Marketing Secrets from the CMO of Canadian Olympic Committee

Chief marketing officer (CMO) Derek Kent and his team ignited the Olympic movement in Canada, and garnered attention from the rest of the Olympic world by creating iconic campaigns that sparked conversations. Since arriving at the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) in 2011, Kent has been a proactive agent of change, building a world-class team and delivering a dramatic increase in revenue, brand engagement and multiple award-winning campaigns.

Just before he delivers the keynote at ClickZ Live Toronto, ClickZ spoke with Kent about building a powerhouse brand and the marketing secrets that helped COC become one.

ClickZ (CZ): Tell us a bit about your role as CMO at the COC and what you’re tasked with achieving for the organization.

Derek Kent (DK): As the CMO, my job every day when I wake up is to figure out how we can increase our brand equity and engage our fans while driving ROI, not only for ourselves, but for our many amazing partners.

CZ: How did you and your team help transform the COC, a private non-profit organization, into a powerhouse brand?

DK: It all started with a brand plan that included a new logo and brand architecture. Once we had the plan approved, we hired an agency and the right people in the right roles to grow the brand. Our mantra is simple: invest in the brand to grow the brand. Our focus over the last four years has shifted from a more traditional marketing model into a digital-first model through the intentional growth of our digital and brand teams.

CZ: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your role, and how have you overcome them?

DK: Initially, some of our athletes and National Sports Federations (NSFs) asked why we were suddenly getting serious about storytelling and marketing high-performance sport. There was a steep learning curve for them (and for us). However, after we shot our first campaign, “Give Your Everything”, which included things like athlete documentaries, the lightbulb went on and everyone bought in.

CZ: You are the architect of #WeAreWinter, the  largest and most successful marketing campaign in the COC’s history, garnering 27 marketing, digital and graphic design awards. What do you think made this campaign so successful? What are your tips for creating an effective marketing campaign?

DK: Sport transcends all boundaries: race, religion, language, social strata, etc. It can bring a school, a town, a city and an entire country together because it appeals to our competitive nature. There is always a winner and loser, and that packs an emotional punch with no pre-determined outcome. That said, I think what made the #WeAreWinter campaign work was the authentic insight it was grounded on.

There’s this idea that, as Canadians, winter defines who we are as country. We did almost 20 athlete interviews and most said the same thing: our Canadian winter was a competitive advantage growing up. Our athletes felt it defined them, too.


What also worked was the creative execution. We had compelling video footage of the athletes and the print campaign showed barren Canadian landscapes juxtaposed with the colors of our Team Canada athletes. Oh, and having a freezing cold winter probably helped a bit, too.

CZ: What are the secrets behind a successful brand?

DK: I think the most successful brands in the world focus on their consumer and find new and creative ways to talk to them. They are fearless and are not afraid to take risks.

CZ: What advice can you give marketers and entrepreneurs seeking to grow their brand, working their way into customers’ hearts, minds and wallets?

DK: I think it depends on your objectives as a business. For an entrepreneur, it may be less about awareness and more about customer conversion. For a larger brand, it may be about connecting through digital and social. Either way, thinking big, innovating at every turn and applying an integrated approach to marketing has, in my experience, consistently provided favourable results where brand growth is concerned.

CZ: As a marketing and communications veteran, how do you see the industry evolving?

DK: When I started out there were marketing silos and the Internet was nascent. Now marketing and communications work as one. It has never been easier or more cost effective to create great advertising. Television is not dead, but the days of massive TV budgets are over. Today, people literally have information at their fingertips 24/7. Digital marketing is now a requisite part of the business.

CZ: What will the key takeaways from your keynote presentation at ClickZ Live Toronto be?

DK: At the end of my keynote, I really hope the audience can walk away with an understanding of how the COC was able to create a stronger brand on an extremely lean marketing budget, how structuring and leading a team with a digital and social focus at its core was an integral part of growing our brand successfully, and how exploring the advantage of going the extra mile for their dedicated fans is truly invaluable.

Derek Kent, CMO of the Canadian Olympic Committee, will be delivering the opening keynote at ClickZ Live Toronto this Wednesday, June 24, in his session entitled, “Marketing for Gold – Winning Fans & Generating Revenue”.

Get your ticket to ClickZ Live Toronto by registering here! Limited passes remain.

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