Tradition and history are important elements in the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Companymix. Consider the company's logo--a signature of such historical significance that you're as likely to be asked to "put your John Hancock" on a document as to "sign" it.
So Hancock's sponsorship of the Olympic Games, an event that has defined athletic competition since ancient times, is a nice fit. And organizing the insurer's most important agent business meetings around that spectacle is one way the company maximizes that connection.
"People identify with the Olympics as a wholesome, patriotic aspect of American life," says Fred McManus, Jr., Hancock's general director, conferences, travel and visual communications. "People have a good feeling about doing business with Olympic sponsors. They are very elite companies."
Simply put, says Whit Coffin, director of the meeting management division at Hancock, "Attending the Olympic Games is the experience of a lifetime." The first time Hancock offered an Olympic incentive, to Lillehammer, Norway in 1994, the company saw an impressive 40 percent increase in qualifiers. Next year's winter games in Nagano, Japan, are expected to cause a similar spike in attendance. And as for the Summer Games in Australia in 2000, McManus says, "I dare say we'll set records. We expect a huge response."
The relevant point: It's not just the Olympics, but the Olympic sites that draw qualifiers. Last year, even the expected heat of an Atlanta summer excited qualifiers at Hancock's two, back-to-back agent business meetings: the President's Cabinet, with its 250 attendees and the M Group Conference, with 120 attendees. Each meeting ran similar four-night itineraries, with the arrival of the President's Cabinet timed for the opening ceremonies.
Each day of the President's Cabinet meeting began with an early morning workshop on a topic such as effective sales closings or what's new in the long-term care market, followed by a business meeting/award presentation or another workshop. Attendees also took in several Olympic competitions during the conference and enjoyed evening theme events in the Hyatt Regency Atlanta Centennial Ballroom, with its decor evocative of ancient Greece (the standing set was used throughout Hancock's back-to-back meetings), and at Atlanta hot spots such as Planet
Herculean Planning While planning an agent meeting around the Olympic Games creates a special atmo-
sphere for attendees, it also creates special headaches for the meeting management staff. Take Deborah Costa, conference manager, who had responsibility for transportation. "I had done tremendous advance planning," says Costa, who oversaw the 13 buses, three minibuses, 12 vans, and six cars transporting Hancock personnel around the city, "but there were a lot of changes that were beyond my control. We had to do a lot of on-the-spot maneuvering, adapting quickly and often." Those changes included everything from unexpected road closings to uninformed parking lot attendants.
But the Hancock meeting management staff gives the city of Atlanta credit. "Every Olympics is new," McManus says, "It's a learning experience for every city that hosts the Games." With the Olympic city just a two-hour flight from Hancock's Boston headquarters, the whole planning ordeal was made somewhat easier. "Six months prior to the games, we opened an Atlanta office staffed by a member of our department, Hilda Ramirez," explains John Touchette, director, project administration, conferences and travel. "And our home-office planning staff would go down there once a month."
Touchette had the delicate task of obtaining and allocating tickets to the Olympic events--a process that began an incredible two years before the opening ceremonies. "We're not guaranteed specific events, but as a sponsor we are entitled to purchase a variety of tickets," he says. "We sent a survey to our attendees, asking them to rank the top 15 sports they wanted to see, and we tried to match them up as much as possible."
To try to further accommodate someone who, for example, just did not want water polo tickets, Hancock set up a trading desk at the Hyatt. In addition, Touchette explains, the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) was the first organizer to allow companies to return their tickets and try to trade for something else. And the ten to 15 other corporate sponsors traveling in the same circles created even more, informal, ticket trading opportunities.
All in all, ticket duty was labor-intensive, and is a good example of how Hancock'sprogram worked. Hancock trained employees to work as volunteers during the agent meetings at the Olympic Games. The 50 who went to Atlanta greeted qualifiers at the airport, accompanied sightseeing tours, acted as hosts at meals, and, Touchette notes, dealt with tickets. "We had two dedicated people working long hours just sorting and allocating tickets," he says. "It's a great experience, having employees interact with the field. And it's great for us, because we couldn't possibly be with all the guests all the time."
Hancock included other special touches to keep attendees comfortable at the Games. One highlight, a carryover from Lillehammer, was the Hancock Pub. The meeting management team negotiated with the Hyatt for a dedicated restaurant that would be staffed and available to Hancock attendees 24 hours a day. As in Norway (and next year in Japan), the space was dubbed the Hancock Pub. Attendees relied on it for individual business conferences or to take a break or to drink a final toast at the end of an evening.
Meanwhile, the official sponsors' hospitality tents provided a relaxed, air-
conditioned gathering place for Hancock attendees and attendees of meetings held by the other corporate sponsors, all of whom could mingle in a central area onto which the individual tent sections opened. The one threat to that venue came when a bomb blew up in Centennial Park during the President's Cabinet conference. "The sponsors' hospitality tent area and Centennial Park were declared a crime scene," Whit Coffin explains. "It happened early Friday morning, and we didn't get back in there until Tuesday."
Costa says the bomb incident did scare off a few attendees, but McManus emphasizes that the company and the rest of the tourists and Olympic-goers put their faith in the Atlanta security forces "to keep us informed and safe."
Despite that tragic incident, Hancock's 1996 Olympic programs exceeded its goals. "The company takes great pride in its Olympic sponsorship and in its association with the International Olympic Committee. I'm hopeful that it will continue," McManus says. "Our sponsorship allows us to use the Olympic rings in conjunction with our logo, providing us an edge over our competitors, since no other life insurance company has this relationship. And the company is making a genuine contribution to the development of the Olympic movement by supporting the youth of our country and our Olympic athletes."