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regarding the 2010 Olympics
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  Leverage Olympic Momentum
MEDIA BOOGYMEN
TAXES SKYROCKET - BUSINESSES CLOSE


Brian Krieger - GM 2010 Commerce CentreTo learn how the Media, the Olympics and BIG business work in partnership towards a common goal I'll walk you through a series of seemingly disparate, but connected issues and events ...

I had another opportunity to hear Brian Krieger speak (he's the GM of the 2010 Commerce Centre & pictured at the left). This time around he addressed members and guests of the Environmental Managers Association of BC at the Fairmont Hotel May 26, 2005. It was low-key and thankfully without the Olympic boosterism video to kick off his talk.

At the end of his session Krieger invited questions from the floor so I asked him what Olympic organizations were doing to ensure we would not experience the same environmental debacles as Salt Lake City. (i.e. 11th hour clear-cutting of forest to create temporary parking lots in order to compensate for a failure to provide busses to transport sport fans from Salt Lake City over the Wasatch Mountains to Olympic venues.) In case you haven't heard, instead of bussing spectators as first planned, thousands of fans at the last minute and in the middle of winter drove personal and rental cars on less-than-adequate twisting turning highways that soon became riddled with pot holes. It's difficult to get exact numbers, but it's been reported that environmental budgets in Utah were chopped from 5 million to 1.5 million in order to channel money to Olympic venues and operations.

Krieger started his response to my question with the old, "That's a good question" stall, and in a laboured cordial tone went on to say he didn't know what the specific plans were regarding the Sea to Sky and private vehicles. I'm surprised he doesn't know because it's described in detail in the 2010 Bid. He ended with a disclaimer that it wasn't his job to know, and that VANOC directors would have more information in this regard.

You might think it was a fair enough answer, but when you consider that environmental management is an integral part of planning for the Olympics and that many of the companies involved are small and midsize, Krieger's answer was inadequate. He should at least offer a viable comment before tossing out a disclaimer. If I wanted a political tap dance I could have asked Paul Martin, or Stephen what's-his-name.

I learned later from EMA members who hold executive and engineering positions in waste management that they are not being engaged in the manner they expected by Olympic organizations to do preliminary environmental impact studies of Olympic venues. Two executives from competing companies concurred that they were not aware of independent RFPs regarding environmental studies for Olympic venues that are about to start construction. Something is wrong here. Either, a) these guys are mistaken or out of the loop (which I doubt), b) the work is being channeled through unconventional methods, or c) the work isn't being managed properly from square one. I'll try to have more regarding this issue later. Stay tuned. Maybe my big cousins with big budgets in mainstream media can scope this out for us and offer a d) ?!?

Past Krieger presentations, and this one was no exception, allude to how the 2010 Commerce Centre will illuminate opportunities for a variety of businesses in the region, so I followed up with a second question regarding whether or not the Sea to Sky would be closed during the Games, and he "very reluctantly, half-agreed that it probably was the plan", but again stated it was a question better answered by VANOC. However, he did say the opportunities for companies in cities like Squamish were more related to products and services needed in the "ramp up to the Games" and smiled as he finally admitted that merchants in the area would be disappointed if they mistakenly believed tens of thousands of tourists would be stopping in to browse. Wow, I wonder where they got that idea Mr. Krieger? He must have read my newsletter last month because he explained almost word for word my description of what the real opportunities are for businesses on the Sea to Sky corridor, which by-the-way was quite a bit different than what he spoke of at the Squamish Chamber in April.

Something else I find very interesting is Krieger's anecdotally styled request for everyone in BC to become more MEDIA SAVVY and that business owners and their employees should be prepared to offer positive stories to "unaccredited media" who will soon be in our midst -- and to use his intonation, preying on us for deep dark secrets that will make us look less-than-Olympic caliber. It struck me that Krieger and Olympic organizations should not simply be warning SMBs (small and midsize businesses) to get up to media speed, instead they should be OFFERING FREE TRAINING, and in fact go a step further to ENTICE business operators to make sure they learn how to deal with media. They should teach by example, not lecture, and they should do it today. It's not easy to learn how to deal professionally with the media.

Krieger is absolutely right to warn SMBs that they had better learn basic media skills and become more globally attuned, and that the Olympic microscope is upon us which means international journalists are already pricking their antennae looking for stories that will embarrass BC and Canada. For proof all you have to do is recall what happened in Utah when the bribery scandal broke a few years before their Games. Contrary to what the uninformed might think, SLC never recovered. To make matters worse, once media latched on to a wounded animal they started to uncover all kinds of stories from the street including reports from business owners who were going bankrupt and that the Olympics was the worst thing that ever happened to their small and midsize companies. Once these stories started to surface media had a field day.

There were even reports from out-of-town bus, taxi and limo drivers hired by the Olympics who refused to ferry around media because they were scared to be ridiculed on the front-page of newspapers or on worldwide TV broadcasts because they got lost in a strange town. Getting lost seems unimportant until you realize that drivers are transporting not only hundreds of thousands of fans, but also thousands of Olympic officials and athletes who really cannot afford to be late. You probably also don't realize that Vancouver / Whistler will have to hire drivers from all over the country and even the world during the Games - same goes for catering, cleaning, security workers, etc. -- we don't have enough here. And if you think that international unaccredited media are tough on drivers, just wait until they glom on to Vancouver's East Side nightmare or our penchant for smoking pot or that a sizable proportion of our population is growing increasingly more house and tax-poor every day. Once these stories start to circulate attracting capital investment to our province will slide over a cliff into the Burrard Inlet.

If you cringe when someone refers to you as a Lotus Eater, Granola Muncher or Wild West Space Cowboy, you ain't heard nothin' yet. If instead you want to be regarded as business-sophisticated and worldly, my advice is to take Krieger's advice. Regardless of his delivery -- he is right.

It takes time and professional training to become media savvy. But if Krieger and Olympic organizations are really worried about what inexperienced business operators will say to media they should take responsibility for educating the business community. You can't force businesses to do it. They need incentive. Krieger's anemic scare tactics won't light a fire because most businesses simply don't get it. How could they, especially when Olympic organizations and "sponsor-newspapers-in-waiting" sugarcoat the spectacle?

If you don't understand the "sugarcoat" reference take a look at the Vancouver Sun's Saturday June 11 edition. It's a good example of media working in partnership with Olympic organizations to lead residents to believe that everything is OK in Lotus Land. On the front page, headlines scream "Homeowners are B.C.'s new millionaires." The article explains that house prices have shot up so dramatically since 2003 that the number of million dollar homes has jumped by a whopping 111.3%. They boastfully report that in 2003 there were 5,776 single-family homes worth $1 million, and now there are more than 12,205 homes worth $1 million. BTW, all-time real estate sales volume records were broken the month after the Olympic bid was won.

The headline leads readers to believe that artificially inflated house prices are a good thing, but what they don't say is that this spike in real estate is driven by Olympic frenzy and is totally predictable. It may not be the only reason for rising prices, but it is exactly what happens in most Olympic regions. I've been cautioning SMBs about this since 2003 -- Sydney Australia is a perfect, well-documented case and so is Salt Lake City. When you put Olympic frenzy in proper perspective, the overall impact of artificially inflated property values is easier to appreciate. The resulting tax-hike is a financial nightmare for businesses, homeowners and renters. (Look soon too for rental prices to skyrocket -- more on this in future issues.) The Sun fails to adequately alert readers that once the frenzy dies down house prices level off and in some cases drop -- while taxes remain high and landlords hold everyone hostage. The only people maintaining millionaire status are the few who sell today, plus of course real estate companies, developers, and bankers. They are making a killing -- all of them by the way invest heavily in newspaper advertising. Somehow those salient points slipped by the Sun's reportage.

On the front page of the same edition in the "C" section the Sun once again screams in HUGE bold headlines, "THESE HOUSES ARE WORTH MORE THAN $1,000,000 AND THERE ARE 12,200 MORE LIKE THEM IN B.C. (their upper case type face, not mine). This second two and a half full pages article goes on to describe once again how fortunate B.C. residents are to be experiencing such a windfall. It is equated to winning the lottery and coincidentally is very similar in tone to how the same style of "windfall" was reported in the Olympic sponsored Sydney Herald in the years preceding the 2000 Summer Games. It's not new or surprising news to anyone who has done a bit of research regarding real estate trends in pre-Olympic regions. Would it kill the Sun to tell us upfront that this happens in other Olympic regions and that it is not necessarily a good thing for the community at large?

Interestingly, buried on page 3 of the Sun in section "C" at the bottom of the page is a short story of homeowners who are fearful because their new "windfall" will raise taxes so high that they have no choice but to sell homes they have lived in for dozens of years. Even more interesting, the Sun chose to use as examples homeowners from swank Point Grey. The average house-poor person in the GVRD could care less about what the wellheeled are experiencing, and this slick maneuver by the Sun dances around the fact that all property taxes will eventually match new assessments. If the Sun wanted to report a fair and balanced story they should have included the following headline on the front page along with the misleading spin they foisted upon unsuspecting readers. OLYMPIC FRENZY WINDFALL DRIVES UP TAXES - HOMEOWNERS WHO CAN'T PAY WILL LOSE HOMES!

I can't emphasize this more -- if you buy into the Sun's front-page assault you will put yourself at a disadvantage. Don't say you weren't warned when your company flounders because you can't afford taxes or the rent increases in lock step with property values. It happens in all Olympic regions and it's happening here too. North Vancouver SMBs are already experiencing tax increases of over 40%, but the Sun is doing a good job of emphasizing only one side of the story. (NEWS UPDATE: Finally, 6 days after the MILLION DOLLAR HOMES hype-fest the Sun ran an article about North Van businesses being subjected to 40%+ tax increases) If you think this is odd, read my article about Media, John Furlong and the new 2010 logo Ilanaaq the Inukshuk (You can also find the link in the left column at the top of the page -- Media Panders to Furlong). Relationships between newspapers, Olympic organizations and the public are more complex than you imagine.

It's no secret that BC is insular. In fact most residents pride themselves on being gloriously wedged between the mountains and the ocean, and cutoff from the rest of the world. If you want to leverage Olympic momentum this attitude has to change. Ironically, Krieger's admonishment of being media-challenged amounts to little more than a threat when you consider that Olympic organizations got us into this mess in the first place. He shouldn't be criticizing, he should be helping. Brian Krieger should be offering free media training by dangling a carrot for small and midsize businesses that will provide owners with skills to raise the visibility of their companies and help grow their business, while at the same time improving their media skills relative to the Olympics. If SMBs had access to a media trainer with international experience everyone would win. Unfortunately the more you learn about Olympic organizations the more you will realize that when it comes to small and midsize businesses, win/win isn't in the Olympic vocabulary.

If you doubt it all you have to do is look at the Olympia restaurant on Denman St. Instead of exploring a mutually agreeable resolution with the small pizza and souvlaki restaurant, true to form, the COC and VANOC hit them hard right out of the gate with threatening letters from corporate lawyers. Surprisingly though, this feisty little business stood it's ground and is tenuously holding the big Olympic machine at bay. Is this win/win? Could the Olympic organization have engineered a more tasteful solution for everyone, including the reputation of our region? Personally and professionally -- I'm behind the Olympia. I hope they make a statement for businesses in every Olympic region around the world. You might also find it interesting to know that the Vancouver Sun is the only large local mainstream media company that has not given equal time to the Olympia restaurant's side of the story, coincidence - highly unlikely.

Some smart companies take it upon themselves to become more globally attuned because they realize the Olympics offers an incredible opportunity to grow their businesses -- it will be the least work they ever do for the most gain. We've done extensive research and know that a frighteningly high percentage of business operators in some vertical sectors in BC mistakenly feel they have absolutely nothing to gain regarding the Olympics. Even worse though, they don't realize they have so much to loose.

The Olympics is coming whether you like it or not. If you think you can simply burying your head in the sand or play dodge ball you're mistaken. Journalists will search you and your industry out, and either help you or hurt you. The choice is yours.

Are you really that averse to being featured on a television broadcast or radio show, or having a complimentary quote on the cover of the New York Times, or the Guangzhou Daily (Beijing's largest newspaper), or maybe the Globe and Mail? Unless you speak the language and make an effort you could be quoted all right, but not in the manner you envision.

Learn to speak media, and most importantly learn to trust that media will do the right thing if you converse with them professionally. Media is a business, and they have an agenda. It's your job to align yourself with the agenda that complements you. The more you know about how media works, the better you will be able to position your company. A little knowledge goes a long way.

Tips to improve your media skills . . . click here

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SEA TO SKY CORRIDOR FOLLOW-UP

I explored above, and also in a previous issue (Brian Krieger 2010 Commerce) the twists, turns and surprises lying in wait for businesses in the Sea to Sky Corridor. Your responses were interesting. Most business operators had no idea how complicated their lives would become as the Olympics approached. They also didn't have a clue it costs more to operate a business in an Olympic region.

Some were also surprised to learn that plans to close the Sea to Sky during the Olympics to everyone but local residents, official Olympic vehicles and spectator-busses have been on the books from day one.

Your responses truly underscore how much SMBs really don't know.

A number of documents exist regarding plans for the Sea to Sky, and if you would like to see for yourself there are "official" documents hosted online by Olympic organizations. I included a link below. You can find the "Closing Highway" article on page 13 in the right column, second paragraph. It's one of many examples. You can also go to the VANOC site and search for documentation that will corroborate our reports.

In case you don't have Acrobat on your computer I copied the segment from page 13 of the Olympic.org document, it reads verbatim -

"During the Games, the Sea to Sky Highway will be closed to all traffic except 1) residents of communities along the highway, 2) controlled off-peak hour delivery and commercial vehicles, 3) Olympic Family vehicles, and 4) dedicated spectator buses."

This is the PDF link.
You will need Acrobat to read it.


If you qualify, VANOC plans to issue special stickers for your vehicles so you can get through anti-terrorist security checkpoints -- similar to what Olympic organizations proposed in Salt Lake City in 2002. Utah also planned to close highways through the Wasatch Mountains to private vehicles, but the SLC Olympic organizing committee dropped the ball and ended up causing substantial environmental damage. At the last minute they had to clear cut Wasatch Mountain forest to provide parking space. It was a debacle for residents and small businesses alike when Olympic organizations couldn't lease enough busses to follow through with their plans. Yes it sounds silly and improbable, but the 2002 Games were so woefully mismanaged that when Olympic organizations couldn't contract enough busses to support their transportation plans they panicked and scrapped plans midstream.

As we've maintained from the beginning, if you want to leverage Olympic momentum you have to start now and develop ways to capitalize on the increased attention being directed at the region leading up to the Games over the next five years. Because rest assured, if you don't search it out, it's not going to find you. Also, don't trust anyone, especially the government or Olympic organizations to deliver anything promised.

Make sure you also read the MEDIA BOOGYMEN article above to see how Krieger responded when I asked him directly whether the Sea to Sky would be open to the general public during the Games.


* We invested over three years and a six-figure budget researching Olympic organization relationships with sponsors, contractors, suppliers, partners, etc. The results surprised us too -- mouseover below

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Olympic organizations are
BIG BUSINESS MACHINES that attract corporations like Kodak, CocaCola, McDonald's, Wal*Mart, etc. Consequently, VANOC (Vancouver Organizing Committee) will be stretched thin trying to also develop ways to assist small and midsize businesses leverage Olympic momentum. Surprisingly, many people don't realize the event can also be lucrative for smaller businesses including agriculture, manufacturers, entertainment, technology, retail & obviously tourism, even when they don't have products or services that appeal to Olympic fans or serve a direct Olympic need.


The information we share here is invaluable in helping small and midsize businesses leverage Olympic momentum.

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