How Össur Made the Most of Its Olympic Opportunity

Posted by Jamie Hartford on August 10, 2012

The noninvasive-orthopedics maker has benefitted from partnering with high-profile users of its products.

Publicity-wise, 2012 has been a stellar year for Össur. This spring, the orthopedics maker’s bionic Rheo Knee made its Hollywood debut along with Greg Gadson, a wounded veteran who starred in the Universal Studios movie Battleship. This month, the world watched as South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius made history as the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics, running the 400 m and 400 m relay races on a pair of Össur’s Flex-Foot Cheetah prosthetic legs.

Using a pair of Össur's Flex-Foot Cheetah prosthetics, Pistorius competed in the 400 m and 400 m relay races at this year's Olympic games in London. Image courtesy of ÖSSUR.

These aren’t examples of savvy product placement. “Nobody buys our products unless they have to,” CEO Jon Sigurdsson points out. But Össur has managed to leverage these and other opportunities by maintaining relationships with high-profile users of its products.

One way the company does that is through Team Össur, a group of elite international athletes who use Össur prosthetics. Team members include Pistorius; a swimmer, a cyclist, and track and field athletes that have competed in the Paralympics; and the first amputee to complete the grueling Hawaii Ironman triathlon.

“In the beginning, we found them, but they basically find us now,” Sigurdsson says. “If they are very good and dedicated, we’re very happy to add them to the team.”

“We cannot use this
to sell more products
in the short term,
but it is very good
for the company
in the long term.”

Össur CEO Jon Sigurdsson

Some Team Össur athletes are paid a “nominal” amount, he says, but Össur mostly provides them with custom-made products. The company’s marketers ensure team members are well-versed on the products they use, so they can speak as experts about them.

“We don’t get too commercial because it’s a very slippery slope,” Sigurdsson says. “We tend to keep it very clinical, very technical.”

For its part, the company gets to share in the publicity heaped on its athletes and other prominent users of its products, though that hasn’t translated into a spike in sales.

“It’s a medical device; it’s very far away from consumers,” Sigurdsson says. “It’s more or less a reimbursed product that is distributed by healthcare professionals and doctors.”

He admits that the attention might influence consumers in countries where medical devices must be purchased out of pocket but says it has mostly served to boost the company’s image. “We cannot use this to sell more products in the short term, but it is very good for the company in the long term,” Sigurdsson says.

Össur reaps other benefits from its partnerships, too. Like Ferrari with Formula 1 racecar drivers, the company uses the athletes to test its products to the limit, Sigurdsson says. The partnerships also help build morale among Össur’s employees. Gadson, who does not have a commercial affiliation with Össur, has given inspirational lectures within the company, and Sigurdsson says employees reveled in watching Pistorius compete in the Olympics.

“That may be, at the end of the day, the most reward,” he says. 

Gadson stars in Battleship using Össur's Rheo Knee.















—Jamie Hartford is the associate editor of MD+DI. Follow her on Twitter @readMED.

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