IBM at the 2000 Sydney Olympics
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IBM at the 2000 Sydney Olympics

IBM turned the 2000 Sydney Games into a global e-business showcase, creating and running the most complex infrastructure ever built, while setting new Internet traffic records and empowering fans worldwide to personally connect with Olympic Athletes.

Paul Holmes

 

IBM turned the 2000 Sydney Games into a global e-business showcase, creating and running the most complex infrastructure ever built, while setting new Internet traffic records and empowering fans worldwide to personally connect with Olympic Athletes.  Adding a brilliant final chapter to the company’s 40-year relationship with the IOC, IBM’s final Olympic technology solution proved to be the best ever. With the memory of the technology glitches at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games still omnipresent and the Sydney Games being IBM’s final showcase, it was imperative that a smart and strategic public relations plan be executed seamlessly across a global network of IBM & Edelman professionals in the U.S., Latin American, Europe, Japan and Australia.

PR efforts aimed to raise awareness of IBM’s overall Olympic IT solution and e-business capabilities with key constituents and to promote IBM’s Olympic Web sites and hosting capabilities. While the time difference in Australia posed tape-delay issues for fans and television broadcasters, IBM successfully positioned the Internet, in particular the official Olympic site (www.olympics.com), as the perfect complement - providing instant results and a virtual seat at the Sydney Games.  In addition, IBM’s FanMail Web site (ibm.com/fanmail) logged over 350,000 personal messages from fans in 200 countries to athletes competing in Sydney. 

CHALLENGES

Although IBM’s technology worked flawlessly at the 1998 Nagano Games, the glitches during the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games were still fresh in the minds of many of the technology and Olympic media (summer Games draw a much larger media contingent).  With the volatile climate surrounding the IOC, there was both interest and speculation from the media surrounding IBM’s decision to end its 40-year run as the IOC’s Worldwide Technology Partner.  With the growth of the Internet and a rise in the number of competing “unofficial” Olympic Web sites, IBM was challenged to continuously educate the media on the official Olympic Web site and its unique offerings.  Although IBM’s technology solution for the Games was the most complex system ever built and the Web sites provided fans with both instantaneous information and access to Olympians, there were no real “new” features or technologies, which created a challenge when pitching to the media.

RESEARCH

As IBM’s overall Olympic marketing campaign was in development, several focus groups were held to examine the proposed strategy and determine the most appropriate marketing messages to reinforce.  The research sought to determine the attitudes of two key customer groups: Strategists and Implementers.  Strategists are classified as senior business leaders within major corporations, while Implementers are defined as information technology (IT) specialists.  The research was designed to examine the attitudes of these groups towards the Olympic Games and to discover whether common issues facing businesses were relevant to IBM’s work in Sydney.  The research, which consisted of extensive focus groups in both New York and Sydney, concluded that:

  • The Olympic Games are perceived as a real business
  • As such, they face many of the same potential pitfalls as any business
  • IBM Olympic solutions can be explained in business terms that are relevant to target customers

PLANNING

PR Objectives:

  • Showcase IBM’s Olympic IT solution as a working example of a global e-business that holds relevance for potential IBM customers and corporate partners.
  • Drive traffic to IBM’s Olympic Web destinations (olympics.com, IBM.com/olympics, IBM.com/FanMail)

Target Audiences:

Included Olympic fans worldwide, strategists and implementers.  Target media included general interest, Olympic, business technology, consumer technology, Internet, youth, sports, sports business and marketing and ad trade. 

Strategies:

  • Leverage Games technology solution to tell IBM’s e-business story to a global audience 
  • Educate technology media on the complexity of the IBM technology solution prior to the Games.
  • Position IBM as the key technology news resource during Games.  
  • Promote unique and proprietary features of the official Sydney Games site and FanMail
  • Engage and involve athletes to promote FanMail and Surf Shack both prior to and during Games

EXECUTION 

The team orchestrated and executed a three-phased, nine-month global pr program that began in January 2000 and built up to an aggressive 50-day countdown leading into a Games-time strategy:

Pre-Games

Overall IBM Technology Solution: Our strategy was to educate the technology media prior to the Games through media briefings with key IBM executives.  Successful Media briefings were held in U.S., Latin America and Australia. 

FanMail:  The team orchestrated the launch of IBM FanMail and ongoing media outreach to promote and drive traffic to the site. Edelman secured U.S. backstroke star Lenny Krayzelburg and U.S. gymnast Amy Chow as the program’s national spokespeople.  The launch was supported by an event with Krayzelburg at his former public pool in Los Angeles, interviews with major media including Sports Illustrated and ESPN Magazine, and distribution of a national press release and press kits to consumer tech and Internet writers at major dailies.  Ongoing media relations included Krayzelburg participating in a satellite media tour from the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials, accompanied by a b-roll featuring footage from the launch event, sound bites from Krayzelburg and Chow, shots of kids using sites and Web pages.  Individualized press materials targeted to athletes’ hometowns were created and heavily pitched in the top 25 markets.  Chow conducted several live radio interviews during the U.S. Olympic Gymnastic Trials in Boston and participated in a Radio News Release. Coverage included Newsweek, USA Today and Wall Street Journal as well as major daily newspapers New York Times, Detroit News, Newsday and Atlanta J-C.

Olympics.com:  Promotion for the Games’ official Web site began in April with several releases highlighting the features of the site and the hosting technology that powered IBM’s three sites as well as NBC’s Olympic site.  The team developed a release highlighting the kids’ section and distributed to family and parenting writers, resulting in several top-tier placements including The New York Times, Family Circle Magazine, TV Guide and USA Today. 

Games Time

Once the Games began, IBM went into a “quiet period” with technology and business media until confirmation that technology solution was successful.  Once the green light was given, select media outreach continued.  During this time and throughout the Games, media outreach focused on Surf Shack and FanMail.

Surf Shacks: Dubbed the “Hottest spot in the Olympic Village” by NBC’s The Today Show, the IBM Surf Shack provided a great backdrop for media. The Today Show segment alone resulted in 7,500 new messages sent overnight to one athlete. An accompanying public floating Surf Shack located in the heart of Darling Harbour was unveiled with a media event attended by Australian Olympians and high-ranking IBM executives.  A b-roll package of the opening was sent for uplink in Australia and the U.S.  Daily notifications were sent to media onsite and in the U.S. with the latest traffic results for Olympics.com and FanMail.

Technology Command Center:  Top-tier media were offered the chance to take a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of IBM’s Olympic technology headquarters in Sydney.  IBM/Edelman successfully secured interviews with CNN, CNBC and BBC.  Media briefings for select Australian media were arranged with head IBM technology and marketing executives. A b-Roll package was also developed and distributed to select outlets.  

EVALUATION

Because it was IBM’s last Games, they opted to focus on capturing only major national media hits.  Therefore, we do not have an accurate final media impressions number to present. However, the pr program resulted in coverage in top market daily newspapers, major newsweeklies, business and technology trades, national print and broadcast outlets. The PR program successfully drove extensive traffic to IBM’s two Olympic Games Web sites:

The official Sydney Games Web site set several world records. During the Games, the site logged 11.3 billion total hits and attracted 8.7 million unique users. In one day, the site logged a record 683 million hits, more traffic than the entire two-weeks of the 1998 Nagano Games. Olympic athletes received over 380,000 messages from fans in 200 countries via IBM’s FanMail Web site.  

The program secured positive reviews of both IBM’s Internet solutions and fan sites for the Games, while echoing IBM’s key messages.  
IOC Marketing Director Michael Payne remarked in the Australian Financial Review, “Technologically, Sydney has pulled it off here.  They orchestrated the world's most complex events, without one technology hitch.”  “At the athletes village, the IBM Surf Shack is by far the most popular hangout…the greatest athletes in the world were at my fingertips,” Rick Reilly – Sports Illustrated.   “One visit to the official Olympic site (www.olympics.com) is something you absolutely must do if you do nothing else " Atlanta Journal-Constitution  “The technology challenge in Sydney is akin to creating a multinational business from scratch under the pressure of immovable deadlines…IBM’s products manage the entire infrastructure,” New York Times.  “IBM’s Olympic Comeback: Sydney Run a Big Winner,” Washington Post. “ Athletes, fans share Olympic experience via e-mail… so far, more than 300,00 messages have been sent to athletes on IBM’s FanMail system,” USA Today.

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