CAMPAIGNS: Laureus captures global attention with local events

Seeking global status, the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation brought its message around the world with simultaneous awards-nomination events.

Seeking global status, the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation brought its message around the world with simultaneous awards-nomination events.

Each region of the world has its own sports culture, with its own games, traditions, and heroes. As a result, any attempt to grab the attention of the world's fans for a single sports event has to bridge broad cultural divides, a reality that brings substantial communications challenges. The Laureus World Sports Awards is no exception. For four years now, the awards, cosponsored by Richemont and DaimlerChrysler, have celebrated the accomplishments of athletes around the globe, from Yao Ming to Lance Armstrong to Brazilian soccer star Ronaldo. The awards, which unfold each May at a splashy event in Monaco, promote the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, which sees athletics as a way to reach disadvantaged communities around the world. The foundation raises money to support community sports programs such as the Midnight Basketball League, which runs throughout the US and Puerto Rico. The program was organized to keep youths off the street late at night, when, studies show, they're most likely to get into trouble. Despite an attractive message that marries sport with social concern, Laureus, when planning its 2003 event, faced a stiff challenge: how to drum up media attention that's truly international. Finding a strategy that worked led to a significant change to the way Laureus does business. Strategy At the primary promotional event for its previous shows, the announcement of the nominations, Laureus had traditionally held a press conference in a major city. While previous press conferences had netted plenty of local attention, the news failed to spill over into international markets and get the kind of attention a world awards show needs. The issues facing the communications team were clear. "Sport travels; sports do not," says Nina Fiddian-Green, head of international PR and media affairs for Laureus. "The challenge is, how do you take a global message and communicate that locally in different markets, keeping in mind you've got different languages and different cultures in terms of sport? How does one take one simple message and communicate that in eight different ways, and come out with the same result?" Tactics The answer was to turn the announcement of the nominations into a series of near-simultaneous press conferences in eight different markets on four continents. Each would be studded with sports luminaries, evoking the celebrity-drenched atmosphere of the awards themselves. The nominations campaign was the second in a four-step PR strategy leading up to the awards show itself. For starters, a four-person internal PR team crafted a central message consisting of the nominees and an explanation of what Laureus is. It also created a common script for the press conferences. In following Fiddian-Green's "global-local" strategy, Laureus employed eight different PR agencies or sports-marketing firms - including New York-based Alan Taylor Communications (ATC) and Hong Kong-based Octagon Prism - to carry out the messaging in the individual markets. This involved localizing the media materials and working with the reporters themselves. Translating the global message into individual local ones first and foremost involved translation, literally - and not just in terms of the language of the scripts, but also of the nominees themselves. As part of their eight months' worth of planning, Fiddian-Green's team developed a video designed to help communicate the names of athletes that may have been unfamiliar to some reporters in certain areas. The video was produced in eight different languages. While the scripts at each of the press conferences varied mainly in the languages in which they were delivered, there was some tweaking to ensure that the messaging had local elements. One tactic was bringing to each press conference local members of the Laureus World Sports Academy, which works to expand the role of sports in the world. Tennis great Martina Navratilova showed up at the Miami event, while disabled cyclist Michael Teuber and swimmer Franziska van Almsick went to Berlin. Both turned out to be nominees, and therefore added an additional angle for the media when they went up to the podium and offered their remarks. "Each market had one or more Academy member there, and some had nominees as well," says Alan Taylor, CEO of ATC. "We had Academy members go to each event so the media had people to interview instead of just hearing an announcement as to the nominees. It was primarily the Academy that carried the news to the media in each of those markets, delivering virtually the same message that (a) here are the nominees, and (b) this is what Laureus is all about." Taylor's firm, which had worked with Laureus on the previous year's awards, was charged with liaising with the other agencies globally, as well as hosting the Miami press conference. The Laureus team dealt with journalists from outside the eight markets. Video crews at the press conferences sent footage to New York, which was edited into a VNR, and sent out worldwide. While seven of the press conferences took place at about the same time, with some adjustments for time-zone differences, the one in Shanghai took place three days later. Results Looking back, Fiddian-Green regards the campaign as a success. It netted more than 500 million media impressions, marking a 25% to 30% increase over the year before. Laureus' awards and the foundation's mission were covered in more than 20 countries. Future Fiddian-Green plans to use the same strategy next year, though she'll likely tweak it to make journalists more aware that they're part of a global event, perhaps by using a satellite link-up, and to make more stories relevant to local markets. "In PR, you have to take the message to the people," says Fiddian-Green. "You can't rely on having a press conference in New York City and hope that the message is going to be delivered in media outlets in Paris, in Berlin, and in Madrid." She adds, "It was incredible to see the power of how you can deliver PR on a global level."

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