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Ring Bearer

For this alumnus, 3,000-year-old Olympic values and advanced brand management strategies are a perfect match...

by Sharla A. Paul

At 11:00 a.m. on December 11, 1998, Terrence H. Burns '81BBA and his colleagues from Meridian Management stood before a premiere client in Lausanne, Switzerland, to conduct a review of the previous two years' brand and marketing research. Their findings had been extraordinary: more people on the globe recognize this client's logo than recognize the Christian cross or the Golden Arches. In focus groups, people on every continent respond to this client's offering with warmth and enthusiasm, citing words such as friendship, fairness, participation, and unity.

Later that day, the news broke in Lausanne that Meridian's client, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), had been involved in scandalous bribe-taking during the bidding for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. Several IOC and Salt Lake Olympic Committee members subsequently resigned. "Timing is everything, huh?" says Burns, senior vice president of marketing resources at Meridian, as he shakes his head and gives an exasperated laugh.

Did the scandal nullify Meridian's research on the Olympic movement?

"I don't think so. Honestly. But I think we all were very afraid of that."

Burns and his colleagues at Meridian lost no time in researching the effect of the scandal on the global perception of the Olympic Games, and he is confident that the Games have emerged unscathed.

"Happily enough, consumers around the world do differentiate between this brand and the organizations and entities that manage it," he says. "The data proves, thank God, that people say, 'I still feel strongly and positively about this brand"-he points to the Olympic rings-"and this event. You've got some issues over there in Lausanne. Please fix them. We're disappointed in your performance. But it's not rubbing off on this."

Burns also is confident that the scandal will not rub off on the monumental work that Meridian has undertaken: a worldwide brand-management campaign to protect and enhance the image of the Olympic Games and to ensure long-term, independent financial stability for the Olympic Movement, as well as equitable revenue distribution among the emerging and developed nations involved in the Olympics.

"This thing's three thousand years old," he says. "It's made it through wars, it's made it through boycotts. These issues that have arisen are unfortunate, quite disappointing for all of us involved-and people who aren't involved-but we'll get through it. The Olympics are a hell of a lot stronger than a few individuals' poor judgment and bad behavior."

A Nashville, Tennessee, native, Burns and his family moved to Atlanta in 1969. After earning his BBA, he went to work for Delta Air Lines and started quite literally at the foot of the corporate ladder by sweeping floors and cleaning airplanes.

"Back then, that was the only way you could get into Delta," he recalls.

Official Logo
2000 Olympic Games Sydney, Australia
Burns worked the midnight shift for six years. He eventually moved into sales at Delta and earned a spot on the Pan Am acquisition team. His career with Delta carried him to Germany and Russia, until finally in 1993 Burns joined the core team managing Delta's Olympic sponsorship of the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Charged with two primary objectives-brand awareness and a return on Delta's $30 million investment-the group wrote Delta's Olympic marketing and operations plan and worked tirelessly for three years to see the sponsorship through to its culmination during the Summer Games.

During the process, Burns became friends with Chris Welton, who at the time was a marketing liaison for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games and the U.S. Olympic Committee. When Welton and Laurent Scharapan of the global sports-marketing firm ISO Marketing left their jobs to form Meridian Management in 1996 as co-managing directors, they asked Burns to head up the marketing side of the company. As soon as the Summer Games concluded, Burns moved to a corner office on the twentieth floor of Monarch Tower in Buckhead.

A lean six-foot-four, Burns is jocular and relaxed, despite his twelve-hour workdays and often grueling travel schedule. During the first nine months of 1997, he made the twenty-four-hour trip to Sydney nine times-twice in January. During the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, he suffered from pneumonia and a cracked rib. Yet his attitude is exactly like that of a kid who gets to celebrate Christmas every day.

"I pinch myself every morning," he says. "Containing my enthusiasm is the biggest challenge for this job. And it sounds so hokey but it's true. It's such a big, big thing."

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Goizueta Magazine is published three times per year by Goizueta Business School of Emory University and is distributed free to all alumni and other friends of the business school. Produced by the Office of Public Affairs of Emory University, 1655 North Decatur Road, Atlanta, Georgia 30322.

Copyright © 1999 Emory University