How Training Ground is picking up after a year of disruption

Senior director of marketing Shannon Cole on how its new tactic is changing up the media mix.
RBC Training Ground Toronto June 2, 2018

In a different world, the 2020 Summer Olympic Games would have long concluded by now.

But six months ago, the Games were officially postponed as it became clear that the global COVID-19 pandemic would not let up in time to allow players to compete, qualify or even train. And as planning for the Games – now scheduled for summer 2021 – ground to a halt, so too did the various sponsorship and content programs surrounding them. One of those programs was RBC’s long-running Training Ground program, which was entering its sixth year.

The 2020 Training Ground program was underway when the pandemic hit, says senior director of marketing Shannon Cole. The program, which is structured to run “essentially year-round” has always consisted of in-person qualifying events, and also culminates in an in-person, national final. That was halted, says Cole, along with the rest of the Training Ground programming from the springtime on.

Initially, says Cole, there wasn’t a plan to get it back on the calendar in the fall, until the team decided to try something new: virtual qualifiers.

Athletes across the country can now participate virtually, filling out a form on the Training Ground website, uploading a bio and a video of them performing in their chosen sport to see if they make the grade.

Cole says the silver lining of this pivot is that it makes the program more accessible than prior. “You don’t physically have to go anywhere.”

As a result, she says, it’s launching a major paid media campaign in order to spread awareness twofold – one for athletes who are interested in participating, and another for Olympic enthusiasts who will have an interest in the program as a viewer.

Besides traditional PR and an aim for earned media, much of that campaign will play out virtually. It only makes sense, says Cole.

Digital and social are “more important than ever” for this effort, she says. Working with media agency initiative, RBC will not only promote content on its owned channels across Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, but also on the channels of its partners, including the Canadian Olympic Committee and athletes who have gone through the program.

“We really feel like they’re the perfect ambassadors,” says Cole.

Other new tactics it’s trying out this year include takeovers of the Team Canada Instagram, which Cole says will raise awareness of the program for people who are fans of the Olympics.

“Regardless of when the Olympics happen, or even if they were to not happen, we need to show that our mission is about keeping the Canadian Olympic athlete pipeline healthy.”

For more traditional tactics, it recently partnered with Bell Media, after years of the CBC working as its official partner. That will include integrations on air as well as Bell Media’s owned channels.