's nothing to be disappointed in. That pride in representing your country I think should be equally as important. I hear the National Anthem and I still tear up a little bit wherever it's being played. But I'm also tear up when I hear the national anthem of whatever country happens to be standing at the top of the podium. But if you look at this whole process and the years of training and sacrifice and what these individuals have done to become the athlete that represents their country is phenomenal to me. I mean, there is no athletic ability here at all so when I look at someone that reaches this pinnacle... And even in sports that we were... How did skateboarding become an Olympic sport? Well, I don't know, but my goodness, these are incredibly talented individuals. I don't know how they don't flip over and kill themselves, but this is an amazing set of talent. We need to be proud of whatever it is that they're doing and that they've come to this space. It's just to me, we can take that back to our own businesses, large and small, and say, "We need to be the best that we can be and take pride in whatever that looks like at that time," even if it is skateboarding.Adrian McIntyre:
Absolutely. I mean, as a proud Gen X person, the answer to how come skateboarding became an Olympic sport is that we grew up enough to have influence enough to get it there. I mean, you mentioned the 1984 Olympics in LA, I was 10 years old and living in Southern California at the time. 1982, '83, '84 for me was all about skateboarding and Run DMC and The Beastie Boys and all that kind of stuff as a white kid in suburbia. But thinking about skateboarding itself is a great metaphor for what happens in sports in general. I mean, the athletes and their performance just gets better. I mean, you go all the way back to when Roger Bannister was the first person to run a four-minute mile and it had been said, "That's impossible, no human being can do that," well, now that's routine and it's even slow. Thinking about Tony Hawk, who was my generation's pinnacle of skateboarding, trying to do some of these tricks, like the 900 degree spin, he finally achieved it. He was the first person to ever do that. He was 31 years old. It was 1999 at the X Games. Another kid comes along later, Tom Schaar, and does it when he's 12 and becomes the youngest person to ever do a 900 and then the first person to ever do a 1080, which is insane, to spin in the air on a skateboard that many times. The record now for the youngest skateboarder is a 10-year-old. That's how old I was in 1984. If you look at the Olympic performance numbers from 1984 and compare them to today, it's a whole other ball game, pardon the pun. So we keep getting better. And why the communication stuff and the business angles and the brand conversations are so important is because we all need to keep getting better, not just the athletes on the field of their endeavor, but all of us, as we elevate our work, our conversations, our marketing, our partnerships. We need to be as devoted to continuous improvement as the athletes are. It's a good role model for us and it reminds us that we're all in the same team, team human.Abbie Fink:
Right. We can't rest on how good we were before. We have to continue to be improving. I have a friend that was a swimmer, she's an Olympic gold medalist, and her time to win that gold medal, 1972, wouldn't even get her in the pool right now. How we train and access to information and access to, in this case of the athletes, what our bodies are capable of doing and how we train and then just the mechanics of it, what kind of equipment we can use now and such is all applicable. When I first started in public relations, it was on a typewriter and now I'm sending things with my phone, and we're doing this, we're talking over the computer with technology and so it's allowed us to be bigger and better and faster and more efficient and apply those things so that we're not saying, "Well, when I first started back 20 years ago I was really great at this." Well, good. People have changed over time. What are we doing to improve ourselves in the processes that we're doing and how are we celebrating those successes and recognizing who brought us to that point? It's the teams that we work with. It's the people that invest in us in terms of our work, the clients that invest with us. Our investments back in the development of our staff and the teams that we're working with is all relevant and all gives us that Olympic ability to be the best at what we can do. What's important in this to me is that it's applicable to any size organization, even if you're the entrepreneur with one person working out of your garage. You strive to be the best at what you can be and do everything you can to be the best that you can be. You need to take ownership of that and pride in that and then figure out how to continue and sustain that work and do the best that you can. Other lessons that we've learned is also it's okay to say I can't and how are we going to be doing it? How do I rely on someone else to help me when I am not at that spot to be able to finish the work? That surrounding ourselves with others that have that same goal and that same mission can be a valuable part of our team. The weight of the organization does not have to rest on one person's shoulders, share that responsibility. Let others be equally responsible for your success and then share in that glory. Share in the successes that we all hope to accomplish.Adrian McIntyre:
So many lessons can be gleaned from this. I think we all need to remember mental health is health, and you can't perform at your best in athletics or in the adventure we call business if you're not taking care of yourself and others. So cultivating environments of safety and support where people can be themselves and go through some of their tough things together and still support each other is super important. If we've learned anything from social science research inside of big companies, we've learned that competition internally is destructive and diminishes overall performance if it becomes a toxic competitiveness and that an environment of psychological safety is what allows teams to really thrive, and really stretch, and really come up with creative things. And then the other cheesy sports metaphor I want to make sure to throw in here is we got to know when to pass the baton. We got to know that part of the race is ours to run, but we're working with others and we have to actually let go of some things and let them run. This could be thought of generationally, the importance of the elders of really making room for the youthful entrance to business or life to really thrive and really discover what they're capable of, because they may actually be better than us and we need to let them discover that, prove that, develop themselves and so on. But also that we're not actually working against each other. We are in this together. Yeah, that sounds trite and whatever, but I think it's an actual reality. Whether it's about the earth or a company, we're all in the same boat. This is the boat. There's nowhere else to go, unless you're a billionaire going to upper sky or outer space for a few seconds ...Abbie Fink:
Topic for another show.Adrian McIntyre:
Another show. But for now, this is the boat. This is our boat. We're all in this boat.Abbie Fink:
One of the smartest pieces of advice someone gave me early on in my ownership path was surround yourself with people that are smarter than you. So I have my skillset and I know what I am good at doing, but I'm not good at everything and I need to surround myself with others that are smarter than me and faster than me and more efficient. So when you think about this concept of team sport, and even if you are competing in an individual activity within a team, you've got others around to support you. Again, whether you are at the Olympics trying for gold, or you are the small business entrepreneur working out of your garage, this concept of business and communications and marketing and the strategic growth of our business does not have to be 100% on your shoulders. You can share that out with your team and the success that will come will be pride in your people and pride in your business as well, much like what we're seeing here on the world stage. So from the Olympics to our small businesses, I think there's a lot of lessons to be learned. That's what's on my mind today.
If you enjoyed today’s show, please find and follow Copper State of Mind in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or any other podcast app. You can also find the show online at HMAPR.com. For all of us here at PHX.fm, I’m Adrian McIntyre. Thanks for listening, and please join us for the next Copper State of Mind.