The driving force behind the U.S. Olympic Committee brand is Chief Marketing Officer Lisa Baird. Since joining the USOC in 2009, Baird has helped secure more than $400 million in revenue for the group. Baird had worked as senior vice president of worldwide marketing communications at IBM and senior vice president of marketing and consumer products for the NFL. Baird talked to ThePostGame about a variety of topics from how to attract American consumers, how to select Team USA sponsors and the 2024 Los Angeles Olympics bid. She will deliver a keynote presentation at the Sports Industry Networking And Career (SINC) Conference at George Washington University on Friday.
ThePostGame: What is a normal day -- and maybe there is no normal day -- like for the Chief Marketing Officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee?
LISA BAIRD: I could probably tell you I'm in a different physical place almost every day. Having said that, and with technology and being so connected with my team, it matters less and less. Even though you'd love to have a physical place to go to, and we love the office we have, I go to different places, which is great, because the Olympic movement should not be in one place. With technology, you're able to be connected with your team.
Another part of my normal day is how accessible I try to be. With an NGO, it's a different environment. You're in a life of service. Whether it's our governing body, sponsors or our executive team, part of my normal day is a tremendous amount of outreach and being in touch with people. Normal for me is to have sponsor meetings, to be meeting with my broadcast partner, NBC, to be out on the road, doing site visits, because we're really in a culture service. For me, normal is being on the road, in touch with people.
TPG: Is the USOC a non-profit or a business?
BAIRD: It's a sport property and a non-profit. It is two sides of the same coin.
TPG: How has your job changed since 2009?
BAIRD: It's expanded. At the beginning, we set into place a strategy of expansion. The biggest thing is being able to oversee a now-expanded portfolio of sponsors. We've had much more interconnectivity with our national governing bodies. We have a full-fledged media network with websites that host 25 national governing bodies with social media channels. Also, now we have a more direct linkage into a very diverse fan base.
TPG: Why is the USOC important to the American consumer?
BAIRD: There's a couple of reasons. The Olympic and Paralympic Team ... in one sense, they are incredible, aspirational role models. They are everything that we admire and respect and yet, in them, we see us, because they are Americans. They are your next door neighbor. They are the best of all us. It's a very unique relationship. It's very different from other sports. You may be a Giants fan, and I may be a Jets fans. Even though we're fans together of the same sport, our relationship is conflicted because it's all about win-loss. There's a very entertaining and enjoyable aspect about being a professional sports team fan. The Olympic team, you're all rooting together for one team. It's the ability of the Olympic team to bring us together that a unique appeal. While you are rooting for that team or person to win a gold medal, you don't hear win-lose as much. The Olympics is about bringing nations together, not winning or losing.
TPG: How would you judge the current publicity of Olympic Sports?
BAIRD: It's growing. We continue to grow in the visibility profile and the way we do it is by putting everything into one common communication. In the past, we may have a delegation of athletes at the Olympic Games. Now, it's about what they are doing year-round. People are following the U.S. Women's National Team in the World Cup and they're looking forward to them in Rio. That's Team USA. That's been the biggest change, to get the visibility and the profile of the athlete out there. It's not at the level of their professional counterparts, but it's certainly growing and to develop followings and what I call fangelism for U.S. athletes.
TPG: What's your definition of fangelism?
BAIRD: It's a term that I coined back in 2010 because sports fans are primarily fans because they're entertained. That's great. They're entertained by a team's performance on the field or an individual's performance in a match. Our fans are different because there is a purpose to the Olympic movement. In addition to being fans, they are evangelists and influencers to our mission, which is to spread the Olympic movement. So they're fangelists. They are fans, but they're evangelizing the values and the purpose of the Olympic and Paralympic movement.
TPG: How important is the USOC for these athletes in terms of making a salary?
BAIRD: It depends. Remember, the Olympics is different because it's a diversity of sports. By the Ted Stevens Act (Amateur Sports Act of 1978), we have oversight over 46 different sports. Some sports are professional sports. The professional players want to compete for their country at the Olympic Games. Basketball, tennis, hockey, there are definitely professional athletes. Other athletes are compensated by their personal endorsement deals. We work really hard to create an ability for an athlete to be sponsored by USOC sponsors. It's very much a mission and we see that happen more and more every Olympic Games.
The most important part is our fundamental mission, which is to raise the resources privately and through donation, which fund direct support to athletes. A total of 82 cents on every dollar we raise goes to sports or athletes. It could count even more if you talk about resources -- apparel for the team, flying the team to the Olympic Games.
TPG: How careful is the process in determining what brands to align the USOC with?
BAIRD: It's very careful. I think we have one of the most precious brands in the world. It's certainly one of the most ubiquitous in terms of its awareness. The Olympic rings in combination with the flag is a real responsibility with the public. We have a serious conversation with our sponsors about how our partnership can help build that asset. I'll give you an example. In 2009, we brought on Procter & Gamble and we started having our conversation with their individual brands with how we could create a special relationship with their customers and the Olympic brand. That gave birth to the "Thank You Mom" campaign that became of the most loved advertising campaigns in Olympic history.
Another example is we formed a partnership with BMW in 2011 right after the Vancouver Games. They said look, we want to do something incredible for sport. We want to talk about sport and really do an integrated sponsorship to show how the values of the BMW and the value of sport are the same. That became the U.S. bobsled case study. They worked to retool the bobsled and in Sochi, we were very proud to win a medal in ever class for the very first time. We work for integrated marketing partnerships that help achieve their business goals and elevate our grand.
TPG: BMW is not an American brand. How open are you to bringing on international brands?
BAIRD: Very. It's a global world. We are a member of a global movement.
TPG: What are some of the initiatives you are taking in this current cycle to bring more fans onboard with the U.S. Olympic Team?
BAIRD: Right now, we are really on a journey to use data towards our marketing. The next path for us is to look at data as the next frontier on how we can create more fangelists, how we can increase the value of U.S. Olympic properties and how we can create a better and more intimidate relationship with our fans and do it in a way where we're safeguarding the long term of what we're doing.
TPG: How are you using social media to connect with fans?
BAIRD: It's definitely one of our primary growth areas. And it's not just social media. It's really all digital and it's becoming more direct. The more we can connect with our fans in the channels they feel comfortable conversing in, the better we are. We've developed strategies that are customized by social media strategies. We are constantly connecting back to our website. The TV experience is as vital. If you look at the numbers of TV viewers, they keep growing at all levels.
TPG: NBC has started live-streaming more and more events in the past couple Olympics. How do you think that has helped connect fans?
BAIRD: It's great because people are on their mobile phone. They engage with us in real time across time zones, as it was nine hours to Sochi and six hours to London. What's fascinating to me is they still gather around the TV at night. A lot of people though the TV experience would go away, but it hasn't. What happened is people may watch a match or a piece in real time, but they still go to the TV. That speaks to the essence of how we tell the stories and introduce athletes and people to other nations and cultures. The talent at NBC has a lot to do with it.
TPG: The time zone in Rio lines up well with the U.S. similar to Vancouver in 2010. How does the time zone for this Olympics affect your marketing strategy?
BAIRD: It doesn't really. A lot of what we do in partnership with NBC is we're really interested in reminding fans of where our athletes are from and not where they're going. A lot of our marketing is what is taking place here and now to qualify for the Olympics. We work hard on the Olympic team trials. That's how 50 percent of our team will qualify for the Olympic Games. What's happening here at home (earlier in the summer) is equally as important to what will happen in Rio. My team is much more focused on telling the stories happening at home in terms of who is making the team and how they are making it.
TPG: How important would a U.S.-hosted Olympics be to your brand?
BAIRD: Huge! It's something that we want every American, and every generation of Americans, to experience. When you think about it, we don't have seasons the way professional sports or even amateur or collegiate sports do. When you look at the generation of Americans, they have their memories built by such and such a game. No matter what age you are, you are going to have your favorite Olympic memory. It occupies a special place in your conscience as an American fan. I can't tell you how many 15-year-olds I've talked to who tell me they remember Miracle on Ice. That's physically impossible. But they have the memory of it because they heard in from their parents. Nothing does this more in a more impassioned and pure way than hosting the Olympic Games. That's not only for Team USA, but fans have the ability to show our country to the rest of the world. We have the LA 2024 Olympic bid and the vote is in 2017. To me, it would mean so much, so we can bring it to all those future generations, whether they are aspiring Olympians and Paralympians or fans.
TPG: I grew up in New York, I went to school in Chicago, I talk to people from Boston. Those three cities have been tossed around and didn't work. What is it about L.A., a city that has hosted two Olympics, that feels like it will work as a place to bring the Olympics back to the U.S.?
BAIRD: I was in L.A. at the press conference for the new logo for the 2024 bid. The slogan for the bid is "Follow the sun." The key components about L.A. are the city has this very unique culture of optimism, hope, innovation. It's a sport culture, tremendous history of sport. It is a culture where entertainment and storytelling are part of a very diverse culture, one of the most in America. It reflects the diversity of America and the world. I think they capture something great. The sun is what the L.A. is -- everywhere you go, the sun is there. They kind of invented perfect Olympic weather. The sun is also a great source of energy and hope and optimism. For L.A., I hope our time is now for all of those reasons. We've certainly got a unique bid. And there a lot of great cities involved. But I think this would just be an incredible bid for athletes, around the world. I think think it would bring great passion for American fans on the Olympic movement, which is what we need. And it would bring energy for the world.
TPG: There is a new football stadium being built in L.A. Is that going to be the Olympic stadium?
BAIRD: I am not the person to ask about that on the L.A. plans. I'm going to have to defer to my colleagues at L.A. 2024. I've got my hands full with this Olympics! I do know that 97 percent of the venues are built. They've announced that USC and UCLA venues will be used to house Olympic athletes. The Staples Center will be used. I believe there is one venue that has to be built by the committee.
TPG: What are the most successful initiatives that you have taken?
BAIRD: I'll tell you one, and it was something I was very passionate about when I joined. It was a period of instability for the USOC and I had played a part, a significant part, along with my boss and his boss, in restoring long-term financial stability to the U.S. Olympic movement, which we didn't have. We have 46 sports. We're under the same pressures as every country, but we're not funded by the government. We may be the only major country in the world that received no funding from the government. We now have, with the IOC, a broadcast agreement through 2032. We have several global agreements through 2024. We're working on renewals for 2020. On a rational level, helping to play a role so future Olympic athletes can realize their goals is my No. 1 [success]. I take incredible satisfaction in this job because there seems to be very few things all Americans can root for together. You read the papers, you know what's going on. This is something every American feels good about. When you have athletes, who are as successful and as accessible as Olympic and Paralympic athletes, fans respond to them like no one else in the world. It's incredibly rewarding. I don't know where else you have a job where you can inspire all generations of Americans.
TPG: What are the biggest struggles you've encountered?
BAIRD: Oh, gosh. The same as everyone else. How do you keep up with technology? How do you keep up with change? Changing media patterns. Certainly, we've had our share of up and down economic cycles. How to keep talent -- we're a not-for-profit and I need to have the best talent in the world. I have to keep my staff updated and energized.
TPG: Why are conferences like the Sports Industry Networking and Career Conference so important for you to attend and spread the brand?
BAIRD: I think you just said it. It's a way for us to tell our story and spread our brand. My calendar's pretty full. I always try to prioritize what I do with university students. It's taking place at George Washington University. You have a whole new generation of talented students and people that are going to impact the world. The ability to talk to them directly is something I try not to pass up. I have two college students of my own.
TPG: Do any of your children go to George Washington?
BAIRD: No, but I have one daughter who goes to Georgetown, so I'm dragging her to see her mother speak and she's going to be horribly embarrassed and humiliated I'm sure.