Terrence Burns- President, Helios Partners Share PDF Print E-mail
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Terrence

Terrence Burns is president of Helios Partners, LLC. 


Burns began his sports marketing career as Managing Director - Olympic Programs for Delta Air Lines, sponsor of the 1996 Atlanta Games. He joined Meridian Management, the IOC’s sponsorship agency in 1996; then founded his own Olympic consulting business in 2000.  Burns worked on the Beijing 2008, Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 Olympic bids, Kazan 2013 Universiade bid, Golf’s bid to return to the Olympics, the Russian 2018 FIFA World Cup bid and most recently the PyeongChang2018 Winter Games bid. Burns earned his BBA at Emory University in Atlanta and his MBA from Georgia State University in Atlanta.


By Marc Sibbons


How do you approach a bidding campaign and what is the formula for success?

 

I think it all starts with brand. We have to create a new brand for every bid that we work on. That brand has to answer a couple of things: Why is that city different from the other cities and the other being which one of those differences really matter to the Olympic movement or FIFA for example. Equally, not only why you are different but also why does it matter. I think being able to articulate to the IOC or the Olympic movement about a valued proposition that only your city can provide is very important. This is how we conduct our business. The technical aspects of these bids are all pretty equal but you have to break through on the emotion. This is key.

 

 Does storytelling and narratives work in helping the success of the bid?

 

Yes of course. It outlines why we are different and why it’s important for the long-term aspect of the movement. The last few projects we have been a part of have been the Winter Olympics in Sochi 2014 and the FIFA World Cup in Russia 2018. These were tied in with the narrative of taking the Olympics and World Cup to new markets and places where it has never been before. You have just got to tell a very emotional, powerful story that connects with the IOC members but also leverage it on something that the Olympic movement needs. It’s no longer what can the Olympic movement do for my city, it’s what can we do for the movement. What are their desires/needs and how can we respond to this.

 

 What do you believe are the most commonly made mistakes by bidding nations/cities?

 

I think they focus too much on themselves. Your dealing with people who are very idealistic and slightly naïve who don’t fully understand how it works. They are trying to do something for their nation/city but they tend to fall towards to the cliché as they are genuinely new to the process. You can’t win by the Cliché anymore; you have to find other alternatives and innovative methods. They tend to forget what successful messaging has been used in the past, and look from the outside looking in, not the other way round. I think the importance in understanding government support is huge in the bidding environment nowadays, and the IOC’s process is now so specific and technical that countries have to literally be willing to write a blank cheque. I think that’s something that bidding cities sometimes don’t really understand.

 

 When Helios takes on a bid, how many parts of their image do you manage?

 

Our model has really changed direction over the years. We have taken on everything from the technical piece to branding communications in recent times. We have done it all for bids. For example, the Sochi project proved to be very intense. We completely created the games plan itself all the way through to the presentation. The first thing we discover is whether they need assistance on the technical side of the project. Here at Helios we have many experts who come in and help the city understand what they have in technical terms, what they need for an Olympic games and how we plan to make it better. Parallel to that we work very hard to create a specific identity and brand image to fit their project, which is crucial to the bids success.


To what extent are different approaches required to bid for the hosting of events for different sports?

 

Helios is quite versatile in terms of the range of clients we assist. The client base is spread across a variety of different sports, but on the core it’s all pretty similar. With Russia 2018, we knew we had a very specific type of people we needed to convince to choose the nation as the World Cup host in 2018. For the Olympics, it was a much wider scale of people involved in the movement that we needed to talk to about our project. There is typically about a 1,000 to 1,500 opinion setters within the Olympic movement compared to the 24 on the FIFA committee. So the approach varies in terms of the tactics for bigger audiences but it really comes down to creating an idea/story that is powerful and emotional, yet delivers a real tangible benefit to the organising body itself, rather than just the city.

 

 How do you search for new clients or do they come to you because of your reputation?

 

We have been very fortunate that the clients come to us. We have got to the point in a good cycle where we now have the opportunity to go and meet the prospective cities and hear what they have to say and vice versa. That is basically how it works. These events are purely a getting-to-know-each-other-process to see if there is a direct match in terms of vision, and to evaluate how/why we can help out a certain nation’s bid.


How do you decide on what cities to assist?

 

It’s a combination of things. People always say you pick the city that you think will win, but that’s not the case. I remember when we did Sochi in August 2005; my colleagues and competitors were sending me emails saying "have you lost your mind" and that they don’t stand a chance, but I still stood by my decision, and thankfully it reaped the benefits. The key point in this process is to fully believe in the city. There has got to be some benefit to you and your brand in them participating for that event. People who predict on who is going to win the bid nowadays is playing a dangerous game. I’ve been in the business for a long time and I still don’t have a certainty when this stage occurs. Team work and communication within that team is also very important, so feeling comfortable with the people you are working with can greatly improve your chances.


Does it give you satisfaction to support a city that isn’t classed as a favourite for a bid?

 

It is certainly a bigger challenge, but I can honestly say that in this business the last thing any bid city wants to see is the media labeling a city as a frontrunner. You have got to fight all the way through to the end and assume you are in last place at all times. Everyone likes a challenge for sure, but in terms of picking out who is going to win and who going to lose is very difficult indeed. Sometime during the middle of the process I get an honest feeling of the city’s chances with whom I’m working, but you never know how there going to vote.

 

 

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