Chevrolet Olympic Torch Relay
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Chevrolet Olympic Torch Relay

In 2000, Manning, Selvage &Lee helped create a sponsorship program that would take GM and its lead Chevrolet division to a new level of Olympic support by co-sponsoring the Olympic Torch Relay.

Paul Holmes


The Olympics represent the best in athletic achievement and human spirit. No other event brings the Olympic experience to more people than the Olympic Torch Relay.  It is among the most emotional, dynamic and complex undertakings of the Olympic Games.  The 2002 Torch Relay presented by Chevrolet and Coca-Cola will travel for 65 days, cover more than 13,500 miles through 46 states and will touch millions of Americans nationwide.  For the more than10 years, General Motors has been supporting the U.S. Olympic team and amateur sports to help athletes achieve their dreams and hopefully the Olympic Games. In 2000, Manning, Selvage &Lee helped create a sponsorship program that would take GM and its lead Chevrolet division to a new level of Olympic support by co-sponsoring the Olympic Torch Relay.  

The challenge was to successfully launch the 2002 program just months after the 2000 summer games, and capture the hearts and minds of dealers, employees and Americans by creating a preference for the brand.  MS&L was challenged to create a program that would not only excite consumers about the games, but also educate them on Chevy’s involvement.  Another challenge was the preconception of the event, as the relay was certainly not a new event and until now, a property that has been solely branded by Coca-Cola, MS&L had to devise tactics to create awareness for Chevrolet.


In February 2000, General Motors, the world’s largest automobile manufacturer, embarked on new direction for its Olympic program by featuring Chevrolet as the lead division and co-sponsor the Olympic Torch Relay for the 2002 Winter games in Salt Lake City. This decision marked the first time General Motors/Chevrolet have engaged in a grass-roots program to activate their Olympic sponsorship and to involve dealers at the local level. Traditionally GM has supported amateur athletics through partnerships with sports National Governing Bodies (NGB), event sponsorship and Olympic advertising, but the relay represents its most extensive and integrated Olympic sponsorship to date.  MS&L was challenged to create a communications plan that would span 18 months and engage consumers, dealers and employees in Chevrolet’s Olympic Torch Relay sponsorship.  After creating a strategic plan, the first challenge for MS&L and Chevrolet was announcing the route one full year before the start of the relay.  The launch of the relay route represented Chevrolet’s first opportunity to set the pace of their involvement with the media.

Recognizing the nature of the property coupled with the knowledge that the relay has been associated with a number of other sponsors; MS&L recognized the necessity for a launch program that was unique and compelling in order to educate and excite consumers. In addition, the program had to link Chevrolet’s commitment to amateur athletes and the Olympics to showcase how Chevrolet’s resources, dealerships and vehicles would serve as the logistic cornerstone for the Olympic Torch Relay.  MS&L sought to strengthen the understanding of Chevrolet’s commitment, presence and intrinsic value to the execution of the torch relay.


MS&L researched and performed extensive audits on the results of the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Torch Relays to determine the most and least effective tactics. An evaluation of BMW’s 1996 sponsorship was conducted to assess the amount of media coverage for the brand, extent of visual presence for the vehicles and a review of dealership participation and sales.   MS&L tapped into research on employees and dealers understanding on General Motors/Chevrolet’s participation in the Olympics to identify areas to improve overall communications.  An 18-month study was launched to measure opinion and awareness throughout the program to track results.

Chevrolet looked to MS&L to develop a launch program that would meet the following objectives:

  • Convey Chevrolet’s sponsorship of the relay
  • Position Chevrolet as the source for information on the relay
  • Create excitement and internal awareness about its involvement among Chevrolet’s more than 700 employees and 4,300 dealers 
  • Create media opportunities that tell the Olympic Torch Relay story form a Chevy perspective
  • Leverage media interest to increase Chevrolet branded coverage

After determining Chevrolet’s objectives, MS&L engaged in a number of internal planning sessions with key Chevrolet stakeholders to evaluate ideas and concepts that were created based on the extensive team knowledge of the Olympics and the Olympic Torch Relay.  The integrated planning process included the following steps:

MS&L assembled a core team that included professionals with a background in sports marketing, internal communications, extensive knowledge of the Olympics and Olympic Torch Relay and Chevrolet.  Several creative brainstorms and planning meetings were held to devise a plan that would meet the client’s objectives in a strategic and efficient manner. 

The launch was divided into two phases: 1) publicizing the route announcement and Chevrolet’s sponsorship to consumers and 2) educating and motivating Chevrolet’s more than 700 employees and 4,300 dealers about Chevrolet’s sponsorship. 

MS&L worked with design firm to create a look that would reflect the Winter Olympics while integrated Chevrolet’s logo..

Operating with the knowledge that relay was already associated with other sponsors, MS&L set out to create branded materials and collateral that would emphasis Chevrolet’s involvement.  MS&L focused on setting Chevrolet’s Olympic look from that of the 2002 Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) and co-presenting sponsor Coca-Cola with innovative design and collateral.

MS&L worked with interactive development firm to design a screen saver that would incorporate Chevrolet’s Olympic involvement, both past and present, with the elements of the 2002 Olympic Torch Relay route cities.

MS&L developed animated B-roll of the route map to use during a joint VNR with relay partners to promote interaction and branding awareness. 

MS&L developed a radio media tour for one of Chevrolet’s key executives to discuss the route announcement and Chevrolet’s commitment to the relay.


MS&L took its experience with the Olympic experience, the research and our creative ideas that produced an integrated plan to highlight Chevrolet’s involvement.  The strategy was to highlight Chevrolet’s contributions while creating media and consumer opportunities unique to Chevrolet.  


MS&L created a unique opportunity to position Chevrolet as the source for information by being the only partner to produce a press kit. The press kit included a press release detailing the route announcement, a fact sheet on the relay that also highlighted modes of transportation for the flame (including vehicles), an Olympic backgrounder detailing GM’s long standing commitment to amateur athletes, a bio on key Chevrolet executives, a color camera ready route map and a camera ready logo sheet with Chevrolet’s Olympic Torch Relay logo.

MS&L worked with partners to create a launch event with the Today Show featuring Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi skating the route on the ice at Rockefeller center.  MS&L also created a VNR including animated B-roll to highlight the event.

MS&L sent press kits out to more than 900 journalist including community, lifestyle and sports reporters for national, daily and weekly publications.

Comprehensive media outreach to print, radio and online outlets to communicate Chevrolet’s integral role in the relay.

MS&L distributed the Chevrolet Olympic Screen saver with a letter detailing Chevrolet’s announcement of the relay from Kurt Ridder, Chevrolet’s general manager, to all employees.  The screensaver was also placed on the Olympic page and for media and consumers to download. 

MS&L worked with Chevrolet to have local dealers and/or employees present at flag raising ceremonies.  This allowed a Chevrolet spokesperson to be on hand to answer the media’s questions.


The Chevrolet route announcement launch achieved all of its measurable objectives in the following ways: 

The press materials encompassed Chevrolet’s involvement and commitment to the games, letting the media know the depth of Chevrolet’s role.  The press kit was well received and more than a dozen outlets used the camera-ready route map.  All materials were designed to aid in reinforcing the visual branding and identification of Chevrolet and contained the Chevrolet integrated composite relay logo, which feature the torchbearer and the Chevy bow tie.

The key messages centered on Chevrolet’s history with the National Governing Bodies of sports, the Olympics and Chevrolet’s ability to bring the Olympic experience to millions of Americans nationwide.

By being the sole producer of the press kit, MS&L was able to establish relationships with more than 500 members of the media emphasizing Chevrolet is the source for information regarding the relay.

Chevrolet’s employee activities surrounding the launch, coupled with the interactive screen saver that appeared on employee’s screens help reinforce to employees the company’s participation and commitment to the relay.

MS&L/Atlanta generated more than 17 million print impressions that had specific Chevrolet mentions including the Detroit Free Press, SportBusiness Journal, AD Age, Pittsburgh Post Gazette and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  There were also several online placements including MSNBC, Associate Press and various online editions of newspapers.  

The VNR resulted in more than 200-aired segments in key markets such as New York, Detroit, Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, Washington and Chicago.  The estimated total audience reach for the VNR was more than 135 million viewers nationwide.  The majority of the coverage included the animated route map the MS&L developed and contained visual branding of the Chevrolet name and logo.
MS&L generated 15 interviews through a radio media tour that reached key Chevrolet markets with Chevrolet’s story of the relay.  The radio tour media tour was measurable success reaching more than 3 million Americans.

View Style:

Load 3 More
comments powered by Disqus