Living Abroad, Working The Olympic Games
Following the Olympic Relay Around the Globe
[Shared from the SUNY Oswego magazine article.] For many people, the Olympic Games are synonymous with passion, pride, athleticism and inspiration. The same could be applied to the marketing campaign that Lea-Ann Woodward Berst engineered for her client during the famous Olympic torch relay that leads up to the games.
Berst recently returned to Raleigh, N.C., after two years of living with her family in Beijing, China. Her husband, David, accepted an assignment there with computer manufacturer Lenovo, leaving Lea-Ann to ponder what type of work she could do thousands of miles from Sleddogg, her own marketing firm at home.
Turned out Lenovo was looking for someone who could speak English, had familiarity with IBM computers and experience in international business to coordinate their torch relay sponsorship. Before she founded Sleddogg, Berst was an international brand manager for IBM making her a strong candidate for the opportunity of a life-time.
“At the time I was thinking I would just close down my business for two years and move to China,” Berst said. “When I got there and found out I could continue to work, it was a blessing.” The job would prove to be the most challenging and fulfilling of Berst’s career, which also included a stint at Marvel Comics. Only Coca Cola and Samsung joined Lenovo as major sponsors of the torch relay events.
“It was a day-and-night effort, conference calls around the clock,” Berst said. The relay and celebration that goes with it make it an unparalleled opportunity for brand building, Berst said. Each stop featured the relay with Lenovo-sponsored runners, a parade and a city celebration.
Each company was allowed to assemble a team of six runners to move the flame on the ground through 21 countries, many of which Berst visited. “I went to every continent but Antarctica,” she said. “I’m not the same person I was. It was an incredible experience.”
Crossing international lines presented numerous challenges. Each country had cultural standards to maintain and each city, different ordinances that at times were prohibitive. “We prepared a major marketing effort in each of countries we wanted to participate in,” Berst said. “You wanted to have something different based on the culture.” For instance a parade float that featured dancers worked in some places, but wouldn’t go over well in others like India.
A major highlight for Berst was riding in the “flame plane,” which transports the Olympic torch fire, members of the Olympic Committee and some members of the media from country to country. The two years overseas also provided a unique experience for her family.
Two of her four children graduated from high school in China, where international schools educate English-speaking students. “It was the smartest thing we’ve ever done,” Berst said of the difficult decision to live in China for two years. “We saw the world; we traveled all over Asia with the kids.”
The family explored jungles, beaches and even Disneyland in Hong Kong. Berst traces her own international curiosity back to her days as an editor for the Ontarian yearbook. “When you work for the yearbook, you actually get to know the rest of the school very well,” Berst said. “You’ve got all these different cultures from around the world represented on campus.”
From the students, to visiting performers, to professors, Berst’s experiences with them inspired her to do more exploring after she received her degree in business administration. “When I exited that environment, I craved being exposed internationally,” she said.
And as she reflects on her recent experience, the cravings for exploration are only stronger. At least they will be once she gets re-acclimated to home. “I need to get out there again because there’s so much more I need to see and experience,” Berst said. “This just made my appetite bigger.”
— Shane M. Liebler, Writer
SUNY Oswego Alumni News – 2008
Printed version – 2008: