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MEDIA PANDERS TO FURLONG
ILANAAQ THE INUKSHUK TAKES A HIT
Will the Vancouver Sun ever
quit pandering to John Furlong?
Probably not . . . ;-)
John Furlong, CEO VANOC, landed a 3/4-page commentary in the "A" section
of the Sun on May 25, 2005 defending Ilanaaq the Inukshuk.
Why the Sun would give Furlong free rein in their space is beyond me,
unless of course they are sucking up. Egad, tell me it isn't so. Is the
Sun the "official clandestine" newspaper sponsor for 2010?
Most people (some media employees included) don't realize it, but in every
Olympic region eventually one or two newspapers are under Olympic contract
to spin the "Olympic version" of the Olympic story. In most cases the
reportage is biased and referred to in the industry as "checkbook journalism."
Noam Chomsky characterizes this type of media sponsorship as a "necessary
illusion." Newspapers in Olympic regions pay to become sponsors just like
Visa or Coca Cola, and as a result they sign agreements legally preventing
them from spreading or reporting disparaging information about the Olympics.
The strategy makes sense for sponsor companies like Bell, RBC, Petro-Canada
or Rona (you shouldn't speak poorly of your partners even if it is true),
but when this edict is foisted upon a local newspaper, conflict-of-interest
questions come into play. Your mother's admonishment of, "If you can't
say something good, say nothing at all" rings true in the Olympic school
Bought newspaper publishers basically become cheerleaders with an unspoken
mandate to fool gullible and naïve locals. The primary function of the
newspaper is to report the news … but once they swear allegiance to the
Olympics their secondary utility is to provide direct access to the public
so Olympic organizations can conscript volunteers and a labour force.
Brace yourself for an onslaught of articles, advertisements and forms
coming your way via the local newspaper.
Don't underestimate the importance of this service. Conscripting volunteers
is way more complicated than you can imagine. I'll address the volunteer
/ cult phenomenon in future issues, but for now you should know that the
churn rate for volunteers and paid labour at past Olympic events has been
about 3 to 1, and as unbelievable as it sounds, sometimes higher. It's
well documented that many workers only last one or two days on the job
before they quit in frustration. 3 to 1 means that if the Olympic organization
needs to fill 25,000 volunteer positions, they have to collect resumes
and interview 75,000 people because they know 50,000 will quit before
the end of their term. If a newspaper reported this type of information
how successful do you think they would be in conscripting volunteers?
Have you ever wondered why you rarely see disparaging articles about the
Olympics in local mainstream newspapers? Or if you do why they are buried
in small type in section "Z" on page 48. Or even worse, all the really
controversial info in the article is placed towards the end of the article
as a disclaimer to a misleading headline. If you still believe the Olympics
is beyond reproach how do you rationalize the constant parade of doping,
bribery, and cheating judges? All of a sudden, because the Olympics is
in your region, doping, bribery and cheating isn't as bad anymore? Hopefully
you don't think that if you express something negative about the Games
that you will be ostracized by the mob. If you do you're playing right
into the hands of Olympic organizations, and if so, you deserve to pay
more for your house, not to mention suffer artificially inflated taxes
and have your business closed down during the seventeen days of the Games.
Remember, while you subsidize the Games your competitors will be lining
up at the bank to make deposits. If you have to pay for it shouldn't you
One of the reasons you haven't seen much on the front pages of local newspapers
regarding the challenging side of doing business in an Olympic region
is because Olympic organizations wait as long a possible to make public
who their media (newspaper) sponsors will be. And until they do, newspaper
publishers don't want to undermine their opportunities in case there is
a big payout looming on the horizon. By holding off regarding which newspapers
they pick, Olympic organizations keep negative press to a minimum. It
has nothing to do with Olympic organizations waiting to see which publishing
company is genuinely loyal (money buys loyalty), more importantly Olympic
organizations know they can only make deals with one or two newspapers,
and when the spurned suitors are cut loose they will turn. Hell hath no
fury like a pissed off managing editor. It's best to keep everyone guessing
as long as possible.
You might be thinking, why not tap non-media-related corporate sponsors
to pay for the advertising and logistics needed to conscript volunteers
and labour? Local newspapers wouldn't have to prostitute themselves. Today,
it probably could be done considering that the internet is so deeply ingrained
in society, but it will take a lot of courage and BIG vision to be the
first to take that plunge. Another reason newspapers have traditionally
been placed in this clandestine sponsor loop is because corporate sponsors
like Bell, RBC, Petro-Canada, HBC and Rona are in the Olympic business
to raise their visibility -- and spend the least amount of money doing
it. Keep in mind it is shareholders who run large corporations. They have
no face and no conscience, and their only goal is to make a profit. In
fact it is against the law for the directors of public companies not to
make as much profit as possible for shareholders, even if it comes at
the expense of the community. If you haven't read the book or seen the
movie yet, check out The
Corporation to get a better idea of what you're up against (it's written
by UBC Prof Joel Bakan).
The main reason newspapers are in the loop is to control the messages
distributed to the public. Sponsor newspapers are under contract to protect
the integrity of the Olympics, even if it means keeping information from
In the old days (pre-internet) checkbook journalism was easy to get away
with because competing media companies usually didn't like to rat out
the status quo. It was the "birds-of-a feather / lawyers sticking together"
syndrome. Today though, access to the public has evolved through podcasting,
blogs, electronic newsletters and independent websites -- affordable media
tools that keep everyone a bit more honest. (Aren't you glad you receive
this newsletter?) Ironically, these same tools can be used by small and
midsize business to leverage Olympic momentum. It's something you couldn't
even dream of doing a few years ago.
Pre-internet, newspapers did spill the beans regarding the impact the
Olympics had on local business, BUT NOT UNTIL they figured out that official
Olympic information was being fed to their competition (Olympic sponsor
newspapers) "before the general media populace got to see it."
Being scooped by your competition makes a newspaper look lazy. It really
gets them riled, especially in an industry that often still prides itself
in a dinosaur kind of way of being able to report the news first.
Some of us think media should clearly state before each article that they
are on the Olympic payroll, and as a result, biased. If Bell, RBC, HBC,
CTV, Petro-Canada and Rona are proud enough to display the five-ring Olympic
logo then media sponsors too should be compelled to do the same. If not,
their reportage is less than honest and little more than propaganda.
On May 25, 2005, Furlong's thinly veiled defense of Ilanaaq was condescending.
The Sun shamelessly gave him a platform to back peddle and manipulate
the average reader.
The average reader does not know that newspaper publishers cut very lucrative
deals with Olympic organizations. I'm not referring to official Olympic
media companies like television sponsor NBC. We all know where Dick Ebersol's
loyalties lie (no pun intended) and we acknowledge the relationship. He
gets paid handsomely to promote the Games, and when you know it you judge
his biased opinion accordingly.
It is the "unidentified" Olympic newspaper companies that I take exception
with because they make it impossible for local business owners and taxpayers
to come to a reasonable conclusion regarding fact and fiction -- fact
and fiction that can make or break a small business. Even though most
people don't trust media, we still tend to believe they make an effort
to live up to their journalistic oath. In a dangerous way too, we believe
what we "want" to believe, which makes this matter even worse.
Here's where it gets really interesting, because Furlong wrote the commentary
and all the Sun did was provide him with a conduit to reach the public,
the Sun can wash their hands of journalistic integrity. Pretty smooth
According to Furlong's commentary in the Sun, very few people dislike
the new logo, but if this is the case why kill so many trees defending
it? Isn't 2010 supposed to be "THE" Green Games?
Furlong actually wrote that he expected criticism over the logo, and that
"the emblems of many past games, even the beloved games of Lillehammer,
started out the same way." He might well have said, "VANOC refuses to
learn from other Olympic organization mistakes."
And that's exactly why I'm concerned, and you should be too -- VANOC doesn't
seem to be learning from other Olympic mistakes. Greece is now reeling
under a $17 billion dollar tab (10+ billion deficit). Each Greek household
is in hock for over $75,000 US. It will take generations to pay off the
debt. You might be interested to know that Montreal just paid off their
Olympic debt from 1976 - it took 28 years.
If VANOC can't get the logo controversy right what do you think will happen
when it comes to the big stuff like conscripting volunteers, negotiating
with construction associations or Teamster truckers? I like the logo,
I read the Sun every day among other publications and I'm a strong supporter
of the Olympics, but if the Games aren't managed properly the first ship
to sink will be small and midsize businesses. If we're going to do the
Olympics, let's do it right.
Furlong should not be defending Ilanaaq. Smart artists do not defend their
work and this rule of survival also applies to marketing and promotion
strategists. Create it, display it and let it stand on it's own merit.
Explaining your work only serves to undermine it.
Why cast even a shred of doubt into the minds of people who already love,
or at the very least accept the logo? Unless of course that more people
actually complained than Furlong is letting on, whereby he felt compelled
to defend it. Furlong should concentrate on managing and let someone with
stronger public relations experience step forward to spin the Olympic
story. Maybe Dick Pound was right when he said Furlong might not be up
to the challenge.
Furlong sounds like Ricky and Lucy rolled into one Bobblehead.
Ilanaaq doesn't need any 'splainin.' Furlong's job isn't to lecture. It
is to lead. A good leader makes choices that don't need complicated explanations.
A good teacher engages students through example.
'splains it best.
We've carefully documented local media for the last two years regarding
how and what they report regarding the Olympics. You'll be as surprised
as we were. Stay tuned . . .
* We invested two 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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