In a year when many sponsors scaled back activations or pulled the plug entirely, Cisco, which has been doing business with the Brazilians for more than 20 years, stayed the course at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. The technology giant left behind a legacy that will endure long after the last athletes packed up their bags and headed home. It also leveraged its sponsorship to drive home an important message about the need to get plugged into the digital world to its key customers—along with some great hospitality moments aboard the Silver Seas cruise ship in Rio’s port and at its Casa Cisco brand experience, on one of its loveliest beaches.
Nancy Neipp, senior director-global events at Cisco, gives us the inside perspective on Cisco’s Summer Olympics 2016 sponsorship activation—why it worked and what happens after Rio.
Event Marketer: What was Cisco’s role at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio?
Nancy Neipp: We were responsible for provisioning the network that connected the athletes, the administrators, the networks, NBC’s networks and all of the different venues within Rio for the Games, and as part of that, as a supporter, there were opportunities and obligations that go with that.
EM: What sort of obligations?
NN: Every supporter and sponsor is expected to leave a legacy to the community, and that was a big part of our focus. It is probably not well-known, but Cisco has been in Brazil in a big way for almost 20 years, so we thought this would be a great way to showcase all the work we have already done and accelerate all the things we can do within Rio and Brazil. So, it was a great fit for our business to take on this role.
EM: And the opportunities?
NN: To create an amazing hosting program for our top customers.
EM: Tell us about Cisco’s Olympics involvement.
NN: Our engagement ranged from providing our collaboration technology and networking technology to enable the Brazilian team to organize and manage their activities, all the way to work we did in what was formerly a run-down part of the city called Porto Maravilha, where we helped to revitalize that space by putting in free wi-fi for the community and installing kiosks and really encouraging the Brazilians to get online and find ways to improve their community.
Our Net Academy program, which trains millions of people around the world every year to develop skills and training for the next generation of IT workers, was another big piece of the legacy program. Thousands have gone through our Net Academy training, and many of them became engaged with the Rio Olympics program itself in terms of helping us build out the network and getting that all installed.
EM: Describe the hospitality program at Casa Cisco.
NN: The whole concept was, as part of our sponsorship opportunity, to make the most of that and invite our best customers from around the world. We had about 1,600 handpicked customers from 21 countries, and the idea was, as part of our new brand campaign, to talk about the way in which we can securely connect everything to make anything possible, so we created a series of interactive stories that immersed them in the experience of that.
EM: How were you able to personalize the experience for your guests?
NN: From the minute they walked through the door of Casa Cisco, it was about understanding who they were and their interests. They came from all different industries, manufacturing, technology, telecommunications, oil and gas, you name it. They were all represented at some point, and we wanted to make sure that they felt that the engagement with us was personalized. Obviously, we couldn’t architect every single experience for every single individual, but we built the experience in a way that aspects of these interactive, immersive engagements brought out what was important to that particular customer or customer set.
EM: What are your thoughts, after having invested so much time and effort and dollars in the Summer Olympic Games in Rio? Was it worth it?
NN: A lot of sponsors, with the doom and gloom regarding Zika and other problems, chickened out, but Cisco said, ‘We’ve been in this country 22 years and the going is getting tough, no doubt about it, but we are not going to bail.’ And I was so proud that we as a company held to our obligations and our commitments around all of the sponsorship opportunities. The network was up 99.99 percent, which you can’t ask for better than that, and our best customers got to experience the best of the Olympics and the best of Cisco. Our chairman and ceo John Chambers said his experience in Rio with our hosting program was the best event of his career.
EM: So, where do you go from here?
NN: Now, it’s about following up with those 1,600 people who came through and saying, what do we do next? We love to host our customers, but it’s about business at the end of the day. We are a publicly traded company and have to show revenue. So, the sales leaders for those accounts that we hosted will follow up and ask, ‘What did you see and learn that piqued your interest, or maybe if you didn’t see and learn anything, let me help you understand what you should have seen and learned, and let me help you get onto this whole digital transformation path, because if you don’t understand and embrace this, you will get left behind.’ That is really the message that underpinned this. The world is transforming, it’s going digital and you’ve got to get on the digitization bus. Agencies: George P. Johnson; GMR Marketing, Chicago (hospitality).