When the Winter Olympics begin Thursday night in Sochi, Russia, a spotlight also will shine on a Northeast Ohio company.
The J.M. Smucker Co., maker of such brands as Smucker’s jellies, Jif and Folgers, is an official sponsor of the U.S. Olympic team. It is the Orrville-based food company’s first foray as a sponsor.
As part of its deal over the next four years — at an undisclosed sum — Smucker will sponsor the U.S. team for the Winter Games in Sochi and Summer Olympics in Brazil in August 2016.
Television commercials featuring Olympic athletes and some Smucker products began airing during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships last month and will run with more frequency on NBC Networks and USA Network throughout the Winter Games.
The sponsorship, which also includes partnerships with some athletes who are competing in the games and others who are “Olympic legends,” such as 1992 women’s figure skating gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi, is a way for Smucker to market to multiple generations, company spokeswoman Maribeth Burns said.
“The Olympics seem to be that last opportunity for families and friends to gather and rally around” the events, Burns said.
Four brands are included in the sponsorship: Smucker’s jelly, Folgers, Jif and Smucker’s Uncrustable sandwiches. In addition to financial support, the participating brands have been provided to athletes and coaches at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and at team venues in the U.S.
Olympics-themed packaging for the participating brands can be seen on store shelves. Burns said there will be some limited Smucker products available to athletes in Sochi.
The company has partnered with Olympic athletes, who are featured in exclusive advertising, digital marketing and cross-promotional activities. The sponsored athletes and their brands are:
• Smucker — Gracie Gold, the reigning U.S. women’s figure skating champion in her first Olympics, and Evan Lysacek, the reigning Olympic champion in men’s figure skating. Lysacek is not competing in these games due to injury, but still will be a “legend” for Smucker and will be in Sochi with Yamaguchi as commentators for NBC.
• Folgers — J.R. Celski, short track speedskater, a 2010 medalist in his second Olympics, and Kelly Clark, a four-time Olympian and two-time medalist in half-pipe snowboarding.
• Jif — Nick Goepper, competing in his first Olympics in freeskiing slopestyle, and Julia Mancuso, a two-time Olympic medalist in Alpine skiing.
• Smucker’s Uncrustables — Celski, Clark, Yamaguchi and Louie Vito, a 2010 Olympian in half-pipe snowboarding who did not make the Olympic games but will compete in the X Games.
The company is also in negotiations to partner with a U.S. Paralympics athlete for those games, which follow the Winter Olympics.
After the games, the company will have access to its athletes for additional advertisements and appearances.
Burns said the sponsorship is a big financial commitment for the company, but Smucker feels its a good payoff to reach existing and new audiences, including the “millennial generation” that follows some of the more extreme sports.
Smucker’s sponsorship makes a lot of sense to connect its brands with a “wholesome” event that spans generations, said Keith Busch, partner of client development for Hitchcock Fleming & Associates Inc., an Akron-based advertising firm, which also has public relations clients. Smucker is not among HFA’s clients.
“They’re obviously very well-known nationally. It’s a chance for them to potentially grow their global footprint, and its a way for them to emotionally bond with consumers,” Busch said.
And if one of the sponsored athletes wins gold or another medal, that’s even better for the company, he said.
“There’s more cache to it because they have an event-winning athlete that carries a lot of coverage with it just for that reason.,” Busch said. “They get to partake in the ride, if you will.”
Working with athletes
At Smucker, a team has been working on preparing for the Olympic sponsorship and the actual games for almost a year, said Karen Bonsiewicz, senior manager of public relations and sponsorships.
“We’re learning a lot,” she said. The athletes have “got such inspirational stories for one moment in time.”
Bonsiewicz said part of her team’s responsibilities has been identifying and working with the Olympic athletes.
There will be a team of Smucker officials at the games in Sochi, but Burns said that for security reasons no further details would be shared on which team members would be attending.
The company has been able to work with the sponsored athletes before the games on such things as appearances, advertisements and other marketing campaigns that can go live during the games. Bonsiewicz said, however, there is very little interaction with athletes during the games, per Olympics rules.
The athletes can post on social media, as if they were completing a diary, and can respond to social media postings.
Employees at Smucker, both in Sochi and in Orrville, will be monitoring the games and their athletes’ progress, both for marketing purposes and to keep company employees engaged in the event.
The company plans pep rallies to build excitement for the games and Team USA-branded areas at each of the company’s facilities nationally to help share information.
In an area near the company’s main cafeteria on its Orrville campus, an area has been designated a Team USA Olympic Zone, with comfortable seating and flat-screen televisions that will show the company’s advertisements and coverage of the games.
A popular piece of Olympics merchandise that is also new to Smucker are specially designed pins featuring the brands. The pins are collectibles for many people and are traded in the Olympic Village, Burns said.
“The minute we started our sponsorship, we started getting questions about our pins,” she said.
Burns said that because this is the company’s first time sponsoring athletes and learning about pins, all of the Smucker-sponsored athletes will be taking the pins to Sochi and giving them away and trading them. They will not be available for sale at the Olympics.
Pins can be purchased in Orrville at the J.M. Smucker Company Store and Cafe or online for between $6 and $9 at https://onlinestore.smucker. com.