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Coca-Cola Serves Everyday Greatness at the Olympics

Since 1928, Coca-Cola has sponsored the Olympic movement, making it the longest-standing partner of the Games. 

Those 1928 Games, which included 46 nations, marked the beginning of Coca-Cola’s involvement, which has evolved endlessly through integrated sponsorship marketing and global partnership programs. However, in the summer of 1928, the same freighter that carried the U.S. Olympic team to Amsterdam also had one thousand cases of Coca-Cola on its manifest. Vendors put those bottles on sale in kiosks around the Olympic Stadium and the rowing venue at an event that was not surprisingly light on promotional signage or advertising. The only branding was a bulletin designed by an American art student at each stadium entrance. 

Global partnerships have come a long way. 

As Coca-Cola heads towards marking a century of collaboration with the Olympics, they are putting a spotlight on the celebration for this year in a festive campaign with fans of the Olympic movement and enhancing the games through activations, music, experiences, food, and athletes. They recently unveiled “Celebrate Everyday Greatness” as its theme for the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Celebrate Everyday Greatness campaign is a multi-brand platform that champions life’s everyday moments. The core message from Coca-Cola is that any moment, big or small, can turn into something extraordinary. From the brand that brought us “Open Happiness,” you can taste the consistency of their strategic thinking. 

In a company release, Brad Ross, Coca-Cola’s Vice President of Global Arts & Entertainment Marketing and Partnerships, said, “The Olympic and Paralympic Games are a prime opportunity for The Coca-Cola Company and our extensive portfolio of products to connect with fans. We will use this global stage to showcase how greatness in everyday moments can create real magic.” (SponsorshipX Paris, August 7th to 9th, is excited to have Brad Ross of Coca-Cola share more about this magic at our Future of Global Partnerships Forum.)

In addition to Coca-Cola brand activations, the company will lean into the Games with its Powerade brand. 

This year’s campaign is an update on their Pause is Power platform inspired by Simone Biles’ break from competing and focus on her mental health. The new campaign naturally stars Biles. 

In an interview with Marketing Brew, Matrona Filippou, president of the global hydration, sports, coffee, and tea category at Powerade’s parent company, Coca-Cola, stated, “The platform was focused on continuing to challenge the win-at-all-costs mentality associated with modern sports culture. It’s not always pushing yourself to the limits that makes you stronger. Sometimes just taking a pause, taking a breath, can actually help you come back stronger and better.”

The lead creation of this year’s iteration is a short film entitled The Vault, which showcases Biles and her journey as she talks about why the pause was necessary for her. The film gave me goosebumps as Biles tumbles through the air in slow motion, reliving her decision, the pressure of being a world-class athlete, and the benefit of recharging to power herself through. 

Costa Coffee is another brand in the Coca-Cola family, taking advantage of the Games by opening popup sites and pod stores. They will run at the Athlete Village, PlaPlace de la Concorde, the Eiffel Tower and Versailles.  

The Coca-Cola-owned coffee chain will open temporary ‘pods’ across some of the event’s key venues, including the Athletes’ Village, Place de la Concorde, the Eiffel Tower, Roland-Garros, Versailles and Le Golf National. 

“We are extremely proud to be the Official Worldwide Coffee Partner for the Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games this Summer, bringing the Costa Coffee experience to the Games for athletes and fans gathering from all over the world. The Olympics and Paralympics represent significant opportunities for our brand to connect with spectators, and we look forward to showcasing our beloved range of beverages at such a high-profile event,” said Sam O’Brien, Managing Director EMENA, Costa Coffee. While the chain operates over three thousand stores across Europe, ironically, it exited France in 2023. However, as an official coffee partner of the Games worldwide, I believe this is too good an opportunity to pass by. 

Coca-Cola’s pillar of involvement is its sponsorship of the Torch Relay, which it has been doing since 1992. To me, the start of the torch relay is when the Olympics kick off. The community event and nation-builder often rallies a country and its citizens. It is the first time people see up close the impact of the Games and experience it firsthand—especially those who know someone who is a torch bearer. 

The Torch Relay in France is an unsurprisingly ambitious effort featuring a collaborator by Paris 2024, the territories involved, and its official partners (Coca-Cola, Banques Populaires, and Caisses d’Épargne). Running from May 8th until the games start July 26th, the Relay will tell many stories in its travels. It will highlight eras of French history, famous individuals, and the values and spirit of the country. 

The Olympic Torch Relay route will be an epic journey across France. From May 8th, 2024, the Relay will showcase France’s beauty and diversity, history and exceptional landscapes, knowledge, traditions, and talents. Music, of course, is a big part of the Relay. Coca-Cola is sponsoring eight concerts along the torch route, featuring the likes of Soprano, Alonzo, Lujipeka, Chilla, Santa, and Bianca Costa. 

When the Relay ends, and the competitions begin, Coca-Cola will have various activations around the host communities. Their involvement will also extend to the Olympic and Paralympic competitive arenas. As a critical part of Celebrating Every Day Greatness, Coca-Cola has also inked deals with many athletes for Team Coca-Cola. Their roster includes many athletes, such as the host country Mathilde Gros, an up-and-coming cyclist, and Olympic champions such as Athing Mu (USA, athletics) and Emma Twigg (New Zealand, rowing). These athletes are integral to the campaign as they celebrate the little things happening daily in their journey to the biggest stage of their careers. 

Coca-Cola is just four years away from a milestone of 100 years of partnership with the Olympics. Now you have to imagine that will be something to savour.

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Jaye

I want permission to add my voice to the chorus of people who greatly admired Jaye Robinson, the Toronto City Councillor who succumbed to cancer recently at the far-too-early age of 61.

Last week, at Jaye’s celebration of life, everyone, from her sons who were left without a mother to her friends who were denied a confidant to her colleagues now absent a mentor, remembered her in powerful stories that wove an incredible tapestry together of a person who deserved every word of it.

Who was Jaye Robinson, whom so many spoke so powerfully about?

This person that even if you knew her from a distance, you felt you knew her well.

It sometimes seems a cliche when we say someone is larger than life.

But what happens when it is true?

Some people in the world just are larger than life.

Whether their outsized presence fills gaps and voids in the soundtrack of life, or perhaps their energy makes the experience of the moment feel more meta than it ordinarily should, those we describe as larger than life just are. When listening to those who knew Jaye so well, you know she was naturally that person.

Rarely have I been at a celebration of life where the laughter, emphatic head nodding, and the speakers’ desire to do the deceased proud outshone the tears. There were justifiably many moments of pain and sorrow. Beautifully, the tears that flowed were chased away by a rainbow, silencing the rain and emerging from unwanted clouds to remind us that although we are no longer close to the splendour, we can admire it from afar.

One story at the celebration bears retelling, and I hope Jaye’s family is okay with my attempt to paraphrase and share it. It is too beautiful not to.

It started seemingly as a retelling of an ordinary memory by her husband Billy about how he and Jaye randomly stopped for a riverside picnic on a trip one day many years ago. I could imagine the two so young, energetic, and beaming, with matching, nonstop smiles adorning their faces. While eating, Billy spotted a muddy bottle stuck ways down in the river shore, which provided a second discovery of a mysterious note inside. Upon freeing the bottle and the note, perhaps in anticipation of a historical clue to the region’s past, he read its contents.

It was a marriage proposal note from Jaye, who decided that after seven lucky years together, she and Billy’s destiny was to be together forever.

A message in a bottle setting your course for life. It does not get much larger than that, primarily when written by a woman who lived every day as a gleeful hunt to find the golden treasure in the ordinary, to substitute tradition for orbiting, to eschew convention for invention. A message in a bottle from your future life partner. A partner who could create the illusion of a historical discovery while transforming the script that became the telling of their future.

My interaction with Jaye started when we were student politicians at the University of Guelph, campaigning for new athletic facilities. Later, our professional paths crossed as she worked for the city in events, and I ran my marketing agency. In our last installment, after more campaigning by Jaye, she was our city councillor for many years, and like many of my neighbours, I was a satisfied electoral supporter. Remarkably, although not to those who knew her, each professional change brought the same Jaye to your door. Her mandate may have changed, but her fantastic persona never wavered.

Jaye’s celebration of life event seemed filled with as many people like me- former colleagues, constituents, and collaborators as there were friends and family. I suspect the first group, let’s call us her fans, wants to let the second group, her kin, know how much we appreciate their sharing Jaye with us.

All of our lives are larger for it.

T1 is now T30! (Years Old)

If you told me in 1994 that today, my self-driving car would safely take me home to my house in thirty minutes of Toronto traffic away from my squash club, I would have laughed at you.

If you told me in 1994 that a start-up named Cadabra would become a $1.8 trillion business, I would have asked who would name their company after a dead body.

If you had told me in 1994 that the new trade agreement, NAFTA, the best Canada had ever reached, would one day be threatened by the former owner of the New Jersey Generals, I would have been lost in the details.

If you had told me in 1994 that this was the year the Allied occupation of Berlin would end, I would have been shocked to learn that Germany was still under international rule.

If you had told me that the Major League Baseball player’s strike, beginning the most prolonged work stoppage in the sport’s history, would be the beginning of the end for the Montreal Expos. I would have cared more.

If you had told me that Colombian footballer Andrés Escobar, 27, would be shot dead in Medellín as retaliation for the goal Escobar scored in the 1994 FIFA World Cup against the United States soccer team, I would question my love of sport.

If you had told me that The 66th Academy Awards, hosted by Whoopi Goldberg, would see Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust drama Schindler’s List win seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director(Spielberg), I would have high-fived you.

If you had told me that Michael Jackson would marry Lisa Marie Presley in the Dominican Republic, I would have wished to have heard that MJ and Elvis would do a live duet just once.

If you had told me three-time Formula One world champion Ayrton Senna would die in an accident during the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, Italy, I would have reminded myself that life is fragile.

If you had told me that on May 6, the Channel Tunnel, which took 15,000 workers more than seven years to complete, would officially open between England and France, I might have asked who had this genius idea.

If you had told me that the brutal murders of June 12 – Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman would birth the creation of 24-hour news channels, I would have said that OJ’s death in 2024 didn’t bring closure to that tragedy.

If you told me in 1994 that China would get its first, its first, connection to the internet, I would have asked, can I Google that?

If you had told me that Pulp Fiction, a movie by Quentin Tarantino, premieres would become the highest-grossing independent film ever, I would have said no kidding.

If you told me that Byron De La Beckwith would finally be convicted of the 1963 murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, I would have asked what took so long.

If you told me in 1994 that a Black man named Nelson Mandela would be the first President in South Africa elected in a fully democratic process, I would have cried.

If you had told me in 1994 that thirty years was a long time, I would have said it felt like yesterday.

If I had told you in 1994, when I founded T1, that in thirty years, we would have survived the dot com crash, the 2008 recession, the COVID-19 pandemic, and more, I would have said “Thank you” to all who helped us do so.

So please let me tell you. THANK YOU to everyone who has been a part of our journey- internally, externally, peripherally, close up and afar.

By the way, the company once known as Cadabra is now called Amazon, and in 1994, I wish someone had told me to buy stock!

Seventeen Million Canadians Can’t Be Wrong

One of the most challenging aspects of business is that no matter how many people agree on a topic, only one person matters.

The decision maker.

The power of that individual is fully understood when you realize that it only takes one person at a company to decide not to support professional women’s sports despite the other seventeen million who say otherwise.

Oh, to have that power.

The power to ignore the obvious, the power to apply old rules to a new game, the power to be a marketer who markets to himself, and the power to say no.

NO is the most powerful word in business. It allows us to manage budgets. It supports our priority setting. It can clarify the organization of the lines of the box.

However, NO can also be a door opener for an organization. An organization filled with NO men will soon open plenty of doors for them to oblivion, obscurity, and obscurity.

So go ahead and say no to professional women’s sports. I dare you—all of women’s sports dare you.

However, if you want to say YES, the data you need is now available in the influential report It’s Time: Unlocking the Power of Pro Women’s Sports Fans, released by Canadian Women & Sport and research and consultancy partner IMI Consulting, sponsored by presenting partner Canadian Tire Corporation with support from Women and Gender Equality Canada. 

This first-of-its-kind report reveals that two in three Canadians aged 13-65 are fans of women’s sports—equivalent to more than 17 million Canadians!

So get ready to say YES to professional women’s sports by rethinking how you, as a brand, approach sponsorship marketing.


Say YES to revamping how you evaluate sports sponsorships. Do not apply a traditional league model that reeks of impressions and value banks. Apply a progressive model where you measure the equity of a marketing partnership (I am referring to value here, not DEI) based on how the consumer values it. That is where the gold is in women’s sports.


Say YES to true partnership instead of the lip service that often exists in our business today. Move yourself from being a patron to an investor looking to commit to your partner’s long-term growth and understand the actual returns come down the road, not in the first month of activating. Speaking of which, say YES to activating at a 10X-20X ratio with women’s sports to balance your total investment with your traditional portfolio and reap the rewards.

Say YES to fully integrating women’s sports into every aspect of your business: recruitment, Employee Engagement, Channel Marketing, Industry Stakeholders, and Government Relations. Women’s Sports is not CSR, ESG, or DEI. It’s ROI. A women’s sports partnership can be integrated into how you operate your company and be much more than a communications strategy or marketing tactic.

What I am saying here isn’t new. Ask any person in the women’s sports business. Almost a decade ago, I was fortunate enough to create a fantastic national women’s sports platform for our clients at Dairy Farmers of Canada – Fuelling Women’s Sports – https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/new-multi-year-women-in-sport-strategy-launched-today-517476471.html. We were alone in the wilderness at the Time. But now, with tTimeWHL, Project 8, the WNBA and our Olympic/Paralympic teams, we are finally seeing the dream becoming a conscious reality.

The actual votes are in; it’s all right in the report – https://womenandsport.ca/pro-sports-2023-2/. However, there will still be some people who want to disbelieve what is in front of them. Let them. Let’s not worry about the NAYsayers, the NOmen, who are about to be NObody’s.

Instead, let’s celebrate the leader wise enough to understand what their consumers of today, tomorrow, and quite frankly yesterday have been asking for all along.

Notice I didn’t say brave when I describe the leader who says YES. When you have seventeen million supporters, it isn’t about bravery but listening.

It’s Time for your brand to unlock the power of pro women’s sports fans.

MH3

Watch or listen to this blog on YouTube – https://youtu.be/1NQdhnTi_uQ

Sponsoring Play

The other night at a party, one socializer asked another – What’s your favourite sport?”

The answer? “To play or to watch?” replied the respondent. 

The hot-off-the-press Jumpstart State of Play Report – https://jumpstart.canadiantire.ca/pages/the-state-of-sport-in-canada, asks thousands of Canadian youth the questions we have been guessing at for years: What do kids like to play? What do you want to play? Why do you play? Why don’t you play? What does sport mean to you?

I found this report fascinating and timely. It is a fantastic trove of input variables for everyone entrusted with changing sports participation outcomes. City planners, equipment manufacturers, kinesiology professors, policymakers, politicians, community sports organizers, and educators should all dive in with this information—deep, very deep. 

As a sponsorship marketer, I want to weigh in on a few perspectives that band leaders should chew on with the assistance of this report. I will not quote numbers or stats from the document because you need to read it to understand it. But I am going to editorialize. 

Here are three takeaways for you:

  1. Does your sports marketing partnership portfolio align with the data?
  2. How nuanced is your portfolio when understanding specific youth cohorts, especially regarding intersectionality?
  3. When it comes to community support, are you solving problems or looking for the most significant media hit?

Number 1 – Portfolio Alignment

If I were selling sponsorships for an amateur sports association or a professional league, I would leverage these numbers to the maximum. We know that participation is the key to growing fandom, and some sports come out as clear winners in this report, and some have to be uncertain about their future. Regardless of what side of the ledger you fall on, the data provides an opportunity to act. If you are a brand owner, ask your sponsorship agency to do a simple mapping exercise to overlay your sports portfolio spending over the participation numbers shared in this report. Do they match, or are you investing in the wrong areas? Do a second mapping phase and look at the sports that youth want to try. Somewhere between the two, you have enough data points to help identify your short-, mid-, and long-term strategies. 

Number 2 – Nunaces and Intersectionality

The concept of intersectionality is a significant consideration in DEI today; this report is no exception. This report provides a fantastic slicing and dicing of age, gender, geography, race, place of play and ability along many dimensions. Who knew that Arab youth wanted to try football? I am not surprised that Black boys are highly confident in their skills but have never seen the data to validate it. I am concerned that Girls of Colour are more concerned about injuries than other cohorts. Amazing to me is the eagerness of almost every cohort to try martial arts and wonder if gaming, anime or some other external influence is contributing. The richness and robustness of this report should motivate every marketer to apply more differentiation and laser-like approaches to their sponsorships. The interests and motivations of all girls and all boys are different. If we believe our diversity as a nation is our superpower, put on your cape and jump into creating a blockbuster approach to youth sports founded on ensuring you include all groups in your cast.

 

Number 3 – Community Matters

I have often said that Black kids don’t need more basketball courts to progress in society. They need systemic fairness, equitable financial support, and opportunity. This report proves that. One of the biggest challenges for Black youth participating in sports is transportation. While other kids are getting rides to practices and games, Black youth are walking, taking public transit, and leveraging other unsupervised low-cost methods. What good does a refurbished court or a pitch do if someone cannot get there? Worse, when they do get there, can they afford to play? It is not surprising that participation in sports clubs that charge fees is much higher for White youth than non-white youth. If Black youth can get to the field and afford the payments, would it not be even greater if they had a coach that looked after them? Brands should stop trying to win awards by building courts in underestimated neighbourhoods or providing a special day at the pro area as their BIG community activation idea and start doing what matters. One-off activations do not build community or address the systemic issues that only worsen.

We should applaud Jumpstart for sharing the State of Play Report with all of us. They and their partners have done the foundational work by providing us with the facts and figures to justify our work.

Now, the hard part is over to you. We should keep this from becoming a report that sits idly on a shelf, which means we are ignoring Canada’s youth. The respondents in this survey represent our future players, fans, and consumers. We need to do more than listen to them. We need to act; if we do, we will all win. 

Paris as Theatre

Did you know Mr. Bean appeared in Olympic history’s most-watched social media clip?

I didn’t, but according to Andy Miah, Chair in Science Comms & Future Media, University of Salford, Manchester, Rowan Atkinson’s appearance with the London Symphony Orchestra during the 2012 Olympic Games is the # 1 clip on the Olympic YouTube channel. (I haven’t checked, but I will take his word for it.)

What about the most-watched television event in the world?

At the time of its showing, the Beijing Olympics’ Opening Ceremony in 2008 from the Beijing National Stadium – better known as the Bird’s Nest – was the main stage for the program that garnered over two billion viewers for four hours of broadcasting of the 15,000 performers from all over the world. The ceremony, the most-watched television event in history, occurred on Friday the 8th, 2008, at 8 pm – the prominence of the number eight being its association with prosperity and confidence in Chinese.

The 2024 Olympic Opening Ceremonies are looking to set new records and already have the first-ever ceremonies occurring outside of a stadium. Last week at SportAccord in Birmingham, UK, Pierre Galy, Head of Sports, Agence France-Presse and Yannis Exarchos, Chief Executive Officer, OBS, and Executive Director, Olympic Channel, shared their plans to cover and broadcast this spectacular event.

The event is fitting for what promises to be the most immense Olympic Games ever.

Over 10,000 athletes will be ferried by 160 boats on a 6km route passing by famous landmarks, including the newly renovated Notre Dame Cathedral, and ending at the Eiffel Tower. The river parade will follow the course of the Seine, from east to west, departing from the Austerlitz bridge beside the Jardin des Plantes and passing around the two islands at the city’s centre (the Île Saint Louis and the Île de la Cité) before passing under several bridges and gateways. Athletes on board the parade boats will get glimpses of some of the official Games venues, including Parc Urbain La Concorde, the Esplanade des Invalides, the Grand Palais, and lastly, the Iéna Bridge, where the parade will come to a stop before the ceremony finale at the Trocadéros.

Several hundred thousand spectators will be watching from the shores as boats stream past (like my pun) and augmented by over eighty onshore screens. The original plans for two million live spectators are in flux due to logistical and security concerns.

Undeterred, the Olympic Broadcasting Service has elaborate plans to cover this unique event from land, sea, and air. The broadcast team will utilize three helicopters, eight drones, and four specially built stabilized boars, each fitted with seven cameras and three robotic arms. If you don’t believe your mobile phone is a movie camera, you should now, as the OBS will deploy more than two hundred mobile phones as what they call “POV cameras” in National Olympic Committee boats. Thank you, 5G!

Meanwhile, the AFP will deploy dozens of content gatherers and hundreds of camera positions along the route on every facet, team, and Opening Ceremonies presentation to outlets worldwide in six languages.

From a project planning standpoint, the OBS and AFP see the Paris Games as two events. Given its magnitude, impact, and planning requirements, the Opening Ceremony is a stand-alone event, while the Games are separate. In both cases, the broadcaster and media gatherer plan to go to great lengths to celebrate the city and country’s history. That starts with a nod to Paris being the birthplace of cinema.

In December 1895 in Paris, the first presentation of a projected moving picture to a paying audience was staged by the Lumière brothers. In tribute to this innovation in Paris and to capture the city’s beauty, the OBS will utilize cinematic lenses for the first time in Games history. These lenses bring more emotional storytelling in broadcasts for MLB and NFL, and I suspect they will do the same in Paris.

While the cinematic approach is a nod to history, the next wave of broadcasting is also receiving its nod as new sports to the Olympics, such as Breaking, Skateboarding, and 3v3 Basketball, are being shot and broadcast live in 8k, which will provide incredible detail and lifelike imagery. Now, if only I had an 8k TV!

A significant non-technical feature of the 2024 Games broadcasts is the ongoing effort to ensure gender balance. These Games are touted as the first gender-equal Olympics in history, which, due to the complexity of national athlete selection, may still need to be realized, but that is the plan. The OBS is putting thoughtful and inclusive planning in place to ensure equal representation behind the camera.

These plans include a 50% increase in hiring of female commentators in comparison to Tokyo 2020 and staffing two-thirds of broadcast venue management roles with women. A critical ongoing initiative is the IOC Portrayal Guideline, which ensures that all athletes are featured for their athleticism, not superficial reasons. Suffice it to say that the broadcast product should feel more inclusive to the viewer by being more diverse behind the camera and on the microphone.

In addition to pushing harder for gender equality, the OBS is also highly conscious of reducing its sustainable footprint. Despite the expansion of coverage, use of more innovative tech, and the complexity of the Opening Ceremonies, they claim to be using 29% less power for their efforts. It will be heralded as a creative and impactful approach if they succeed.

I doubt Mr. Bean will return to the Paris Opening Ceremonies, but I suspect the organizers will have some celebrity cameos for the fans. No doubt. However, we all know the athletes are true stars of the Olympics. Paris 2024 will be a thrilling opportunity to witness packed venues cheering on these competitors who have worked all their lives for their Olympic moment.

It will be the first time since 2018 that international fans from across the globe will experience the Games’ environment in real life.

Indeed, the pandemic convinced me that sports aren’t sports without the fans. You will agree. That impact applies to the in-person experience and the broadcast experience almost equally. Fans in the stands and throughout the city of Paris will make the athlete experience even more rewarding and bring an exciting atmosphere to you wherever you are watching. However, you are consuming, whether it be your mobile phone, your flatscreen at home or on a movie theatre screen near you.

Don’t Believe the Headlines, Work is Becoming Boundaryless

Last week on CBC’s Metro Morning, I spoke about workplace flexibility. https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-39-metro-morning/clip/16053107-return-office-work-home-lose-promotions-thats-ultimatum

Recently, the headlines have been screaming that workers must return to the office.

Dell told employees they would not be considered for promotions or job transfers if they wished to remain remote. The company has begun differentiating remote workers from hybrid workers—those who appear in the office 39 days per quarter.

According to an internal memo by Bloomberg, Deutsche Bank managers must come into the office four days a week, and all other staff must come in at least three, as of June. Additionally, remote work on Mondays following remote work on Friday will be banned, evaporating the chances of long remote work weekend holidays. Chalking the change up to inefficient use of real estate, Chief Executive Christian Sewing and Chief Operating Officer Rebecca Short said in the memo the bank wants to “spread our presence more evenly across the week.”

Bank of America has not changed their policy three days a week since 2022 but has been sending Letters of Education to employees about attendance to those who are not complying. 

These are a few recent business headlines garnering attention about companies forcing people back to work, but loud these headlines scream that this is not the reality.

According to the Q1 2024 Flex Report (https://www.flex.scoopforwork.com/stats), across 7500 companies in this study done with Boston Consulting Group, the number of companies demanding full-time office has dropped from 49% at the beginning of 2023 to 38% now! Their research also shows that only 6% of companies demand employees to be in the office four days a week, and 1/3 of US companies require no office time. 

The data also shows that this has been a wise choice. In 2021-22, fully flexible companies (either fully remote or employee choice) outperformed their peers by 16% in revenue growth. Excluding tech companies, it was still 13%, and a University of Chicago study found that workers saved 72 minutes on average and invested 40% of that time into extra work.

So why are some companies demanding people back to the office?

To some Dell’s actions are deceptive ways to trim its headcount as it faces challenging and uncertain economic times. But if you dig deeper, it is more than just economic headwinds.

According to Deloitte, 85% of leaders have Productivity Paranoia that remote workers are less effective, yet only 3% of companies have a reliable way to measure and track that. Why have so many top executives said remote work is for the lazy and a leader? In their minds, remote work could again be recognized as something desired for less committed workers, as before the pandemic.

Given the economic headwinds, perhaps big companies think they can get away with it. One primary reason for this is the stability of staff employment. Bank of America’s employee turnover rate dropped to 6% in 2023’s fourth quarter, the bank reported this month. That’s roughly half the typical rate.

In short, it’s easier to say that it’s essential for people to be onsite to maintain culture than to tell your people that you don’t trust them. However, according to Deloitte, this narrative does not resonate with employees choosing to work for flexible companies that prioritize human performance to help organizations jump into a boundaryless future.

The data demonstrates that fully flexible is the approach most companies currently use, and the research indicates that structured hybrid will be the most prevalent going forward. This evolution is good news for women as more women are in the workforce than ever. Balancing personal duties with their careers more easily will reduce the chances of their not being considered for advancement. We should not limit this to women; we should look at all parents of young children.

Embracing flexible work is also good for people looking to live in less expensive areas or with tethers to specific geography (i.e. a partner’s role or aging parents).

The Oxford Institute of Population Aging says that hybrid work could benefit older employees because it cuts commute times, makes it easier to care for aging partners and frees up time for hobbies. “Hybrid and remote working models are giving older generations new opportunities to have flexibility around work,” says Wayne Berger, IWG’s chief executive officer of Americas, based in Toronto. (Globe & Mail)

Flexible workplaces are excellent for those who may not have felt safe or confident being in a full-time office setting but prefer to interact with their colleagues on their terms, free from any feelings of judgement they may have encountered.

Welcome to the world of boundaryless work. Is that a word? Is boundarylessness a word? They may not be, but the sentiment is powerful.

This shift to boundaryless work is great news for companies as they recognize that it is time to trade in the rules, operating constructs, and proxies of the past. According to Deloitte, these are barriers to maximizing human performance.

I can attest that I have entirely changed my mind on this since the end of 2022! Why is that? Like you, I was brought up in a system that became self-fulfilling. Think about it. We are born and housed in a family, but early on, we are shepherded into buildings: churches, schools, and community centres. As a monolith, we are told when to show up and how to behave.

In the workplace, we then followed these approaches. Managers and Vice-Presidents replaced our Teachers and Vice-Principals. We were scolded for being late, reprimanded for being too loud, and told to learn or work during daylight hours, which confirmed the schedules of others and did not work for us.

If we want to emphasize Human Performance, that has to change, and it is. This rocket ship has launched. Today, we can reimagine the workplace, make it as experiential as we preach, and prioritize individuality as we pontificate. This will allow people to increase performance while empathizing with work-life balance.

Outside of those who have heavy real estate investments, this upheaval will benefit enterprises large and small. We will change where we invest money from rent to team building, capacity building, and upskilling. Our offices will become hospitality, entertainment, and wellness destinations. We will stop scheduling meetings and start curating programming and events.

One of my favourite authors, Priya Parker, discusses how to treat people at events. She says, “Find a way to honour that person instead of their job description.”

Let’s follow that direction when it comes to the boundaryless workplace.

Thank-You Halifax!

I have had many amazing trips to Halifax in my lifetime; however, none of them were like this past one.

I have attended events in Halifax. I have been a tourist in Halifax. I have

staged conferences there. I have run large-scale activations there. One remarkable yet unscientific statistic is that I have never had a crummy time in Halifax. Never. Yet somehow, this trip topped them all.

As a JUNOS Board Member, I was excited to witness our JUNOS & MusicCounts teams, local host committee, EventsEast, Discover Halifax, and partners’ plans come to life.

Halifax made the Canadian music industry proud.

The 2024 JUNOS was an energetic event that took over the downtown area and made it a three-day celebration of humanity. Every nook and cranny of downtown was full of musical joy. Industry titans mixed with individual fans like they were long-lost cousins.

As the host of SponsorshipX, staging our Future of Fandom event, I was eager to evaluate if our city takeover approach to a conference would resonate. We had sessions and experiences in ten different venues across the waterfront, and they worked out seamlessly. The benefit of walking everywhere played a huge factor, but the people were the more impactful component. Collaboration is essential in staging large-scale events, building activations, and curating experiences. I cannot underestimate how fantastic every venue, local partner, and supplier was to work with in Halifax. More than their hospitality, their problem-solving, innovativeness, and insight-sharing made our experiences so much more impactful.

SponsorshipX Halifax was an incredible mix of new friends and longtime friends for me. Our delegates were in awe by the heartfelt origin story that Bernadette from Osmow’s shared of her family’s business that now has thousands of fans. It was Bernadette’s first appearance at SponsorshipX, and it won’t be her last if I have my way. Don Mayo took to our stage for the thirteenth time and blew everyone away with the powerful message that Live Will Thrive in 2025. It was a full circle moment watching Leslie Blachford from TD take our delegates through their fantastic partnership with the JUNOS. It’s always fun to see a T1 alumnus soaring through our industry. Leslie is flying high by always ensuring that the groundwork and preparation for partnerships she leads results in flawless execution.

Speaking of partnerships, SPX collaborated with ADVANCE – Canada’s Black Music Collective for our opening session, which featured pop star and Juno Nominee LU KALA. In her opening comments, Keziah Myers, who runs ADVANCE, shared how they had spent the week visiting Halifax high schools to inspire and inform Black students of the career opportunities in the music industry—legacy building.

My most significant collaboration was with Andres Mendoza and Byron Alfaro of the CARAS team. These two maestros and their colleagues seamlessly integrated SPX into unique events such as the Honouring Ceremony for Indigenous nominees, JUNOfest, and the MusicCounts after-party.

Of course, we couldn’t have a conference about fandom without talking about Taylor Swift, and we were delighted to have some super fans join our discussions, including Jillian Wagner, the Atlantic Canada Swifties co-founder.

If you want insights on fandom, JCJ – Just Call Jillian.

To Jillian and all of our delegates, speakers, partners, and volunteers – you made this trip to Halifax so unforgettable that my only challenge now is how to get invited back quickly.

MH3

The Future of Fandom

by Mark Harrison

The passion and intelligence of its largely younger attendees, she thought, “could save the humanities.”

These words summarize the impact on Penn State University English professor Hester Blum after attending Terror Camp, a two-day virtual event for fans of the 2018-19 AMC Television series The Terror. 

Many traditional marketers are eager to secure their consumers’ adoration at a level of Fandom, the way entertainers, games, movies, books, television shows, and other cultural offerings do. But to think that Fandom could save academia? Is that going too far, or is that demonstrating the power of Fandom?

Who doesn’t desire more fanatics, loyalists, brand champions, community animators, or prosumers? Show me the brand, the movement, and the person who doesn’t yearn for greater Fandom. It’s invaluable and elusive—a magic that’s hard to find and even harder to contain once unleashed.

Fandom is incredibly powerful in the entertainment world, whether it be the Beyhive or Harry Potter community or the ARMY following BTS. UK-based firm Brand Success (https://www.brand-success.co.uk/) has research that demonstrates that traditional businesses that are successful in creating brand fans are proven to grow some 2.5 times faster than their competitors who don’t. In the B2B world, Google research shows buyers who consider themselves devotees of your business are 30x more likely to pay a premium for your brand.

These staggering numbers will encourage marketers to get out of traditional mindsets about consumers and customers and think about fans. 

One of my favourite examples of a brand building its’ way to success through Fandom is Gymshark. They have reached unicorn status (valuation of over $1B) in just ten years after emerging from the founder’s garage because of their relentless focus on community. They are a magical company not just for their use of relatable influencers, incredible content reaching 20 million YouTube viewers, encouragement of UCG, and credible partnerships but also because of their humility. I recently read a piece about how, “during a website outage on one of their famous Black Friday sales, the founder wrote over 2500 apology letters to customers (including discounts) so they could make their purchases later. This is just a single example of their excellent customer service, but if you’ve ever purchased from Gymshark and used their support, you’ll understand the hype. “(https://theaccountancycloud.com/blogs/the-rise-of-gymshark) 

In my desire to learn more about how to build a positive, devout community for brands, I recently set out to understand where Fandom is growing and where it is not. 

Let’s start with the approach as a marketer to your target markets. Do we call them consumers, customers, or clients? Experts recommend we begin by labelling our buyers as fans. In that case, we will naturally recalibrate our approach to the purchasers of products or services, the stakeholders we wish to influence, and the channels we want to create. Who is your target “fan”? What is her persona? What metrics do you seek to secure? Do you want a larger share of the purchasing power or a larger share of her voice? Brand strategy based on Fandom is the future for the rest of the world, says Ear to the Ground’s Jack Ward.

The most prominent components of Fandom are passion and emotion. What is the emotional element of fandom? Where does the joy come from? Today, it is not just love or adoration. Is it relatability? The most prominent person to discuss when talking about Fandom is Taylor Swift. Those who study Fandom, though, identify that her power is not just being an artist, but her power is connected to her followers as a person. By sharing her private life, the challenges and the triumphs with the world, the Swifties are not only devoted to her; they will defend her. (https://www.thenationalnews.com/arts-culture/music-stage/2024/02/21/most-powerful-fan-bases-swifties-potterheads-bts-army/). Also, modern-day fans have a deeper understanding of self. They spend more time considering their identity, values, and mantra, which significantly impacts what tears their devotion. 

The economics of a brand strategy based on Fandom are to be enjoyed by all stakeholders, not just the sponsoring business. Enterprises often cite the proliferation of social media, customization, and personalization as the driving forces of fandom marketing. They are merely channels and platforms or enablers. The real driver is that Fandom relies on new structures with less hierarchy and more distributed value. This opportunity is where Web3 comes in. Maddie Raedts writes in Forbes that “Web3, a decentralized online ecosystem built on the blockchain, facilitates unique experiences and consumer activations to ensure the continuity of community engagement.” Plenty of businesses talk about the brands curated by consumers, but how many take this bottom-up approach and allow their fans to participate in product design, marketing, and distribution? How many consistently turn the masses into influencers who build loyalty to the community transparently and genuinely? This is the shared approach to creating inclusivity and loyalty. 

Finally, I want to understand the purpose of Fandom. 

At their core, fans want to belong, to be a part of a community, and to achieve status for sharing their devotion within the community and earning recognition. Fan club members believe they are contributing to the success of their idols and not merely loyalists who follow them unthinkingly. 

Douglas Dunn of One Minute to Midnight and Kim Bayley of the Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA) has written about this deeper human meaning of Fandom in the entertainment industry. “Key to participant motivations were values including achievement and the thrill of demonstrating this achievement within their personal fandom community.” We think of digital channels as the superpower when, in fact, they can be a deterrent. Dunn and Balyley maintain, “In a digital age, the risk is that ‘fandom’ comes too easily, so finding ways to make fans work a little more to ‘earn’ their Fandom means they can experience the emotional pay-off and this ‘thrill of discovery.’ “

Thinking of the future of Fandom, which will influence my business this way: If we went out of business tomorrow, who would care? 

Don’t Be Afraid of the Truth

There is an old expression that the “truth hurts.”

In today’s business landscape, however, we must be bold in the truth. More importantly, we can no longer hide from it as the proliferation of data, analytics, and insights that we now have at our fingertips is almost unlimited.

On Sunday, at the Soho House Austin, I moderated a panel on the role of data in Sponsorship Success as part of our new SPX Global series of networking events. When a question from the audience was presented to our panelists, “What do you do when a sponsorship program isn’t going well?” – that panel segment became unofficially entitled “Don’t Be Afraid of Truth.”

It’s good news for the sponsorship marketing world that the opportunities and accessibilities to data are becoming more prolific daily. Our panelists, Adam Grow of KORE and Harrison Kim of AUSTIN FC are accomplished experts in leveraging data to measure sponsorship effectiveness, so I will not try to match their wisdom. Instead, I will share my key takeaways and develop a hypothesis from their words.

Adam and Harrison got me thinking.

What struck me most is that data tools now allow us to correctly answer our business’s oldest question and statement: that sponsorship programs must be aligned with objectives. While this could be considered table stakes, it is now a breakthrough because we can not only measure the return that sponsors receive; we can predict it.

Austin FC has a significant partnership with YETI, and one of their major corporate strategies is around sustainability, which they want to integrate into their partnership. This need requires Austin FC to provide a unique set of data points about how they are meeting their sustainability goals. This is a whole new avenue for partnership activation, but only if properties are willing to provide the metrics that withstand the scrutiny that comes with sensitive topics such as ESG.

Employee engagement continues to rise as a crucial metric for any major sponsors. Hospitality today is not just for customers and clients but also for your team. Alignment with properties needs to be more than just a brand fit; it should connect to employee values and inspire them to contribute to their employer’s and their partners’ purpose.

One of the best questions from the audience was specific to how data, both first-party and second-party, is being utilized to understand the fan journey. Understanding the fan journey, akin to the consumer journey for any B2C brand, is a significant priority for many teams, leagues, and sponsors. With today’s fluid fan, the need to understand which team(s) they cheer for, how they consume the sport, where they socialize their sport, and with whom are all vital. Fans move around and adopt primary and secondary teams, and brands want to know every step they take. Today, you can harness technology to learn more about these fans and provide them with a more customized experience, increased satisfaction, and more commercial value for sponsors.

The big winner in big data won’t just be the big players. As we leverage data to push both valuation and evaluation, we will unearth the truths about the impactfulness of properties we may have overlooked. Properties that may not have the broadcast reach or traditional impressions often will deliver more resonance, credibility, and precision than previously understood. Data will prove that and come to the rescue of the frequently ignored property.

The truth and consequences of understanding what’s working and what’s not are ears to be embraced, studied, and appreciated.