Small businesses across Canada must specialize if they want to land lucrative Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic-related contracts, say Games sponsors.
"They've really got to find their own niche," said Scott Smyth, senior vice-president of sponsorship and event marketing for Visa International. "They've got to find the partners who are really most visible, and how to take advantage of those little partnerships where they can actually grow their own business."
Smyth made the comments after speaking at a plenary session during the recent 2010 Business Summit, which attracted 1,200 people to Vancouver from mostly small and medium-sized companies across Canada.
The event was designed to show participants how to tap into partnerships with Games sponsors, which are mainly large national and international firms that will need to sub-contract with suppliers of goods and service.
But it also offered insight into the competitiveness that smaller firms will face as they chase Olympic business glory.
Attendees were limited mainly to quick handshakes and business-card exchanges after lining up following seminars to meet the speakers, which included representatives from firms such as Coca-Cola, Nortel Networks, General Electric and Visa, the official credit card for the Vancouver Olympics.
Smyth said smaller firms should participate in as many networking opportunities as possible.
"Forums like this - this is absolutely outstanding; it's something that I have not seen done before prior to a Games - provide the forum for businesses to come in and hear from the sponsors, find out who the key contacts are (and) how to work with them," said Smyth.
The one-day conference coincided with the province's two-year countdown to the Games, which will include events in Whistler.
"It's really (about) keeping your eyes open for who to work with, and really to build on the momentum," said Smyth. "You (have to) maintain strategy that allows you to get out, stay in the market, stay visible and get more creative as you get closer to the Games.
"You start changing your strategy more to focus ... on an international client."
Peter Bambridge, vice-president of client services for New Jersey-based Jet Set Sports, which serves as the official hospitality provider for sponsors and their guests and general ticket sales agent for the Games, said it's important for Olympic business-seekers to understand where and how Olympic events operate in the city and how Games planning will impact their companies.
Tourism companies catering to sponsors should consider the Games schedule and plan their activities accordingly, as sponsors will not be able to spend a lot of time away from Olympic venues.
"Any type of sponsor program is directly linked to the sports schedule and the amount of free time that they have will be linked to the event that they take their guests to," said Bambridge.
"But with every sponsor, they're really looking for some other great experience, which is not an Olympic event, to be able to take their guests to," he added.
Companies looking for Olympic-related business should take advantage of services and infrastructure provide by Vancouver's Olympic Organizing Committee (Vanoc), which has set up a commerce centre.
Games business spinoffs will be felt around the country, he added.
"Definitely, the focus is that these are Canada's Games," said Bambridge. "While they're being hosted in Vancouver, Vanoc is doing a really great job to promote the Games and to instil excitement right across the country."
Coca-Cola Ltd. executives offered a glimpse of what the experience could be like, based on the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and previous Games.
In Beijing, the company will employ 35,000 Chinese employees and send 200 worldwide employees to China's capital for Games-time experiences, said Peter Franklin, Coca-Cola's worldwide sports and events manager.
The company will also entertain 2,000 international guests and 8,000 Chinese guests.
Franklin said his company is looking for suppliers that will help it refresh the mind, body and spirit. "We're looking to be different," he added.
Nicola Kettlitz, general manager of Coca-Cola's Vancouver Olympic project team, provided details on Coke's acquisitions for the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics, which may have a more direct correlation to Vancouver because Winter Games are smaller than summer versions.
For Turin, Coca-Cola conducted 10 major marketing and public relations campaigns, while using 250 million product packages, 15,000 uniforms and 1,200 pieces of environmental cooling equipment. It also distributed 6,000 merchandise items while serving 1,000 guests as part of its hospitality program.
Kettlitz added the firm will use the Vancouver Games to define its company image and trajectory in Canada.
The 2010 Business Summit included a lunch that marked the official two-year countdown to the Winter Olympics. Police held back anti-Olympic protesters who tried to get into a hotel where B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell was speaking.
Protesters were upset that their First Nations' local governments have partnered with Vanoc on the Games, contending chiefs are ignoring their people's homelessness and poverty.
Noting the 2010 Games mark the first time four First Nations have officially partnered with Olympic organizers, Campbell said most Canadians are happy the Games are being held in Vancouver.
"The Olympics is a chance for us to really reach out for who we can be," said Campbell.
(Monte Stewart can be reached at email@example.com)