Sep 24

SMW London: Alex Balfour and the Digital Olympics

It’s Social Media Week and I’ve managed to squeeze in enough time to head out to a few events in and around London. Given how many sessions at the Games I managed to get to, it was only fitting that the first session this week was to hear about the Olympics and how they worked on a digital platform. Alex Balfour was the Head of New Media for the London Olympics, starting with the team six years ago and this was a chance for him to talk about what happened, some of the challenges, wins and failures that the team experienced.

Given it was the Olympics, it was fitting he started off with a montage set to an inspirational song, what seems to be the natural result of distilling down thousands of hours of sports coverage.

The original brief when he took the job was to build 2 websites – a refresh of the current one and a gamestime website. In the end, he and his team delivered 77 channels. They were determined to go the extra mile, to make sure all the delivery teams made the most of the attention that digital could bring and that was the result. Here’s some of the insights and lessons that he had to share

  • he was surprised that over 60% of ALL visits were via a mobile device, something that was not expected when they started. However, there was not as much use of Location based services as he expected, with 600k Facebook checkins and 100k Foursquare ones.
  • The amount of data they were dealing with was HUGE – so much so that some of the apps they built for devices could not count and had to be scaled down (eg the cultural events listings)
  • there were 70 different stakeholders that needed to sign off things. That made things difficult at times!
  • The basic objectives were to support the business in what they needed to deliver and to make sure a database for emails was built. The mandate was clear and kept them focused – when they went off path, that could lead to failure. A digital team objective was to be most used digital channel ever (including beating broadcast partners. They also had to make the channels as accessible as possible
  • There were no sponsors responsible for mobile connection the arenas – but there were lots of meetings with carriers. Boris Johnson took an early interest in it and called meetings – which meant the right people came to them. In general the mobile data worked. The sponsor BT also provided both onsite general wifi for public and a bespoke, locked mobile network for the organisers to work with across the network of venues
  • They had a full comms plan, including crisis planning, that was developed by the communications team. The thing that moved the needle when it came to planning comms was when around 2 yearas ago, the national media started to use twitter to source stories and then come to the PR team to ask questions about them. That drove up its priority. In addition, monitoring social media allowed validation for the Press team that either something was important or that it was isolated and, for example, there was far more conversation about something else
  • When Alex interviewed, he did talk about social media and digital consumption trends. The question was about how the Games would get involved and how they would use the channels to showcase themselves. They did not go out and build a social network, but worked with the existing. They had started some work with a sponsor, about youth involvement, but this got shelved (was not on the core mandate). They had ideas with Facebook etc, but often not carried through as policy changed across time. 1 year out, they did a ‘support your team’ on twitter, which showed how they could shape conversations and get people talking about the Games – 180k tweets in that time. They repeated something similar during Games and got 1.5m tweets – Mongolia won the ‘league’; as their president got involved and encouraged the country
  • Email was the most effective tool for communication, depsite all the other channels.
  • He felt they could have made more use on in-venue entertainment and interaction using social media, with teams and audiences, but did not get off the ground everywhere. Also, some volunteer networks were started, but could not be scaled in time
  • One ‘last minute’ app that came together (with help of Samsung) was for the Paralympics when they gave 50 athletes devices to create video. They asked for at least 6 pieces each, they got over 1000 in total. (better control of video rights for Paralympics, something not possible with Olympics)
  • He was surprised that more sponsors had not activated strongly. Some did, others were less than expected. Potentially because this is a short term project and they invested in other areas that had better payback (or at least, better understood payback)
  • Athletes (and teams) activated the whole thing pretty well. the IOC launched an Olympic hub, they have 5k athletes signed up and their feeds go into it.
  • He was asked what was best practice on delivering – have the right governance and have brilliant people!
  • Alex just loved the whole project, felt is was great to be involved. he’s now looking forward to actually watching the Games!

This was a lovely talk with some great insights. For example. only 5% of Gold Medal winners ever go onto make a living out the sport. It was interesting to think back to when I heard him speak in 2008 when a lot was new and how the world has changed and how the Olympics and LOCOG embraced and worked with social media.

Sep 20

Women’s Leadership Network: Nicola Mendelsohn

My employee’s parent company, IPG, has established a London ‘chapter’ (yes, it’s American) of its Women’s Leadership Network, which has proven successful in the US. After an initial kickoff meeting, to discuss mission and values and all of that stuff, they ran their first general event yesterday, with a talk by Nicola Mendelsohn, who is currently President of the IPA and Exec Chair of Kamarama. The title of her speech was ‘what she wished she knew when she was 20’ and it came down to 10 great tips for getting ahead in your career, regardless of your age.

  • Understand the power of the network. You never know when someone could help you. So help others, make connections and keep them. Don’t burn your bridges, as you never know when that could be a problem
  • Love what you do. You do best when doing things that you love. You have to be passionate about your work, otherwise, why do you do it?
  • Celebrate your differences. Not everyone is the same, likes the same things, does the same things. How can you make something of that
  • Get the right work/life balance. Nicola works 4 days/week, she has a strong focus on her family and that will always come first for her. Other people are different. You have to balance the day job with other activities
  • Find yourself some great mentors. It doesn’t have to be just one. different people can provide different types of advice. You can have many at the same time, or sequentially. Make sure you know what they can offer. It’s useful to have someone who is a few levels higher than you
  • Be confident. Essential. Act confident and you will be confident. You have to project that you know what you are doing as perception is everything. Confidence is essential for leadership.
  • Don’t expect everyone to like you. Why should they – you don’t necessarily like everyone. You will have to do things sometimes and people won’t like you for it.
  • Challenge. And take risks. Why just live with the status quo, why just expect things to be the same. And without risks, you’ll never learn, never get the unexpected.
  • Always be learning. Learning is a lifelong habit. Know new stuff and be curious. And don’t be afraid to fail, as that’s just more chances to learn.
  • Be true to yourself. You are what you are. Don’t be someone else.

After the talk, there was a general panel and one of the topics was about being ‘boardroom ready’. In advertising/marketing, only about 12% of the C-level roles are female, even if as an industry it’s pretty forward looking and with a high proportion of women at the lower levels. A challenge was to make yourself boardroom ready. So look for opportunities to know more of the business side, the financials, to help make yourself ready

overall, a good first event, looking forward to the next one.

Sep 05

London 2012 Taekwando

Taekwando was one of the original tickets that I had. Well, not me, one of the two tickets that my sister had received in the very first ballot. The second event was later that day, diving. So down she came from the Midlands to make a day of it. First up was the Excel Centre, setting off early to brave the transport. No issues with transport, no issues with security meant we were there early. With the Excel, with plenty of different sports taking place, they herded you into holding areas, where you could get food and drink and wait around for the session to start. Once in the holding area, there was no getting out, so there was no wandering around looking at the different bits. There were huge queues for water here. Although there were 6 spouts, only 2 of them could be used to fill up bottles, so it was slow going.

London 2012 Taekwando

Sarah had bought budget seats, so we were up the top in the far corner, but it was still a pretty good view of the action. In fact, even the cheapest seats I’ve bought had good views – just further away than others. After a warm up act of ‘stunt’ kicks and tumbles, the action was under way. We got to see 2 British athletes, one of whom, Sarah Stevenson, was a favourite to win. Unfortunately, she didn’t and didn’t get through to the reps as her opponent lost later. The other, Lutalo Muhammad, also lost, in what appeared to be a far closer match. As his opponent got through to the final, he had a second chance in the reps and ended up with a Bronze later that day.

My sister is a 4th Dan (I think) in karate, so was able to cast an expert eye over proceedings, or at least an eye of someone who is used to fighting bouts. According to her, they were not aggressive enough and didn’t punch enough, but it’s a different sport so what do I know. I’d rarely seen fighting bouts, so had no idea what to expect but had a great time.

London 2012 Taekwando

Sep 04

London 2012: Handball

Another new sport – HANDBALL. Which is completely insane. This is like water polo on land – lots of ‘accidental’ collisions and elbows and pushes and all that. A pretty violent sport. And hard work, as they need volunteers to clean the floor every now and again, as the umpire sees a particular damp patch from sweat. Or blood!

London 2012 Handball

I got reasonable seats, pretty close to the action at one end. But they were behind the protective netting – so photos weren’t brilliant!. But plenty close enough to see all of the pushing and showing.

The handball took place in the Basketball Arena, although previously it had been in the Copper Box. As the matches got closer to the final, I’m guessing they upped the capacity. One thing about the Basketball Arena is that it’s at the other end of the Park from the main entrances. I’d followed the instructions and decided to ‘Alight at West Ham’. Which meant a 30 minute walk before I even got to the Park, which would be followed by at least another 30 minutes. But that night, I’d had a bad back, so the time I got to the gate, I was limping quite badly. And now the wonderfulness of the volunteers kicked in. my limping was commented on, I was asked if I wanted some help. I expected to get a lift on one of the buggies they were using. But no, it must have been a quiet night because next thing I knew, a wheelchair was pulled into action, I was wheeled around to the mobility station and presented with a mobility scooter. I had wheels!!!

My scooter

During the trundle up the park, i stopped at some of the Sponsor pavilions and checked out their disabled access. Had no problem getting into the couple I tried. At the Arena, it was easy. There was parking for the scooter, and after the venue just picked it up again and trundled back.

London 2012 Handball