How the Olympics Put Colorado on the World Map
Post-games wrap-up: How to prepare an Olympic narrative and PR strategy to capitalize on wins
The 2018 Winter Olympics are over, which makes now the perfect time for Colorado communities to lay the groundwork for the next games – and to gain their share of the glory by publicizing the reasons so many world-class athletes call Colorado home.
The Olympic games catapult anonymous athletes into superstardom overnight. When it happens, their managers, publicists and parents quickly actuate once-in-a-lifetime, career-building campaigns by coordinating media tours, sponsorship deals and celebrity appearances. But athletes aren’t the only beneficiaries of their newfound fame.
Olympians’ hometowns suddenly emerge from obscurity and become known around the world. If municipalities are prepared, they too can reap big rewards from their newborn notoriety.
“As I watched Red Gerard clinch the first gold medal of the Winter Olympics, I lost count of how many times the announcers said ‘Silverthorne,’” said Silverthorne Town Manager Ryan Hyland. “That’s when I knew this was going to be a big deal.”
How big of a deal he couldn’t have guessed.
Within 24 hours, Gerard and his hometown made headlines around the world before he flew back to the U.S. for a whirlwind bi-coastal media tour, making appearances spanning late-night couches to morning show studios and everything in between.
“We knew we had to strike while the iron was hot,” said Red Gerard’s agent/manager, Ryan Runke. “We had a plan in place, and as soon as his final score was posted, all the circumstances aligned. We went into execution mode and haven’t stopped since.”
Back in Silverthorne, the sign welcoming drivers to town off I-70 was changed to read: "Welcome to Goldthorne." A local resident posted the paper sign with big red letters painted in children’s finger paint. (I recognized the marketing genius in this move immediately and had only one issue with it: I wish I had thought of it! The image was picked up by the Associated Press wire and ran in more than 500 news outlets around the world.)
Silverthorne’s Gerard, Chris Corning and Kyle Mack also competed in the snowboard big air final, where Mack won a silver medal in the sport’s Olympic debut, and the sign fever continued: Before Mack’s silver-medal win, Steve Lipsher, local resident and former journalist commented on Silverthorne’s Facebook page that the town should erect a sign proclaiming Gerard’s win. After Mack medaled, Lipsher added, “We’re gonna need a bigger sign!”
PREPARATION IS KEY
While PR and marketing teams can’t fully prepare for every conceivable scenario during a major event like the Olympics, they can and should prepare to the best of their ability – even when it feels like a futile exercise of hashing out hypotheticals.
As the PR agency of record for the Town of Silverthorne, our team at Betty Ashley Public Relations started developing a tentative plan weeks before the opening ceremonies. With three gold-medal hopefuls heralding from Silverthorne and a local snowboard manufacturer, Unity Snowboards, represented by Steamboat, snowboarder Arielle Gold, we knew we’d have an abundance of stories to tell regardless of the outcome.
We developed an editorial calendar and content to share on the town’s website, blog and social media channels leading up to and during the Olympic games. In all our plans, we built in flexibility for reacting to real-time results.
“Our single most engaging post on Facebook was a simple, congratulatory message to Red after his gold-medal run aired,” said Hyland. “That’s not something we had planned. It was sheer emotional response. Everyone in town was exploding with pride and wanted to share that with each other.”
“Then calls and messages started flooding in from friends and family around the country asking, ‘Is that your Silverthorne?’”
WHAT’S IN IT FOR SILVERTHORNE
Recently, Silverthorne’s community pride has been palpable. In the world’s attentive spotlight, now is the time to build upon that momentum.
In the last year, the youthful mountain town of Silverthorne celebrated its 50th anniversary, opened the new Silverthorne Performing Arts Center, welcomed Angry James Brewery and accelerated other downtown development including approximately $21 million of private investment in residential development.
Additionally, the Town selected developer Milender White to design and build the $68 million Fourth Street Crossing, an enduring downtown development for the heart of the Silverthorne community and a catalyst for further downtown development.
“It’s an incredible time to be part of history in the making in Silverthorne,” said Hyland.
Silverthorne’s Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC) wants to leverage the town’s recent media exposure to spur business interest.
“I previously lived in Steamboat, where the town’s identity is synonymous with the Winter Olympics, and I’m hopeful that Silverthorne will create its own Olympic narrative over the coming years,” said EDAC member Eddie O’Brien. “By way of our hometown heroes, we introduced the world to Silverthorne during these Games. That’s really exciting because getting your name out there is crucial to economic development.”
COLORADO – AN OLYMPIC POWERHOUSE
Silverthorne isn’t the only town reveling in Olympic glory. Colorado had 36 athletes competing in the Olympics – more than any other state – and brought home more medals than 78 countries. Fifteen of these athletes hail from Steamboat Springs, which has built a brand image around its Olympic heritage.
Skiing has been a major part of Steamboat Springs’ rich history since high-flying Norwegian Carl Howelsen showed locals that skis could be used for fun as well as work at the local ski hill in downtown Steamboat Springs in the early 20th century. The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club (SSWSC) was founded in 1914 and continues its mission of producing champions on and off the mountain.
Steamboat Springs has produced 104 Winter Olympians and counting.
“It’s not our goal to create Olympians,” said SSWSC Executive Director Jim Boyne. “Our goal is to teach these kids and make them the best they can be, as skiers and in life.”
Boyne said once athletes were representing Steamboat Springs in the Winter Olympics, local kids saw a tangible example of what they could be – and that they could do anything they put their mind to.
As more and more Olympians called Silverthorne home, the SSWSC trademarked “Ski Town USA,” a moniker still used by the club and Steamboat ski resort. Boyne said these two groups have the heft and marketing savvy to use the slogan as a platform to attract visitors to town.
“Our story is really about what the SSWSC has done for tens of thousands of kids, and our 100 Olympic athletes are just a small number of those kids we’ve served,” said Boyne. “But is it good for business? Absolutely.”
BY THE NUMBERS
- 20,000+ news stories about the Olympics mentioning Silverthorne
- 160,000+ Google search results for Silverthorne and the Olympics
- 11,500 new website visitors to Silverthorne.org
- 30 percent increase in Facebook engagement and 90 percent more page Likes than prior month on Silverthorne’s page
- Earned media exposure estimated to be worth millions of dollars in paid advertising
While our communications efforts touting Silverthorne’s hometown heroes are far from over, it’s safe to say this has been a tremendously successful “campaign” for Silverthorne, if you can call it that. Mostly, it’s been the perfect blend of right place, right time and right message, with months of planning, preparation and a whole lot of community pride to fuel the fire.
Details for a homecoming parade in downtown Silverthorne to celebrate Red Gerard, Kyle Mack and Chris Corning are still being finalized and will be posted on Silverthorne.org and Facebook.com/SilverthorneCO.
How to put your town (or business) on the map following a podium finish
- Communicate the value of telling your hometown heroes’ stories to key leaders, and get leadership buy-in early.
- Build a relationship with local athletes (or other local influencers) several weeks or months prior to the major event. As the event nears, they may not be reachable.
- Develop a tentative plan, including contingencies for hypothetical outcomes.
- Develop an editorial calendar for telling your stories before, during and after the major event.
- Gather background information and conduct interviews to inform your stories.
- Draft articles, press releases, blog posts and social media messages that can be distributed on a quick turnaround in response to event results.
- Build a library of images, and secure permission and usage rights to use those images with written communications.
- Create a schedule of key events, including qualifiers and finals, to steer your communication efforts.
- Determine a budget for timely opportunities during the event.
- Schedule regular check-ins with your key PR, marketing and leadership stakeholders throughout the event to share updates and determine next steps.
- Be opportunistic by creating timely and relevant story pitches to take advantage of the media’s evolving interests during the span of an event.
- Grab your remote and some popcorn, and see how the event unfolds. React accordingly.
- Don’t stop when the event concludes. Host a homecoming celebration or parade, and consider how the new accolades can be used in your community’s branding efforts going forward.
Ashley Lowe, founder and principal of Betty Ashley Public Relations, leads a team of experts with 50 years of travel and real estate experience, half of that being on the client’s side of the desk. The agency’s strength is putting “destination underdogs” on the map. Betty Ashley PR received the 2017 Colorado Governor’s Award for Outstanding Marketing Program for its work with the Town of Silverthorne. For more information, visit www.bettyashley.com or email email@example.com.