Monthly Archives: March 2014

Third Time’s the Charm – Part III

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PyeongChang 2018 Presentation Team, IOC Evaluation Commission Visit

PyeongChang’s 2018 Path to Victory

Part III:  January – April 2011

Terrence Burns ©2014

The year 2011 ushered in a string of staggered (and staggering) presentations to the Olympic Family and the IOC, beginning with the IOC Evaluation Commission Visit to PyeongChang, 16-19 February.  For any Bid Committee this is probably the longest sustained period of stress (and more than a little fear) in the entire bid process.

During the EC Visit, a team of eleven Olympic Movement and Games subject matter experts visited the Alpensia resort in PyeongChang for four days of non-stop presentations on all themes of the bid book, venue and site visits/presentations and meetings with government officials.  All presentations included thorough and specific Question & Answer sessions as well.

The 2018 Winter Games IOC Evaluation Commission:

Gunilla Lindberg      SWE    IOC Member  Chairwoman

Angela Ruggiero       USA     IOC Member

Barry Maister             NZL      IOC Member

Dwight Bell                 USA       US Luge Federation President

Tsunekazu Takeda  JPN     Japanese NOC President

Ann Cody                     USA    Paralympic Games athlete and administrator

Gilbert Felli                 SUI      IOC Olympic Games Executive Director

Simon Balderstone AUS     IOC Environmental Advisor

Philippe Bovy             SUI      IOC Transport Advisor

John McLaughlin      CAN     IOC Advisor (finance)

Grant Thomas            USA     IOC Infrastructure Advisor

Theresa Rah & Terrence Burns, Seoul December 2010 – photo Stratos Safioleas

To begin the story of PyeongChang 2018’s EC visit, one must go back to November and December 2010.  During those months, the external consultants team including myself, Charlie Battle, Erskine McCullough Luciano Barra, Mike Lee, Stratos Safioleas, Laszlo Vajda and others met the proposed Evaluation Commission Visit speaker team.

We worked very closely with Bid Team member Byungnam Lee, a great colleague, friend and a key player in PyeongChang’s eventual victory.

Byungnam Lee

On December 15, 2010, the candidates were led one by one into a large room and asked to read a portion of a draft speech in order for us to ascertain each person’s English language speaking ability.  Virtually every speaker was an academic, and had also participated in the drafting of the Bid Book in his or her functional area.

Imagine walking into a room of bid leaders and foreign Olympic “experts”, and being asked to read aloud with conviction and passion a technical speech in another language.  Not easy.  Fortunately, as academics many of the speakers were experienced presenters in front of groups – albeit students.

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Notes on potential PyeongChang IOC EC presenters

None of the speakers had a problem with content knowledge, but more than a few required extensive presentation and language training; but that is what we were there for. We took notes on the good, the bad and the “bridge-too-far” aspects of each speaker’s presentation, an example of my notes are to the right.

Our team, working with the first round of drafts (mostly) supplied by the speakers and bid committee, finished reviewing and editing (sometimes re-writing entirely) the seventeen (17) EC theme speeches by mid-December.

The second round of drafts was delivered mid January.  We then refined each version many times over until the day – or in some instances, the moment – of the actual presentations.

In late January, we first traveled to Seoul for rehearsals and presentation prep, then we went onto PyeongChang.  Here is our core external presentation development team: from left: Sara Blease, Terrence Burns, Ansley O’Neal, Lou Lauria, Randy Phipps and David Woodward.

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By now Caroline Roland and Barnaby Logan of New Moon films were onboard working alongside our Cheil colleagues, and our films were improving greatly.  We were trying to counter the points that Munich 2018 were making in their presentations about the beauty and variety of fun shopping, dining and entertainment options in the city of Munich (the implication:  those amenities were not available in PyeongChang).

It was a good strategy because the IOC members and the Olympic Family often spend two or more weeks at the Games, and they must have something to do when not at an Olympic event.  Obviously, Munich offered a lot more entertainment value to the Olympic family than did the closest “big” city to PyeongChang, Gangneung – population 230,000.

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Best of Korea brands from Seoul

To answer this challenge, our team created a concept called “The Best of Seoul”, later changed to “The Best of Korea”.  The idea was simple:  given that we were at least 90 minutes away from Seoul, a large, thriving world-city with many great restaurants, shopping malls and entertainment options, why not bring those amenities to PyeongChang for the period of the Games?

It was agreed to build a Best of Korea Pavilion in and around the Alpensia Resort (heart of the Winter Games).  In this space we would have temporary versions of Seoul’s most popular restaurants, shopping experiences and nightclubs.  Voila – Seoul in PyeongChang.

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Lou Lauria

One of the best things about Korea is the food, and our team had ample time to sample just about every type of Korean food – and alcohol – imaginable.

Nothing breaks down barriers such as sitting on the floor, serving each other food and drink (we learned to always pour your fellow diners’ drinks first, before one’s own) and cooking meat on a Korean Barbeque Grill.

The beef that originates in the PyeongChang region is said to be the best in Korea; by the way, I concur.

Here are three of our presenters, Young-hee Lee, Minjung Sung & Won-ho Park at one of our many dinners in PyeongChang.


Korean Drinking Games – not sure what else I can say about this picture other than it was a solo performance by our Games Security expert.

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YS Park, Dong Young Lee and Benedict Song.
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Aplensia Resort, PyeongChang

Over the course of the EC preparations it began to snow… a lot.  Frankly it was what we were hoping for because it added to the winter ambience of the countryside and surroundings.  The day the EC Commission arrived, the city of Gangneung received over three feet of new snowfall – a blessing, as everything looks better in a fresh coat of white snow and it proved we would have plenty of snow for the Winter Games.

Chariman Cho and the bid leadership await the EC’s arrival – photo – Stratos Safioleas
IOC Evaluation Commission arrival, Alpensia Resort – photo Stratos Safioleas

To be honest those days all tend to run together in my memory.  We were up early every morning for hours of speaker training and rehearsals, and then long evenings for Question and Answer preparation.  Each slide’s content, spelling (both French and English) had to be checked, re-checked and then checked again because we were still adjusting speeches throughout the rehearsals.  They were easily one hundred-hour weeks for everyone on the PyeongChang team.

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Sara Blease & Randy Phipps, North Design


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Ansley O’Neal and Minjung Sung

Lou Lauria and Ansley O’Neal led the venue presentation preparations for our team.  Lou and Ansley prepared the presentations and prepped the speakers at every venue for the EC’s visit.  A lot of these presenters were Olympians and athletes.  One of the best parts of our job is when we get the opportunity to work with athletes.  Athletes are comfortable taking direction, which means they are “coachable”. They are also competitive, which makes them want to excel.

One of the most emotional stops for the EC during the tour was a stop at the Gangneung Skating Rink – the proposed curling venue for the Games.  A choir of 2,018 residents serenaded the EC team, and media, with Abba’s classic “I Have A Dream”.

Their beautiful voices filled the arena with a warmth beyond mere temperature.  Many of the Evaluation Commission members as well as the PyeongChang 2018 team (and media) were touched with the simple emotion of the moment; eyes welled and tissues appeared.

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photo –

The performance illustrated the gentle, almost innocent nature in certain aspects of Korean culture. It was a genuine, heartfelt moment that was classically Korean in its conception and implementation. It was a beautiful gesture, and one learns to appreciate those in a long bid campaign.

After a long and stressful week with hours of presentations, hours of answering questions and hours of worrying, it was suddenly over. There is nothing quite like the sense of relief and release at the end of an IOC Evaluation Commission visit. It is difficult to describe the commingled emotions of anxiety and anticipation that precede the visit. At first, the week seems like it will go on forever – then suddenly all the scripts, drafts and urgent notes from the previous few days are lying on the ground, spent.  It is very much like an Olympic Games.

Each day is an exercise of the Bid Committee holding its collective breath, praying nothing goes wrong. It is our job, as external advisors who have experienced this many times, to assure the Bid Committee that the Evaluation Commission visit is not an attempt to trip up or trick anyone into making a mistake; quite the contrary.

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Helen Stewart (IOC), Theresa Rah, Jacqueline Barrett (IOC)

The EC want to be informed and they want to help. Many times during the presentations EC members such as Gilbert Felli would offer incredible, experienced guidance on many issues. Moreover, the Bid City Relations team, led by Jacqueline Barrett, was also there to lend support and guidance, which they always did with patience and grace.

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Jace Oh

The post-EC visit recap meeting at the Alpensia resort was slightly euphoric for the team; the alcohol helped. Frankly, the team did a spectacular job. The presentation room looked great thanks to our Cheil colleagues, especially Jace Oh.

Chairman Cho was the consummate host, both inside the room and at the social functions. Theresa shined as always, but even brighter (although there were many PyeongChang team members in the room who had participated in previous PyeongChang bids’ EC visits, neither Chairman Cho nor Theresa had any idea of what to expect – and they handled it flawlessly). Everyone executed well with his or her speech. The slides and films looked great – no technical glitches.  And due to exhaustive preparation and rehearsal, the dreaded Question & Answer sessions went very well.

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Q&A Prep; Lou Lauria, Laszlo Vajda, Charlie Battle, Erskine McCullough, Rocky Yoon

The EC visit was also the first time we, as external consultants had the opportunity to witness the abilities and professionalism of the entire PyeongChang bid team on a grand scale. Everything was extraordinarily well organized and prepared.

The internal team worked magically with us and the presenters on content changes and adjustments. And it was the first real opportunity for us to interact with the broader team on a large project.

I left the EC visit tremendously impressed by the entire Bid Committee. I could see the benefits of experience from the two previous bids.  I thought, “These guys will host a perfectly organized Winter Games…”

Media dinner – Alan Abrahamson, 3WireSports; photo Stratos Safioleas

I also thought the international media present were both surprised and charmed by what they saw and heard. I believed that these veterans of many bids began to realize that Pyeongchang 2018 was something entirely different from what they expected or had seen before. Their feedback was very positive and encouraging for our team.

And we had a few glitches.  At the Ski Jump venue presentation, no one seemed to be managing the Asian media crush and they descended into the presentation itself, obscuring the EC members’ ability to listen and learn. The EC team were visibly agitated and decided to descend to the ski jump landing field and walk to the next presentation at the Cross Country venue, rather than fight their way back through the media group to the bus. But that was just one small issue in an otherwise flawless week.

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PyeongChang 2018 Bid and IOC Evaluation Commission Members

Unfortunately we had little time to relax or revel in the accomplishemnt because we had to prepare for two quick presentations in March:

  • 23 March – 74th Association Internationale De La Press Sportive Congress (AIPS) – Seoul, Korea
  • 26 March – Association of Oceania National Olympic Committees (ONOC) – Noumea, New Caledonia
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AIPS, March 2011. Byungnam Lee, Kwang-Bae Kang, Theresa Rah and Chairman Cho

The AIPS presentation, in Seoul was the easiest of all the presentations we did because it was on home ground.  The presentation team was a bit tired after the marathon EC Visit.  It took a little coaxing to get them focused on the AIPS; they were  simply exhausted.

I can only imagine how tired the Munich and Annecy teams were as they had to fly half-way around the world for AIPS. Because this presentation was to media professionals, the content was a general overview of the bid, without a particular focus on any particular Olympic stakeholder – other than the media professionals. We felt it was crucial for them to understand our key differentiator – New Horizons – perhaps more than issues such as the venue plan, for example

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Theresa Rah, AIPS presentation

True to Olympic practice, we too had a “map” similar to the one Rio used with great effect at the IOC Session in Copenhagen in 2009. Our map showed where all of the Winter Games had been held through the years, with an obvious gap in Asia.  In the end I am not sure how effective this was, but I do think it made a subtle point – but that is only if geographic rotation still mattered in the Host City selection process.

Next stop was both a challenge (to get to) and thrilling (to see); we went to  Noumea, New Caledonia to present to ONOC.  Once again we were fortunate to fly on Elvis 1, Chairman Cho’s plane. This made the trip quiet relaxing.

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Noumea, New Caledonia

Theresa catching up on the news, on the way to Noumea on Elvis 1.

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The presentations were very short, and French Polynesia was a long way to go to speak to a few NOCs for just a few minutes.  Still, every presentation made us a little bit better.  Again, I think PyeongChang had an advantage here because of geography. Once again, Munich and Annecy had to fly half-way around the world and to the Southern Hemisphere.

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ONOC Presentation Room – Noumea, New Caledonia

One very nice thing about the ONOC presentations was the intimacy of it.  We were presenting in a smallish boardroom. We practically sat next to and on top of each other, and we were all in the same hotel. It broke down barriers and we actually had to time talk, drink and eat with the other bid teams.

Munich sat next to us in rehearsals and we were watching each other furiously write and re-write our scripts.

George Hirthler, Bernhard Schwank and Thomas Bach

As I wrote, the presentation room was small but adequate.

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Thomas Bach, Noumea.

George Hirthler and I had a great time at the piano bar one evening.

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George Hirthler – the man who got me into this crazy world.

After we took off from Noumea headed back to Seoul, Chairman Cho casually asked us if we would like “fly over” and see Australia’s Great Barrier Reef as if it were a normal question to ask.  No kidding.  So, we did.  The flight crew radioed Australian Air Traffic Control and off we went.  When we got there, we were able to descend to around 5,000 feet and fly circles over one of the most beautiful sights in the world. It was incredible. I am adding some of those photos here. The pictures may not add much to the story of the bid,  but it was an amazing moment most of us will most likely never experience again.

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Chairman Cho scrambling for a good shot. He is an expert photographer by the way
Turning north and headed back to Seoul

SportAccord, London

IMG_0779Our next target was the SportAccord presentation in London on 7 April.  SportAccord is the first official ”next step up” from the preceding presentations. This convention is actually the bid cities’ first official time onstage in front of a truly international media set, as well as sports and sports business professionals from around the world.  It is, and should be, a warm up to the final two presentations – the IOC Technical Presentation and the IOC Final Presentation – albeit in a shorter format.  SportAccord’s twenty-minute presentation seemed an incredible amount of time compared to the team’s previous presentations, which were limited to ten or fifteen minutes in length.

We began work on the SportAccord presentation almost as soon as we returned home from the EC visit. The first thing we did was review the scripts and “performances” from the previous presentations. Looking at the scripts, I noted how we had gradually refined and clarified our central message of New Horizons within the presentations and communications channels. We noted the continual progression of films with our partners at New Moon and Cheil. And, we decided to introduce one new speaker to our SportAccord presentation, Mr. Byoung-gug Choung, Korea’s Minister for Culture and Sports.

Given Katarina Witt’s extraordinary popularity in the previous Munich 2018 presentations, we were getting a significant amount of pressure to bring Olympic Champion Yuna Kim onto the PyeongChang 2018 presentation team. My personal opinion was that Munich 2018 was relying too much on Katarina, and that over time this would fatigue the Munich 2018 message. Many friends in the Olympic media privately concurred. I had the same concerns about Theresa as we were leaning very heavily on her up to SportAccord. But the more the media saw Theresa, the more they wanted to see her speak.  She was our secret weapon, but suddenly she was not so secret any more.

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Yuna Kim

Yuna’s eventual participation in the bids presentations, an appearance in our technical film at SportAccord and then speaking roles at the IOC Technical Presentation and the Final Presentation, was driven both by logistics and strategy.

First, up to SportAccord, her training schedule simply would not allow time to practice for multiple presentations.

Second, and more importantly, we wanted to “hold” her until the Lausanne presentation to the IOC Members. We had not seen Yuna speak publicly yet, and the IOC Technical Presentation would give us the opportunity to allow her to speak in front of the IOC members alone, without hundreds of other people (and pressures) in the room.

And third, we needed more athletes, female athletes and younger athletes (no offense, Dae-Sung and Kwang-bae) in the speaker set. And, it helped that she was the reigning Olympic Champion and a superstar in her own right after her stunning Vancouver 2010 Gold Medal performance. What I was unprepared for was just how powerful a combination that she and Theresa would make onstage together – but more on that later.

Munich was already experimenting with its positioning against “New Horizons” with language such as “new territories are fine, but the Olympic Movement must also replenish its roots from time to time…”, or words to that effect. I interpreted this to mean that our New Horizons message was hitting home – hard. Anytime a bid city changes its key messages to react to a competitor’s key messages is a good sign the competitor is making progress.

We delivered the first set of drafts on 3 March, and thirty (30) revisions later we were ready on 7 April.  For SportAccord, we opened with a new film “The Best of Both Worlds  (the Best of Korea concept) at 1:40 in length, Chairman Cho (2:45), Minister Choung (1:30), Theresa Rah (6:30), Kwang-Bae Kang (1:45), Venue plan film with Yuna Kim at 3:45), Dae Sung Moon at 1:00 and a new, New Moon film to close.

The timing on paper was about 21:00, one minute over the 20:00 maximum. It is my practice to attempt to follow the IOC’s stated timing guidelines to the letter. You can tell when a bid city accidentally exceeds its time limit by a minute, or even two – often the audience reactions and applause slow down a well-timed presentation. But you can also tell when a bid city is deliberately taking advantage of the rules. My view is that it is difficult enough to win while reacting to things beyond your control, so why risk a warning letter from the IOC over something that you can control, such as presentation time limits?  Bottom line:  follow the rules.

Kwang-Bae Kang, Byungnam Lee & Jace Oh – London rehearsals

Our rehearsals both in Seoul and London were markedly different from the year prior. The EC visit really gave our team a boost and new confidence. It is an understatement to say that the PyeongChang bid team was under extreme pressure from all levels of Korean society and government to win 2018, its third attempt at the Winter Games. I honestly believed that bidding for the third straight time would be appreciated by the membership, but I also believed that if we were not good enough we would not win – regardless of the number of attempts. But the team never panicked, never broke ranks and never let the stress show. I was truly humbled at their work ethic and commitment. They did not get rattled, ever; they were tough, focused people.

During the SportAccord rehearsals I noticed the birth of something new.  The presentation team was having a good time. There was a lightness and air of humble confidence about them for the first time. They made fun of each other (in a Korean kind of way). They let me (gently) make fun of them (I liked calling Chairman Cho “cowboy” in order to get him to laugh a little and relax). There was much laughter. I think they really began to respect each other and understand the most important thing in the race: that they could only win by being a team.  This is what I had been waiting for; sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t, but when it does happen it is magical to watch.

IMG_0803The SportAccord presentation room in London was packed, and with more media than we’d ever seen. The ceiling was lower than a normal auditorium and I felt that the audience was very close to the stage, almost in the laps of the presentation teams. I thought this was good for us because up close, the audience could see our team’s newfound camaraderie and confidence, and understand that this was a NEW PyeongChang bid.  We had a new energy at SportAccord and I was glad the audience could see it up front. We were not afraid of Munich anymore.

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Theresa editing Chairman Cho’s speech

Leading up to SportAccord, Theresa and I (mostly Theresa) spent intensive time and effort working with Chairman Cho on his English and presentation delivery at his office in Seoul. He was becoming much more comfortable with the teleprompter, and he was learning to add emotion and passion to some of the key phrases.

My number one objective with Chairman Cho was to try to humanize him onstage; it wasn’t that he seemed inhuman; he just needed to relax and be himself. By that, I mean make him less “Chairman-esque” and more like the personable, kind person that he actually was.

His culture and his role as head of a multi-national conglomerate and other associated entities formed his public speaking persona, and his interaction with team members. Business presentations in Korean culture of a certain age, and in Asian culture in general, tend to be straight forward, humorless and, well…often bland. I recall asking the bid team to smile more onstage, and was told that Koreans considered people who smiled a lot to be idiots.  That of course, may have explained my initial communications challenges with the team the year prior…

In the end, I realized that there was only so much we could accomplish with Chairman Cho’s presentation skills in such a short period, so we had to focus on what was most relevant and possible.  With Chairman Cho’s encouragement and consent, we agreed that I would give Theresa many of the lines and phrases I would traditionally give to a bid leader in a presentation.  In retrospect, they made a great team because we had to be creative in their respective roles and I think it made them more interesting onstage.

By SportAccord, Chairman Cho was effective in delivering his number one message:

 Our vision, called “New Horizons”, is simple:  we want to help promote the Olympic Movement, and to grow winter sport to new regions of the world

 To leave a legacy of new potential like never before. 

  • We want to give 650 million young people in new markets the opportunity and the access to enjoy winter sport
  • We want to plant the seeds to grow new roots for winter sports; and
  • We want to diversify the financial support for winter IFs and sport through new investment from new regions.

Direct.  Clear.  Simple.

And most of all, very difficult to attack by our competitors.

One of the reasons we were able to distill the concept of New Horizons down to a few simple messages was because we had to do so for the speakers (other than Theresa) and for the Korean domestic audience. It was a good lesson for me.

Both Annecy and Munich gave their usual excellent presentations, but for the first time I felt a bit of the spark had gone out of Munich’s routine. I am not sure why, maybe it was the room, but they appeared to be constrained. Having seen them present several times, I thought they were almost struggling to get their points across. Maybe I was seeing what I wanted to see but I also sensed, rightly or wrongly, that they were beginning to take us seriously; that we were emerging as a real threat. They could, perhaps for the first time, hear PyeongChang’s footsteps behind them.

When our team finished, there was a rush of media (a new experience for us) for interviews and comments that rivaled that of Munich. The team was proud, slightly surprised and very relieved.  I recall standing aside, out of (always, as advisors should be) the photographers’ shot lines, watching them congratulate each other.

They were emotional and they were smiling, and no one looked the least bit like an idiot.

That is when I knew in my heart that we could actually win this race.

 NEXT:  The last three presentations of the 2018 campaign



Special thanks to Stratos Safioleas for use of his photos and review/edit/memory help. Stratos served PyeongChang 2014 and 2018 as their external International Media and Social Media Advisor.

Special thanks as well to Theresa Rah and Sharon Huff for their review/edit/memory help.

Third Time’s the Charm – Part II

Theresa Rah and Chairman Y H Cho rehearsing in Belgrade, Serbia November 2010. Photo courtesy of Stratos Safioleas

PyeongChang’s 2018 Path to Victory

Part II:  April – December 2010

Terrence Burns ©2014

This is part two of four in a series about PyeongChang 2018’s road to winning the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

After the SportAccord meetings in April, we all had our “marching orders”. The PyeongChang Technical team was busy preparing the initial drafts of the PeyongChang 2018 Candidature Files.  Our team was poised to review and edit the drafts for brand messaging consistency to ensure the bid’s new message, “New Horizons”, was reflected as much as possible and where appropriate in the texts.

Our team also began mapping the outlines and strategies for the ten (10) presentations that PyeongChang 2018 (and Munich and Annecy) would be making over the next 16 months.  It was a daunting task, but in retrospect, having 10 opportunities to practice our message and presentation skills was a Godsend, as we shall later see.  For edification, the ten presentations for the 2018 campaign were as follows:

The 2010 presentations:

  • 21 October – 17th Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) General Assembly – Acapulco, Mexico
  • 13 November – 29th Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) General Assembly – Guangzhou, China
  • 26 November – 39th European Olympic Committees General Assembly – Belgrade, Serbia

The 2011 presentations:

  • 16-19 February – IOC Evaluation Commission Visit – PyeongChang, Korea
  • 23 March – 74th Association Internationale De La Press Sportive Congress (APIS) – Seoul, Korea
  • 26 March – Association of Oceania National Olympic Committees (ONOC) – Noumea, New Caledonia
  • 7 April – SportAccord – London, England
  • 18 May – IOC Technical Presentation – Lausanne, Switzerland
  • 28 June – Association of African Olympic Committees (ANOCA) – Lome, Togo
  • 6 July – IOC Final Presentation – Durban, South Africa

For each of these presentations, we created a unique communications objective and strategy, given that each presentation had a different target audience and varying message to deliver.  This entailed first creating the showflow, meaning:

  • Defining how many speakers
  • Identifying the speakers
  • Defining how many films, helping write film briefs
  • Drafting every speech
  • Speech training raining every speaker
  • Directing a design team on the “speaker support” (Keynote or PowerPoint) in both French and English
  • Where applicable, Q&A definitions and practice sessions.

Each presentation took anywhere from four weeks to three months to prepare.  It is a lot of work.

My two favorite activities were drafting the speeches and training the speakers.  In total, we spent literally hundreds and hundreds of hours writing and re-writing drafts, and training speakers.

For PyeongChang I was insistent that everyone spoke English in his or her presentations.  Why?  It has nothing to do with language snobbery – it is purely pragmatic. English is the language in which the Olympic Movement does business.  Speaking English to an international audience indicates that you and your team will be easy to communicate with – which means easy to work with – and it means less time fumbling with the simultaneous translation headsets during the presentation.


Terrence Burns with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Buenos Aries, September 7, 2013 – Madrid 2020 Final Presentation

Often, senior officials or politicians simply cannot – or do not wish to – deliver a speech in English.  I understand this – as a head of state or senior politician, one does not wish to appear less than perfect.

In this case I have a protocol. If they are the head of state, or a very senior minister, we let them give a (shortened) speech in their own language. Prime Minister Rajoy of Spain is the most recent client of ours (Madrid 2020) who spoke in his native language.

But unless the speaker has ample (and I mean a boatload) time to practice, this is a high-risk solution because we are trying to adapt a speech written in English to another language, and often the prose, syntax, alliteration and emotional flow do not transfer easily – or at all.  So generally, I hate doing it.  But the usual rule is that most Heads of State get a pass from the audience as long as they are brief; I repeat, as long as they are brief.

Sometimes, we teach the speaker an entire speech in English phonetically.  This means the speaker may have no real idea what the words mean, but that he or she has memorized them.

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 3.05.47 PMIf the speaker understands English well, but has trouble with pronunciation, we adapt the written speech or the teleprompter with various spellings and visual clues as to pronunciation and intonation.

Chairman Cho’s first speech notes (at right) in Acapulco are a good example of this technique; we refined and used it in every presentation and it worked for him, and many others in recent bid presentations.


So, back to PyeongChang.

I felt that PyeongChang had to break out of the stereotype of boring presentations; sorry, there, I said it.  And I knew for example, from watching the Tokyo 2016 presentations that it is folly to try to “force” people to be what they are not. But it is also folly to proceed as if it is a (insert major multinational here) board of directors meeting.

For PyeongChang we began with five objectives for the presentations:  1) English language, 2) young speakers, 3) female speakers, 4) emotion and 5) humor, where possible (humor is very tricky in foreign languages). I also knew that with ten presentations, we had to pace ourselves and slowly perfect our messaging and delivery.

We could not peak too soon (as you will read below, after our first presentation in Acapulco, I realized that we were in no danger of peaking too soon).  It took us until SportAccord in London in April 2011 to even get close to meeting our presentation objectives.  By the Lausanne IOC Technical presentation in May, we were peaking and by Durban in July, we reached our crescendo.

For the 12 October ANOC meeting in Acapulco, we delivered the first set of speeches to the team on August 24th. The standard procedure was for me to send the speeches to the presenters and ask for any written feedback (you learn quickly that only about 10% of the presenters give you written feedback). The bid committee team however, did not like my first round of speeches and made substantive changes, or tried to, throughout.  We went back and forth, heatedly, via email and phone calls.

Finally I flew to Seoul to address the issue of who controls the presentation content and speeches. It was typical bid committee meeting; me on one side of a long table and about 15 bid committee members on the other side.  Chairman Cho was there (at the head of the table).  We began the discussion on who was or was not writing the drafts.  There was a lot of frustration – on all sides.  I was ready to go home, to be honest.

I am sure they got tired of my refrain “if you want to do what you did twice before you will lose again – be my guest…”.  It was tense.  Finally Chairman Cho called a break.  He and I talked.  He gave me advice on how to deal with Koreans, as well as my “style” dealing with them, which he found too aggressive and too blunt; it was a fair assessment.  I listened. He listened. We went back in the room and he said to the team, “too many cooks in the kitchen, from now on Terrence writes all the speeches.”

Then, we began an intensive seven to ten days of one-on-one and full rehearsal training sessions, and then we would continue with one-on-one and full rehearsal sessions on-site.

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Theresa Rah – PyeongChang 2018 Communications

After our first set of practice sessions in Seoul it was clear to everyone in the room that Theresa Rah was going to “carry our water” for the presentations going forward.  Theresa, a former television presenter in Korea, grew up in various locales around the world and her English accent was impeccably Canadian-esque.

Her delivery was flawless and she always had excellent feedback and input on her drafts.  Moreover, she also worked tirelessly to help other PyeongChang presenters with their presentation skills and English.

Our international relations team utilized Theresa’s skills as well.  She was a true team player.



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Terrence Burns and David Woodward
Photo T. Burns

By this time North Design joined us to help with the presentations’ graphics.  I have worked with David Woodward (Woody) and his design team on Olympic and World Cup presentations since 2003.  Woody knew how to deal with the complexity – and pressure – of live presentations.   There are always changes or adjustments to speeches up until the last-minute – which means the accompanying speaker slides must be changed as well, real-time – in two languages.  It was a high wire act – Woody and his team handled it flawlessly.


Munich 2018 preparing for Acapulco presentation – bid advisor George Hirthler at far right. Photo courtesy of Stratos Safioleas

I recall Munich taking the stage with their superstars (and they were superstars) – Thomas Bach, Katarina Witt and Bernard Schwank leading the way.  The scripts prepared by my friend, mentor and former business partner George Hirthler, were crisp and on target.

They even had a video of Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany supporting the bid (remember, this was the first presentation to the Olympic Family and they already had the Chancellor of Germany on film…that is called being prepared).  They were upbeat and looked fabulous – they seemed happy and confident, and it showed.  At that moment, I felt that they were everything that we were not.

Munich 2018 had an incredible technical video that “flew” the viewer through and around the mountain venues, accompanied by a live voice-over by Bernhard onstage.  At that point our technical “film” was only maps and still images.

Terrence Burns, David Woodward and Jace Oh. Acapulco Presentation rehearsal room

Munich also had a series of creative, atmospheric films capturing the beauty of the city and its people. Reto Lamm, a former snowboarding champion from Switzerland, and the epitome of cool, produced the films. We were still “struggling” with our own films at that stage. I remember having a dry mouth while watching them present.  As presenters, they were amazingly good on their first shot out of the gate.

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Y H Cho – Acapulco presentation – photo courtesy of Stratos Safioleas

Finally, it was our turn.  This first presentation was our “shake out cruise”.  It was my opportunity to see how well our “New Horizons” message resonated and judge our speaking team live, in front of an audience.

For that presentation we had Y H Cho, Theresa Rah, Y S Park, Dae-Sung Moon (Korean IOC member and Olympic Champion) and Governor Lee (the new governor of Gangwon Province).

After our first presentation in Acapulco in October 2010, “improbable” was my first impression of our chances having watched Munich’s presentation to ANOC.




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First description of “New Horizons” to an Olympic audience, ANOC Acapulco October 2010

Acapulco is where we first introduced the tagline and theme that would carry us nine long months, thousands of miles and ten presentations around the globe – New Horizons.  Here is the slide we used to describe “our vision” to the ANOC audience.  The focus was on “new growth and new potential like never before.”



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Y H Cho and Olympic Champion and Korean IOC member Dae-Sung Moon relaxing after the Acapulco presentation. Photo Stratos Safioleas
Theresa Rah “prepping” Y S Park for the Acapulco presentation.


My notes from that day read:

  • New Horizons seemed to be the only recognizable “theme” by any city – we need to double down on it and provide new proof points going forward
  • Ch. Cho needs a lot of work on his pronunciation and delivery…not used to speaking to an international audience…I gave him too much content
  • Theresa – fantastic – will use her more
  • Y S Park – has certain charm – used to speaking to the OF (Olympic Family) – can make him funny but I gave him too much content
  • DS Moon – looks great, hard to understand – needs a lot more work
  • Governor Lee – the new Governor of PyeongChang – not needed again until SportAccord, earliest (he didn’t last long enough in office to joint us in SportAccord)
  • Films:  more (lots) work to do – MUST HAVE A TECHNICAL FILM
  • Speaker slides design – I think Woody’s design looked the best
  • Overall, we have a long way to go – NEXT STEPS:

1) Intensive language and presentation training with Chairman Cho and others

2) Produce a new technical film, brief new film company, New Moon, on new films

3) Find young, athlete presenter(s)

3) Increase Theresa’s role in presentations

4) Blow out “New Horizons” because no one else seems to have a clear and concise message

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Korean NOC President Y S Park – Acapulco presentation – photo courtesy of Stratos Safioleas

In Acapulco, we had lots of internal drama – politics, factions, consultants leaving (then not leaving), clashing egos and the great battle of two styles of doing business – east and west, hard versus soft, discussions versus decisions, straight-forward versus obtuse…progress or procrastination.

From my perspective, here is the single most important thing to know in an Olympic bid:  it has a beginning and an end; meaning, every single day matters.

That is it.

If a bid vacillates on making decisions, then it is sitting still; and if it is sitting still then it is either sinking to the bottom or falling behind.

This may sound dramatic or crazy, but I think no other “Olympic activity” comes as close to what the athletes on the field of play experience as does bidding for the Olympic Games for the bid committee team.  It is high drama with no second chances.  There is a start and a stop.  Each competitor brings his or her own strengths and weaknesses. The “players” endure tremendous personal and professional pressure (how would you like to give a speech in front of the entire world in a foreign language?).  It is pure competition and by the way, there is only one medal – gold.

After the presentations we had our debrief meeting.  At these meetings all of the PyeongChang team would show up – many of whom I had never seen.  One of the “critiques” I shared with PyeongChang 2018 about their previous bids was that Korean bids always brought too many people who seemed to do nothing but stand around in groups (amongst themselves) and not mingle with anyone else.  At this point, PyeongChang 2018 seemed to be carrying on the tradition, as a phalanx of expectant faces looked at our team for answers.

I led off the meeting with my critique of our performance – I held nothing back and luckily all of the other external advisors agreed.  Like me, everyone recognized the high quality of Munich 2018’s presentation.

There is always “that moment” in a bid campaign, when hope must triumph over fear.

This was that moment for PyeongChang 2018.

The team was quiet.  They were confused and close to being dispirited.  It was up to us external advisors in the room to address the situation honestly, but also in a way that provided a path forward.   Following a summation of the points from my notes and others on how and where we needed to improve, I felt I needed a closing that would help them understand that all was not lost; in fact, we’d only just begun.  We had all the ingredients of a great bid. Here is what I said, to the best of my memory:

“Munich 2018 just gave the best presentation that they will ever give in this campaign.  It was brilliantly done, it was tremendous…but I believe that they will never give another one that good again. I don’t think they have a message yet that compares to “New Horizons”, and honestly they were so good today that I don’t know how they can top it.  On the other hand, I believe that our team will only get better and better, and we will give our best presentation on the stage in Durban next July.”

I don’t know how many people in the room believed me, but I believed it.  I just hoped that it was true.

Our next presentation took place on 13 November, to the Olympic Councils of Asia in Guangzhou, China.  The presentation time was shorter, so we only had three speakers – Y H Cho, Theresa Rah and Y S Park – and one film.

The team was much more comfortable being in Asia, and I think that helped them onstage.  I know one thing that made them relax, and that was a city full of Chinese food.  Wherever we went in the world, no matter what city or cuisine, the PyeongChang team always found the local Chinese restaurant for our first or second meal.

Two of the more exciting moments in Guangzhou were 1) the Chinese apparently changed my middle name from “Hugh” to “Huge”, and 2) I worked up the nerve to ask Katarina Witt to have her photo taken with me.

Katarina Witt and Terrence Burns, Guangzhou, China November 2010


Throughout the 2018 campaign, PyeongChang was fortunate to always be the last to present – this was good for a whole host of reasons.  Very often bids are at the mercy of the technical abilities – or lack thereof – of the venue team that is managing technology.

In Guangzhou, both Munich and Annecy had technical problems in their presentations, which were fortunately solved by the time PyeongChang took the stage.  Our team’s presentation was tighter in Guangzhou, but we still lacked any emotional cohesion with each other onstage.  I thought we made improvement from Acapulco, but we still had issues with everyone’s (except Theresa’s) English delivery and pronunciation.  We had to work harder; the good news was that Koreans work very hard.

The last presentation of 2010 was to the EOC in Belgrade, just 13 days after Guangzhou.  A “perk” on this trip was that a few of us were able to hitch a ride from Seoul to Belgrade with Chairman Cho on his own plane from the Korean Air Boeing Business Jet fleet.  It was a beautiful plane with four bedrooms, eight luxurious seats and a couch.

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I dubbed the plane “Elvis-1” because someone asked me “how did you like flying on Chairman Cho’s plane?”  I said, “I feel like Elvis.”  So, it stuck. We had our own Korean Air attendant and the food and the wine were exquisite.  It sure beat standing in line at the airport.

Given both Munich and Annecy were from European NOCs, we felt as if we were going into the proverbial “Lion’s Den”.  I felt that this presentation, on European soil, would be tremendously important for our bid, but perhaps that is also how they felt in Guangzhou. I put a lot of pressure on the presentation team and in retrospect, maybe too much for some.

Kwang-Bae Kang, 4-time Olympian relaxing in a Korean restaurant in Atlanta – photo T. Burns

We were still experimenting with the speaker line up, e.g., who would open, and who would close.

For Belgrade we decided on the following order: begin with Chairman Cho again as the opener but with less content followed by a film, then Theresa, then Korean Olympian Kwang-Bae Kang, then Y S Park and close with a another film.




Chairman Cho, EOC Presentation, Belgrade November 2010 – photo courtesy of Stratos Safioleas

One incredibly valuable new asset in Belgrade was the use of teleprompters.  Other team members had suggested it for earlier presentations, and I resisted.  That was a mistake and I should have realized it earlier.  Now we were using a teleprompter (as were both Munich and Annecy) and it helped all of the speakers a great deal.




Katarina Witt, 2-time Olympic champion; Munich 2018 presentation to EOC, Belgrade, November 2010 – photo courtesy of Stratos Safioleas

Belgrade taught us a few more things.  After the presentation, we were told by many of the Olympic media in the room that “PyeongChang wins on the words and the message…Munich wins on style and video…”.  I appreciated the compliment, but I knew that words and message were only half the battle.  In a forty-five minute presentation in a giant room, (as in Durban) style points will matter, I thought.

We simply had to get better at presenting.  Both Theresa and Kwang-bae were very well received as speakers – young, enthusiastic and easy to understand; there was a lesson in that.

Our post-presentation meeting the next morning was not an easy one.  We had a lot of ground to cover with little time.

I was departing Belgrade that morning on my way to Zürich to meet our team and prepare our other bid client, the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup Bid, for their Final Presentation to FIFA on 2 December, but that’s another story.  I was working hard to keep the two different bid’s films and speeches straight in my mind.

Post presentation meeting, Belgrade. Terrence Burns with Governor Jin-sun Kim at right

After the Belgrade re-cap meeting, I had one of the most extraordinary conversations I’ve ever had with a bid client.   Chairman Cho cleared the room to speak to me alone.  This is the gist of the conversation.

Chairman Cho:  “I know I did not do well yesterday…”

Me:  “No, you didn’t and it may have cost us a couple of votes…what happened…you were good in rehearsal…”

Chairman Cho: “I got nervous.  Even though I am fluent, presenting in English is still very difficult.  Listen – I do not need to speak.  In fact if I am not good enough, please tell me.  I don’t need the recognition – I am a busy, successful person. I am doing this bid because the president of my country asked me to, and he said to me “we cannot lose again”.  I want us to win too, but I will NOT be a reason that we lose.  If you want me to just sit on the stage and smile, I will be happy to do so…”

I was taken aback.

In most bids there is no small amount of infighting amongst the bid leadership as to who gets the most “air time” during a presentation.  Some people even keep track of the length of other speakers’ speeches – really.  I have even felt that some bid leaders were more interested in their own personal agenda than the bid’s.  That is why this conversation was so refreshing – and invigorating.  Chairman Cho meant it.  He had no ego in this – he simply wanted to win for his country.

Whatever differences Chairman Cho and I had up until then, and there were a few, simply vanished in my mind.  I really respected what he said.  I committed to him, and to myself, to help him work harder.  And he did work harder – he was tireless.  Once, he called me at home and asked if I had seen the new film” The King’s Speech”.  I said “yes”.  He said, “good…that’s you and me” and then he hung up.  Y H didn’t waste words.

We hired a London-based English language elocution firm to assist, but in the end it was simply Chairman Cho and I, or even more so, Chairman Cho and Theresa Rah practicing hours on end to improve his English pronunciation and presentation skills. The progress he made from Acapulco to Durban was extraordinary. When someone wants to succeed that badly, it is an inspiration to everyone else on the team.

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 11.23.16 AM2010 was drawing to a close and we set our sights on what we had to accomplish in 2011.

After three presentations in 2010, we knew we had a strong central message that so far, no other bid was able to counter effectively.

“New Horizons” was turning out to be something powerful and differentiating, but we still had not been able to communicate it fully, yet.  We would, in time.

We knew our strengths and weaknesses.  And most importantly, the intangible feeling of settling into a real “team” was beginning to take place.  Often it takes the “heat of battle” to draw people together, to get them to assemble and follow one true banner of leadership and direction.

We had been humbled; yet thanks to the unique Korean culture, we persevered with great patience.  That culture, and working with our Korean colleagues for almost two years, proved a powerful lesson for me, personally.

As we prepared for the last year of the campaign, it was evident that we were well on our way to being “competitive” in the race.  And for the first time we were gaining a little momentum – and more importantly, confidence.

But I still did not know if we could really win; that would not come until later.

Next:  Presentation Overdrive


Special thanks to Stratos Safioleas for use of his photos and review/edit/memory help. Stratos served PyeongChang 2014 and 2018 as their external International Media and Social Media Advisor.

Special thanks as well to Theresa Rah, for her review/edit/memory help.








Third Time’s The Charm – Part I

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IOC President Jacques Rogge and PyeongChang 2018 Chairman Y H Cho sign the 2018 Winter Games Host City Contract, 6 July 2011 Durban, South Africa

PyeongChang’s 2018 Path to Victory

Part I:  Autumn 2009 – SportAccord Dubai 2010

Terrence Burns ©2014

As I have written many, many times – consultants and advisors do not win Olympic bids; Bid Committees win bids.  To do so they must have a great team, great leadership, great relationships throughout the Olympic Movement, a great technical plan, a great message and the ability to communicate that message to the Olympic Family in a myriad of effective ways throughout the course of the campaign.

This series of four articles is about the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games bid’s journey to victory from my perspective as an external advisor consulting on the bid’s brand messaging strategy (helping the bid define the answer to “Why PyeongChang?”).  I was also responsible for the development and preparation of PyeongChang 2018’s presentations to the Olympic Family.

Many other crucial moving parts of the bid were working hard as well, simultaneous with our team’s efforts during the course of our almost two years together.  The bid’s administration, technical planning, communications, international relations, and sport and venues teams to name a few worked equally hard in their respective areas to ensure the final, victorious result in Durban.

Can we be friends?

Our first meeting with the PyeongChang 2018 bid was a brief one.  The meeting took place in an almost springtime snowstorm, with Governor Jin Sun Kim at the Denver SportAccord during March 2009.  Governor Kim (Governor of Gangwon Province, where PyeongChang is located) was the instigator, driving force and leader of PyeongChang’s two previous bids, 2010 and 2014 respectively – both of those bids almost won, by the way.  I worked for Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014, both of whom eventually defeated PyeongChang.  Given those facts I wasn’t really sure how the meeting would go.

During the discussion, Governor Kim listened politely and nodded periodically.  He spoke to us through his interpreter, though without committing to anything.  I remember thinking that he seemed very tired – time zones are a killer.  At the end of the meeting I wasn’t really sure what, if anything had been accomplished.

Only later did I learn that Governor Kim was listening acutely, very well indeed.  Although I’d worked closely with Koreans many years before (I worked for Meridian Management, the IOC’s marketing agency in 1997 when Samsung joined the TOP Program), this meeting with Governor Kim reminded me again about the particulars of Korean business meeting etiquette. Today, by the way, Governor Kim is President & CEO of the PyeongChang 2018 Organizing Committee.

Over the course of the next few months we began a dual dialogue with both PyeongChang and Munich.  Truth be told, my heart was with Munich because of my German wife, my love for the country (I worked there in 1991 with Delta Air Lines) and the city of Munich.  Munich’s young bid was, as are most bids at that stage, somewhat chaotic with two initial leaders, Mr. Bernard Schwank and Mr. Richard Adams.  PyeongChang’s team was no less confusing with various powerful entities jostling for internal influence and control of the bid.

In September of 2009, we flew to Seoul to present for the first time.  The initial PyeongChang bid team now included personnel from Korean Air because Korean Air’s Chairman, Y H Cho, was selected to co-Chair the 2018 bid with Governor Kim.  I particularly recall meeting Mr. Jiyoung Jung for the first time who would become a true friend as well as a colleague. The scope of requested work changed a few times – first PyeongChang wanted us to include a PR and Communications partner, and then they asked us to compete against a PR and Communications partner.

This is not unusual.  Young bids generally have little understanding of the bid process, the work ahead, the skills they will need, the roles of advisors and the work that they could/should perform.  And, consultants who claim credit for and/or exaggerate their work performed on previous bids often exacerbate this confusion.  CV inflation is the most reckless, profuse and hidden Olympic “sport”.   Lesson for future bid cities:  extensively check references with former Bid CEOs.

Pitching a new bid committee is an exhaustive and often expensive exercise.  For example, we made three trips and presentations to the Tokyo 2016 bid and believed, based on our final meeting, that we were hired. We were so certain that we bought Japanese mobile phones for our team (Japan had a proprietary telecommunications platform at the time).  We weren’t hired, and I heard about buying those phones from my colleagues for years.

Pitching a bid can be exhausting as well because not only are you trying to explain what you do, what you have done and what you can do for a bid, you are often walking a thin line explaining (because bids always ask) what a competitor did or did not do on a previous bid.

For the record: when asked, I shoot straight; never denigrate, but always educate.

A logo for dessert

We were having dinner in Seoul at a Korean barbeque restaurant during the period we were still negotiating with PyeongChang.  Earlier that day, the bid committee told us they were ready to select a logo.  More often than not, new bids tend get this process wrong.  To get to a serviceable logo, one should begin with a brand assessment and positioning exercise.  This work then “informs” the designers so that their visual interpretation of the brand is consistent with its mission, vision and values.

But as I said, this rarely happens.

Usually someone decides that a friend or colleague can create a logo cheaply, or, they farm it out to a few designers with virtually no real briefing for the design.  The designers are left to their own devices and we get bid logos that sometimes defy logic.

But I digress; back to the PyeongChang 2018 bid logo.

We expressed our “concerns” that they plowed ahead with logo development before the bid’s brand assessment and positioning work. We asked, “What is the logo trying to express? What part of the PyeongChang 2018 vision is it trying to articulate?”  They listened politely and seemed to understand our points.

Later, at the aforementioned dinner (again, before we were hired) three gentlemen entered the crowded restaurant with 3 large advertising boards.  Each board had a single, different version of a potential PyeongChang 2018 logo.

They cleared the table in front of me and said, “Mr. Burns, would you please tell us which logo you think is best?”  No set up, no explanation of each designer’s intent – just a cold presentation to a jet-lagged foreigner with several Korean beers in him.  I chose one, admittedly purely subjectively, and it eventually became the PyeongChang logo – whether or not my choice had anything to do with it, I do not know. By the way, the logo worked out just fine.


PyeongChang 2018 did eventually win, so I guess we can save the debate about the efficacy of brand positioning work for logo development for a later post – or, maybe even the efficacy of bid logos in general.

As an aside, I remember asking why are you spelling “PyeongChang” with a capital “C” in the middle of the name?

“We don’t want to be confused with Pyongyang…in North Korea,”someone answered.

“Ah”, I said; and the capital “C” stuck.

Finally Official

In late 2009, we had a final meeting/presentation with bid Co-Chairman Cho in the Korean Air headquarters in downtown Seoul. His daughter, Emily,  a Korean Air marketing executive attended as well, and although not part of the bid committee she was extremely helpful to us throughout the campaign. We also had our final meeting with the Korean NOC.

In early January of 2010, we went on a venue tour in PyeongChang.  I was on crutches from a little motorcycle mishap, and I remember standing on the icy ledge at the top of the ski jump.  I think the Koreans were nervous that I would fall off.  Perhaps that is why PyeongChang 2018 finally hired us – maybe they thought we were just as desperate as they were for PyeongChang to finally win. Time to go to work.

The Bid Committee had already written the Application File (they had two solid, previous versions as a foundation).  Their technical plan was very good, not as attractive as Munich’s due to Germany’s existing winter sports infrastructure, but certainly very good.

What they lacked was a story and an answer to the question “Why PyeongChang?”

The first real challenge I recall was the IOC Teleconference after the submission of the Applicant File. The bid team already had sectional heads for each functional area, virtually all of whom were academics with excellent knowledge of their subject areas, but with minimal Games or Olympic Movement experience.

This short teleconference presentation to the IOC is designed to give the IOC a better understanding of the bid’s motivation and vision as well as its general technical and operational plans in as an efficient and affordable manner as possible.

PyeongChang 2018 IOC Teleconference

Some of the speakers had taken part in previous PyeongChang bids and a lot of the technical material was simply updated and refreshed from PyeongChang 2014’s bid – which was fine, they were able to show progress with each successive bid.

PyeongChang 2018 IOC Teleconference

As I read the drafts, again what was missing for me was the answer to “Why PyeongChang?”

Message Matters – A lot

As background, the 2010 and 2014 PyeongChang bids relied heavily on the message of the Winter Games as a peaceful means to unify the Korean peninsula.  Now, there is no doubt that this is a vital geo-political issue, and it is a very personal and passionate issue for the Korean people.  But there’s just one problem:  the message had no real relevance to the Olympic Movement or for the Winter Games.

While working for Vancouver and Sochi, we knew this – and we were able to exploit it with clear, powerful value propositions that illustrated what each of these two cities could provide to the Olympic Movement and to winter sport.

I tried to adapt the presentation remarks (they were already written) around a concept that was taking shape in my mind, but was by no means a formal brand or communications platform, yet.  At this point we could only adjust the texts, not re-write them (it’s easier to re-write than “fix by editing”, by the way, if one has the time).

I flew to Seoul to be in the room with them (off camera) for a few hours of presentation training, and the Q&A.  The presentation went fine.


Then we got serious about creating the answer to the question, “Why PyeongChang?”

Initially, I received a great deal – a great deal – of pushback from some members of PyeongChang 2018 regarding the bid’s positioning and its brand platform.

It was difficult to make them understand that this brand work would serve as the very foundation for every single piece of PyeongChang 2018 communication over the course of the bid (speeches, brochures, press releases, presentations, advertising, direct mail, website, Bid Books, etc.).  It is important to undergo a rigorous process to get it right because in the end, a clear and singular message is a bid’s only true point of differentiation from competitor bids.

We were competing against one of the greatest cities in the world, Munich, (the perceived “front runner” in the race up until a few months before the selection was made in July 2011) and a country, Germany, with a winter sports heritage and facilities second to none.


Munich 2018 also had a sophisticated bid committee, led by the extraordinarily competent Bernard Schwank, the extraordinarily popular Olympic Champion, Katarina Witt – and, for good measure, extraordinarily well-known and highly experienced German IOC member and IOC Vice President (then rumored to be the next IOC president) Thomas Bach.  And, they had the Alps.  It just didn’t seem fair.

We were also competing with another alpine gem, Annecy, France.  Led initially by Olympic champion Edgar Grospiron, and then Charles Beigbeder, Annecy’s bid also offered bonafide winter sport credentials that PyeongChang could not compete with on a head to head basis.  Annecy was also a stunning site for the Winter Games: picture postcard perfect.


But the Annecy bid suffered from a venue plan that many considered “too spread out” to be efficient. Nevertheless, we  knew that the French could host a magnificent Winter Games and, they knew their way around the Olympic Family and the world of Winter Sport.

We considered both cities real competitors for the crown up until the last moments in Durban.

But I knew that we helped Sochi defeat Salzburg under similar “image” constraints – we just needed our own story.

One evening at home in Atlanta I spent hours on the phone, literally, arguing with a few members of the bid committee on the other side of the world about a suggested tagline for the bid.  Someone wanted a tagline called “A Bigger Winter”.  Even after accounting for translation and transliteration, I tried to gently explain why I thought “A Bigger Winter” was not a good idea in the context of this bid campaign.

If you have conducted business in Korea, gentle doesn’t always work.  Koreans are passionate – which is why I enjoy working with them.  You always know where you stand.  So, I gave up on being gentle.  We all agreed that we would wait until I delivered a new PyeongChang 2018 brand model before we addressed the “tagline” issue again.

The Journey to New Horizons

We all met for the first time as “the PyeongChang 2018 team” in Vancouver for the Games.  Vancouver was Chairman Cho’s first major Olympic experience as head of the bid committee and we were all getting used to each other.  Bid Cities at Olympic Games are a bit like new kids on the first day of school.  They know they are supposed to be there, but aren’t sure what it is they are supposed to be doing (or what the IOC will allow them to do).

In Vancouver I was also introduced to a young woman named Theresa Rah.  Theresa, I was told, was the new Communications Director.  Little did I know that Theresa would become my creative muse for the bid’s story, and the anchor for PyeongChang presentations over the next 17 months.

In Vancouver I gave a presentation on Olympic branding and PyeongChang, and we agreed  that I would present the final PyeongChang 2018 brand model to the entire team at SportAccord in Dubai in April.

By Dubai, the bid committee included representation from the Korean NOC, Gangwon Province personnel, members of previous bids and new bid members from Korean Air; it was a heady, complex mix of factions.

Y S Park, then head of the Korean NOC and a strong and consistent advocate of our work, was present as well with his excellent team lead by John Moon and Seihwa “Bonnie” Kim.  Governor Kim was also in the room with his team, led by Byungnam Lee and Zoo-Whang Kim.

By this time PyeongChang had hired other consultants such as Vero, Stratos Safioleas (Stratos was onboard from the beginning and had in fact worked on the 2014 bid), Charlie Battle, Young-Sook Lee, and Laszlo Vajda to name a few.  Cheil Communications also had a team led by Jooho Kim, Jace Oh and Alexis Choo.

The brand presentation I shared that day was a 110-page PowerPoint deck.  That’s a lot of pages for anyone to sit through, especially listening to what may be one’s second or third language (or via a translator).Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 11.59.49 AM

But it had to be done to prove why the old messaging would not work and why new messaging was required to win. It also had to be done with painstaking detail and metrics.

It had to be done precisely and with supporting documentation because that is what Korean people respect and expect, and it is how they conduct their own work.

And it is why the muddy fields of emptiness, death and destruction, in which my father toiled for three years as a young soldier in the Korean War, now comprise one of the most modern, dynamic and exciting cities in the world – Seoul.

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Seoul, Korea 2010

Measuring Opinions Qualitatively and Quantitatively 

I took the team through the PyeongChang 2018 brand research.

The words most highly associated and relevant to the words Korea/Korean people:

Family, Corruption, Precise, Hopeful, Hard working, Insular and Aggressive

I showed them what foreigners thought about Koreans, and we talked about how to build this research into a “story” for PyeongChang 2018.

Hard working = making and keeping promises

Precise (intelligent) = best plan for 2018

Dynamic = fast growing economy, new markets for winter sport

I showed them purposefully simplistic images of old thinking and perceptions of Korea versus the new Korea today. 

For example, many non-Asians think of this when they think about Korean Culture…

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or this…

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But not about this…

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or this…

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I showed them how foreigners around the world and people within the Movement perceived them and their country – including the previous bids.  And while it is true that cars, mobile phones, refrigerators, ships and all manner of manufactured goods are made in Korea…she, the girl pictured below, is also “Made in Korea” along with millions of other young, hip, Koreans just like her.

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This was not an easy discussion.

We had many veterans of those previous bids in the room.

There were a few uncomfortable moments of silence.

The Road Ahead

But we had only one chance of defeating Munich and it had to be predicated on creating our own story and evaluation set.  If left to comparisons with Munich’s architectural beauty, cultural attractions, leisure options, dining and shopping opportunities – let alone the sporting venues – PyeongChang would lose again.  We had to create something new, something imaginative that could nullify or at least blunt Munich’s many strengths.

We had to look outward instead of inward.  This meant we would not be mentioning reunification of the Korean peninsula as a key message for the bid.   Again, that was not an easy or popular message to deliver, but it’s what we get paid to do.

I watched the reactions and tried to read the room. I was keenly interested in Chairman Cho’s perception of the message I was delivering, especially given that he was pictured in one photo example of the “old” Korea!  Thankfully, he was in total support. He understood branding and marketing very well as head of a global airline, and he understood that we had to be modern and international in our image going forward.

There was also plenty of words of agreement and support, both from many Koreans in the room and from my fellow foreign colleagues, all of whom knew this was exactly the path that we had to take.

At the end of the presentation, we conducted an exploration in “taglines” and key messages.  We recommended about 5-6 taglines, and I remember specifically leaning towards the concept of “Dream Big.”  I liked the connotation of it; how it related to the people of Korea and the miracle that they have created in the last 60 or so years.

I liked the way it spoke to “persistence” – this was their third bid and they were not giving up.  And I liked the unexpected nature of this bold, modern, international message for a PyeongChang bid because I thought it would surprise the Olympic Movement. (Spoiler Alert: “Dream Big” did not make the cut, it was in use already commercially)

As the presentation drew to a close I felt a general sense of relief in the room – certainly I was glad to have it over.  I felt a lot of “buy-in” from the team.  They understood the call for a new energy, a new dynamic and a new way of thinking about a PyeongChang  Olympic bid.

I admit that the one person I was most concerned about offending was Governor Kim; after all, he led the two previous bids.  Much of my presentation was a comparison of the old versus the new messages.  I was afraid he might take it personally.

Nothing could have been further from the truth; he was a gentleman.

At the end of the presentation he thanked me and said, in English, “…well done, good job – I liked it…” He also liked “Dream Big” as a tagline – I think he and I, alone in the room, liked that option.

As a footnote, Governor Kim was the only person in the bid who sent me a thank you letter after PyeongChang’s victory in Durban.  I received many emails and calls from my friends in the bid, but Governor Kim’s was the only “official” letter of thanks that I ever received– from anyone, in Korea.  It was a gracious gesture.  I still have it.

At the end of SportAccord, the bid team had very good understanding of PyeongChang 2018’s new brand positioning, its new key messages and the answer to “Why PyeongChang?”

We had our story.

We had our answer to “Why PyeongChang?”

And we had our new tagline.

We called it “New Horizons

Now we just had to put it into practice, which is always harder than it appears.

Next:  Part II – 2010 – The Year of Patience and Humility