Sid Lee named Canadian Olympic Committee agency of record, to promote Canadian athletics beyond Olympics

Derek Kent, Canadian Olympic Committee CMO / Canadian Press

Canadians are known for being particularly polite. So, it’s not surprising that, even as the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) named Sid Lee its new agency of record, they still gave praise to the two previous agencies that helped build the brand of Canadian athletics.

“Five years ago, we started an agency search because we realized that we could, despite being a lean operation marketing-wise, find partners that wanted to use the Canadian Olympic Team as a great canvas to tell athlete stories. We did a search for agencies and Proximity BBDO was the agency that won our business and it did a great job. It did ‘Give Your Everything’ and ‘We Are Winter,’” said Derek Kent, chief marketing officer of the Canadian Olympic Committee. “Those were the two first campaigns that we did and, really, the first time the COC had ever launched a fully integrated brand campaign.”

Kent went on to praise the work of agency Cossette, which did the 'Now Or Never' campaign for the Pan Am games, and 'Ice In Our Veins,' the campaign for the Rio Olympics.

“They both did fantastic jobs for Team Canada and we owe them a debt of gratitude,” added Kent.

Indeed, the COC and their agencies have scooped up around 30 international awards for their work including a 2014 Sliver Clio Sports award for 'We Are Winter'.

Sid Lee gets in the saddle

Kent and the COC are very happy to have Sid Lee continue the work of growing the prominence of Canadian national athletics, however, including their highly successful and inspiring 'We The North' campaign for the Toronto Raptors of the NBA, which generated 160m impressions on social media in its launch season.

“We're supremely excited and looking forward to working with Sid Lee, a creative agency that is synonymous with sport. It has sport in its DNA, so it's a perfect match for us moving forward and we're really pumped,” said Kent.

Sid Lee has not only a sports penchant, but also a creative bent, having worked with Cirque du Soleil, so the agency has always looked for creative ways to promote action. Additionally, the agency’s Quebec roots inform all sides of what it means to embrace the entirety of Canada.

“What we said to them is, ‘come to us with new thinking, fresh ideas, a new lens and let's bring this Canadian Olympic Team brand even more powerfully to life.’ I think it's going to be great,” said Kent.

“We believe that the COC is at an inflection point and are incredibly proud to have been selected as a strategic partner in helping bring a new level of excitement and awareness to Canada’s efforts on the Olympic global stage. Above all, our passion for Canada and Canadian athletes will be a guiding force in creating a dynamic marketing platform in support of the COC’s desire to embrace a transformation agenda” said Joseph Barbieri, partner and managing director content, Sid Lee.

“They are an amazingly talented and creative agency. It's a great Canadian story that has gone global. For us, it was their track record of success in sports, so you look at the number of clients that they've had in sports. The ‘We The North’ campaign really captured the imagination of the country around a local, Toronto basketball team, but it tapped into a bigger insight about what it means to be Canadian and so there was that element. Also they had a real strong desire to work with us and they, obviously, are focused on sports, so for us it's a match made in heaven,” added Kent.

Winter isn’t the only Canadian wonder

The naming of Sid Lee comes in time to help promote the team at the PyeongChang, Korea Winter Olympics in 2018, then the 2020 games in Tokyo. What's compelling is geography as Sid Lee was acquired by Hakuhodo in Japan in 2015. Combined with it's Canadian/Quebecois roots, it appears to be a powerful combination of cultural insight. Add Canada's prowess, especially in the Winter Games, and it's an opportunity for all to shine.

“In winter, Canada always places well,” said Kent. “Certainly the last several games, so Vancouver in 2010 first in gold medal count and it changed the trajectory of the country in terms of support. It was okay to pound your chest and scream, ‘O Canada’ at the top of your lungs when Canada did well. Part of our mandate was we have to take all that momentum from the games in Vancouver, build on it and make sure we retain sponsorship and grow where possible.”

Kent noted that the Hudson’s Bay Company is the current outfitter of the Canadian Olympic team, and that the team always ranks near or at the top in the best-dressed category, calling out that for the summer Rio games, athletes wore mittens during the closing ceremonies and photos of the athletes made international news, including in People magazine.

Kent said that the COC’s strategy has been to invest in and grow their digital presence, which has been a success. Their social media growth has been astronomical. At the end of the 2012 London games, the Canadian team’s Facebook numbers were just over 200,000 but by the end of the 2016 Rio games, they were close to a million. Twitter numbers went up 1,611.64% over the same time, and total growth on social media was at nearly 600%.

“All told, it can reach over two million Canadians approximately with our platforms. Our digital and social team does an amazing job of telling athlete stories outside the games window and that's what we want to do and do more of,” said Kent.

Kent noted that the COC is funded 95% by the private sector and a constant goal for them is to demonstrate to the partners that the investment in the Canadian Olympic Team pays dividends. They do that by continuously delivering brand equity that's strong, deliver marketing programs that allow them to participate in, where they can share content with partners and collaborate with them on it, and do events in the lead-up to the games. One big event is a team send-off, which this latest time was at a beach at Ashbridge's Bay in Toronto.

Sid Lee is building on the COC’s current success as it enters the next quadrennial. Kent said that they would like the agency to help them tell the athlete stories even better, give a better return on investment for partners and keep the momentum going on digital and social platforms. They want to go away from siloed campaigns and have better integration, tying it all together under one big Canadian banner.

“Our brand is super strong, so how do they take what is already very, very strong and make it better? Watch this space. Stay tuned,” Kent winked.

Additional reporting by Doug Zanger

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