Olympics Work Fills Lawyer's Passport
Adam G. Mersereau negotiates sports sponsorships around the globe for IOC partner program
As director of legal affairs and head of business affairs for International Olympic Committee Television & Marketing Services, Adam G. Mersereau travels the globe negotiating sponsorship deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars.He is lead attorney for the IOC's global corporate partnership program, known as TOP for The Olympic Partner. Working closely with his boss, B. Davis Butler, senior vice president of marketing development, he helps structure and negotiate deals from term sheets to definitive agreements ranging in value from $80 million to $250 million. He is also involved in post-agreement compliance and education programs. His work includes one of the largest sports sponsorship deals in history -- a 12-year global Olympic sponsorship with The Coca-Cola Co.He helped negotiate the first global sports sponsorship deal with Lenovo, a computer hardware maker based in Beijing that bought IBM's laptop business. He worked on an eight-year global sponsorship with General Electric. And he has sealed deals with Johnson & Johnson, Kodak, McDonald's, Panasonic, Samsung and Visa, to name a few. In most cases, he deals with in-house lawyers and top marketing executives. He also travels to meet with leaders in host cities and to the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.IOC Television & Marketing Services has offices in Atlanta -- on Peachtree Road near Phipps Plaza in Buckhead -- because it started as Meridian Management, founded by former King & Spalding lawyer Chris Welton, who learned the business when Atlanta hosted the Olympics in 1996.Mersereau is a native of Newberry, S.C. He shared some of his experiences with travel and the art of negotiation in a recent conversation:Why he became a lawyer: After 4 1/2 years in the Marines, I decided to get out and go to law school. As an officer, I'd been asked to conduct two Judge Advocate General investigations. Every base has a legal office where the lawyers are, of course, understaffed. They get officers to be fact finders for them. ... I had to work with the lawyers on the base. I just found it all really interesting.On leaving the law firm to go in-house: The people I worked with were great -- very helpful. The working atmosphere was good. The support staff and facilities were great. It was really a good experience. I went through all the difficulties that new associates go through, struggling to make hours, struggling to make expectations. By the fourth year, I was seeing the benefits of the practice of law and of being at McKenna. Things really started to get smooth -- and then the phone rang. It was an old acquaintance of my wife's at Meridian Management. They needed a lawyer to help do all those sponsorship deals. I was worried about all the travel involved, but I just couldn't pass it up. My wife and I agreed it was going to be a good experience. I came in November 2003. In January 2005, the IOC purchased Meridian Management. It's now called IOC Television & Marketing Services. It's owned by the IOC and functions as the IOC marketing department. Travels: Since I've worked here, I've been to nine countries, including China nine times -- the Beijing games are coming up in August -- and Japan, Korea, Taiwan and, of course, Switzerland. The 2021 games are going to be in London. I go there quite a bit. Also Athens, Greece, in 2004 and Italy in 2006. And Vancouver, British Columbia. The winter games are there in 2010.On being away from family: They get out the globe and talk about the country. I was worried about traveling too much, but it turned out not to be that way. When I'm home, which is most often, the job itself is easy to manage. I don't work weekends. And I take one or two trips a month. The first time I went to China was for one day. (It's a 20-hour flight.)Passing time on planes: It's not as bad as you would think -- when you have kids and you have a life -- to have a 16-hour block of time to sleep and read and write in total quiet. The IOC lets us fly business class. Even if it's full, it's comfortable. You have to sleep on the way because when you get there, you're in meetings. Your body clock is still off, but if you don't sleep, you're dead.Staying in shape: I run. There's quite a culture of exercising here. It's a logical extension. They pay for us to be a member of the gym in our building. We go there several times a week or run around Buckhead at lunch time.Secrets for success in negotiation: Everyone would say this, and it's absolutely true: You have to be completely prepared. You have to know the history of the deal and the company. You have to anticipate their concerns. You have to know the limits of your authority. Advance preparation is everything so that there are no surprises. Otherwise it can just be a waste of time -- people offer compromises and you say, well, I'll have to let you know. ... If you've done your homework, you can actually reach agreements there at the negotiation. I also believe in transparency. I'm not into gamesmanship. I'd rather be as transparent as possible and develop trust. It has to work well for both sides, and it has to last for a long time.Pitfalls of playing games at the bargaining table: A lot of people think they're really good at the gamesmanship, but I think most people see through it. It never works out like they would hope. I also just don't have the emotional energy or the time to engage in gamesmanship. I like to just lay it out -- here's what we can do for you, here's what we require of you. It's like getting married. You don't want to hide too much from your spouse.More rules for negotiating: When you have won on an issue, you need to shut your mouth. When you've gone back and forth, and finally they agree to your position, you may want to be generous and want to explain. If you don't shut your mouth, you end up ruining it. Once you have prevailed, just say thank you and keep going. You don't need the person to feel good about it. You need to move on. Not talking too much in general is important. Another rule -- your team going in has to be totally unified and know their roles. If I'm trying to prevail on a point, there may be somebody on my team who disagrees with me. They can't ever speak up and make it appear we're not sure what we're saying. Your whole team has to be unified and know their role and really shouldn't contradict. I might be overruling them or there might be a reason why. ... You don't say anything out loud unless you're the lead negotiator or unless you're concurring. Some people let their desire to participate overcome them, just because it feels weird to sit there and not say anything for hours. Sometimes the best thing you can do for the team is stay quiet and remain unified.
Title: Director of legal affairs, head of business affairs
Company: International Olympic Committee Television & Marketing Services
Education: B.S. business administration, College of Charleston; J.D. Georgia State University College of Law, 1998.
Personal: Married to Kristen Mersereau formerly of Alston & Bird, with two daughters, ages 8 and 6.
Professional: Officer in Marine Corps between college and law school. Stationed in Hawaii and Japan. Commanded 48 Marines as a captain. After law school, associate at McKenna Long & Aldridge; joined International Olympic Committee Television and Marketing Services in 2003.
Legal Department: four lawyers (two in Atlanta, two at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland) and two support staff.
Outside counsel: Troutman Sanders and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton.