To make the most of its sponsorship of the 2002 Winter Olympics, job search giant Monster.com took a flying leap into client hospitality. Colleen McGrath, senior manager of marketing, and Beth Gilstrap, senior sales communication manager, had the challenge of bringing 58 of Monster's best clients and their guests to the Salt Lake Games in five back-to-back groups over 17 days. As far as McGrath and Gilstrap were concerned, it was the event equivalent of the triple lutz.
This was the first time Monster — or any dot-com — had signed on as a sponsor of the Olympic Games, and the first time Monster had hosted a significant client hospitality event. “I've planned smaller events, internal employee things. But I've never done anything on this scale that clients would be involved in and make such a huge impression,” McGrath says.
McGrath and Gilstrap began by searching out a logistics partner to walk them through the Olympic maze. After reviewing a number of bids, Jet Set Sports, Far Hills, N.J., (www.jetsetsports.com) got the job. “Not many people know them. They only do Olympic hospitality. And they're very low-key. When people are doing hospitality for the first time, they're usually the ones that are recommended,” says McGrath. Jet Set has been organizing Olympic hospitality since the 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo, and from McGrath's perspective, its experience is priceless. “They just made it so much easier. Beth and I both had other responsibilities. It was just kind of a side thing to plan this huge event. We could have never done it alone. Transportation issues, ticketing, hotel issues — they handle pretty much all of that.”
Maynard, Mass.-based Monster reportedly invested $15 million to be the exclusive career management sponsor of the Olympic Games (not counting its media buy on NBC). From a client hospitality perspective, access was the key dividend. What could Monster do with its VIPs that a nonsponsor group could not? The key issues were transportation and getting the best tickets. “As a sponsor, you have access to accredited vehicles, and you're in the Olympic world of transportation,” McGrath says. “Going in as a nonsponsor, it's going to be a lot of work to insure that you're getting where you need to go. We had drivers who had background checks done on them through the Salt Lake organizing committee.” Sponsors were also allowed far more branding opportunities. “When we were walking through crowds of people, we had signs with our Monster trumpasaurus [logo]. If you weren't a sponsor, you wouldn't be able to get those signs through a lot of venues. It's really a matter of access. … We wanted the world to see Monster while we were there, and our clients thought they were rock stars after a few days.”
Those clients included representatives from Blockbuster, Bank of America, IBM, Ernst & Young, and other major users of Monster's resume database and applicant-tracking tools. The guests were treated to two Olympic events per day, including some gold medal performances in ice dancing as well as men's and women's hockey. “After a buffet breakfast, we'd load on the Monster-branded bus from our hotel [Hilton Salt Lake City Center] and go off to an event, then go to a restaurant for lunch or eat box lunches, then head back to the hotel to relax or shop. Later, we'd load up the bus again for an evening Olympic event, then dinner.”
Sales employees who had matched their goals were invited to join their clients, but the trip was not billed as a vacation or even an incentive for them. “Yes, it was a huge perk for them to be able to go,” McGrath says, “but they were also expected to build relationships, write conference notes at the end of each day, and do followup.” The only exception was in Monster's telesales group, which did not send reps to entertain clients. That group had two monthlong promotions, and for each month, the person with the highest revenue earned a trip to the Games with a guest.
Return in 2004?
Monster is not signed on as a sponsor of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, but it is a sponsor of the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team. “We don't know what our plans are in terms of hospitality,” McGrath says. “We're not sure, because our rights are a little bit different in Athens than they were for Salt Lake.” Another determining factor will be the company's return on investment. McGrath is surveying sales reps to get their impressions and tracking the results of the relationship-building efforts.
For McGrath and Gilstrap, their kudos-winning performance is still sinking in. “We're still kind of in shock that it's all over,” McGrath says. “It took two years to plan, and it's over in three weeks.”