Olympic Evolution: New Media Stage Requires PR Execs to Shift Strategies

During the past six weeks, three of the most widely viewed events of the year—the Olympics in Beijing, the Democratic National Convention in Denver and the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul—took the world stage in ways that had yet to be seen in the modern media universe. While each event wasn’t unusual in its own right—after all, each happens every four years—this year marked a monumental evolution in the way individuals watched, covered and reacted to the goings-on. The following breakdown offers a brief overview of these seismic shifts among different stakeholders in the context of the events:

•    A record number of bloggers received press credentials for the 2008 Democratic National Convention—120-plus—and hundreds more attended on their own. In comparison, the DNCC only credentialed about 30 bloggers in 2004. Meanwhile, the number of traditional media representatives who attended to report on the DNC declined; newspapers reportedly reduced their convention staffing by up to 20%, according to Forbes.com.

•    At the Republican National Convention, nearly 200 expected to set up shop, up from just 12 who were granted official access in 2004.

The boom in bloggers who covered the conventions supports the changing ways that people consume political news, indicating to communications professionals in all organizations that attention must be given to monitoring digital platforms, as that is where conversations are taking place.
Mike Smith, CEO of Michael Smith Business Development Inc., was one of the many citizen journalists who went through the process of becoming a credentialed blogger at the DNC, though he wasn’t monogamous with his media affiliations; he posted text blogs for The Huffington Post and video blogs for Reuters.
“Access to the Google Blogger Tent and the Huffington Post Oasis provided me with media access and [the ability to build] political relationships,” Smith says. “It gave [citizen journalists] the opportunity to make solid national media connections and hone writing skills.”
(For more on Smith’s experience in Denver, check out his guest blog post at www.prnewsonline.com/prnewsblog.)

•    Nearly 10 million viewers watched more than 6 million hours—that’s more than 56 million videos—of NBC’s Olympic coverage online. This online viewership was 20 time higher than that of the Athens 2004 games.

•    NBC offered 3,600 hours of live online coverage during the 2008 games, in comparison with the mere two hours of live streaming video offered during the Turin games.

These are just a few of the many statistics demonstrating that consumers went online to watch videos—an action that was not limited to Olympic coverage, but extends to all forms of entertainment.

•    Adidas invested an estimated $80 million to be an official sponsor of the Beijing Olympics, relying largely on an online campaign with user-generated videos and online trading cards; Nike, on the other hand, chose to save big bucks by sponsoring individual athletes who would prominently showcase the brand when they sprinted, swam or jumped their way to the podium. Nike’s approach was dubbed “ambush marketing”—a description that fits in well with viral/online guerrilla marketing—and Beijing’s Olympic governing committee was left to clear up confusion about who in fact were official sponsors.

These examples, culled only from three recent events, showcase the increasingly demanding media relations and marketing environments faced by communications professionals. So, how can these executives sidestep land mines in the turbulent environment and identify the nontraditional approaches that are right for their brands? For example, Nike may have been successful with its ambush marketing strategy on the Olympic stage, but it was a risk that wouldn’t necessarily pay off for a smaller brand.
Based on the examples mentioned above, in terms of bloggers’ importance in the media sphere, online platforms’ relevance to reaching consumers and ambush tactics’ prevalence in marketing, consider the following best practices for managing the noise.

â–¶ Be a trendsetter, not a follower. With so many digital communications channels and innovative marketing buzzwords floating around, it’s difficult to decide on the mix of distribution channels that is best for your brand or campaign. Especially when dealing with media—which, as demonstrated by the recent Democratic and Republication conventions, has been invaded by bloggers—executives must be sensitive to the changing hierarchies while still exercising some semblance of control over their messages.
“The best advice I can offer is to resist the temptation to piggyback on what’s hot,” says Jay Krall, manager of Internet Media Research at Cision US. “Some PR professionals are intimidated by the way consumption of media content has become so varied and stratified. People’s options for news sources now number in the tens of thousands rather than hundreds, and these outlets are focusing on smaller niches. But this is actually the great strength of social media, that it allows you to target groups with specific interests in ways never thought possible.”

â–¶ Get personal. “Study the brand and product, and then be clear about what you want to communicate and who the target audiences are,” says Jeff Wang, a senior consultant for Weber Shandwick Beijing. “Identify their Web lingo, attitudes and triggers, especially the right topics and right influencers, and be prepared before you enter social channels. The trick is knowing how to make it snowball it into massive Internet word of mouth (iWOM). In new media, it’s all or nothing.”
Wang speaks from Olympic-sized experience, as he was part of the team that launched the “Crest Smile-vocates Journey Campaign” for the toothpaste brand in China and leveraged the Beijing games to increase local relevance.
Knowing the brand, the local audience and the regional media consumption habits was essential, as the digital media environment is “even more complex in China, which is now the biggest Internet market in the world,” Wang says. “Fully understanding your target group’s social-media habits. Listening to your audience is the key to creating a campaign that is relevant to them.”   

â–¶ Keep your ear to the ground. The importance of monitoring online conversations has been reiterated time and time again, and it is especially pertinent to digital media relations and marketing efforts.
“Closely monitor the discussions and arrange proper facilitation for the most strategic topics,” Wang says. “Never believe that consumers are blind or stupid. You cannot manipulate their words and thoughts. Instead, ignite the topic and nurture it in a natural way. Identifying the right seed in the very beginning turns out to be critical.”  PRN

Contacts: Jay Krall, jay.krall@cision.com; Jeff Wang; Mike Smith, mike@michaelsmith.biz