CAMPAIGNS: JUDGE AND JURY; Cutting through the problems at technology’s cutting edge

IBM might have been ‘raring to go’, but it wasn’t quite ready for the Olympics, says Greg Levendusky, managing director of the Weber Group Europe

IBM might have been ‘raring to go’, but it wasn’t quite ready for the

Olympics, says Greg Levendusky, managing director of the Weber Group


Last week I was glued to the TV, wondering if the length of time

synchronised swimmers kept a smile on their faces contributed to their

prospects for Olympic gold. For some reason we love this stuff, and

technology now seems to make this massive, worldwide story even more

vital and exciting.

IBM calculated an Olympic audience of three billion people was worth

around pounds 25 million, which the company invested to be the lead

technology integrator. But after the first few days of the Games, I’m

sure there were some serious questions being raised in Armonk and in the

Atlanta hospitality suites over what price fame.

IBM has sponsored the Olympics since 1960, but never before had any one

company taken the risky strategy of being solely responsible for

integrating all the information systems.

To its credit, IBM also decided to implement cutting edge Internet and

Intranet technology which, if successful, would help position it as a

company that was no longer lagging the market. IBM also ran an

aggressive pre-Olympics PR effort, resulting in significant exposure

which raised the stakes higher.

When the Games began, six of the seven major systems IBM installed

worked perfectly. However, the one supplying the World News Press Agency

was slow and sometimes inaccurate, depriving journalists around the

world of instantaneous results.

What should have been a sports sponsorship event quickly became a crisis

management exercise in front of the whole world.

Some of IBM’s early responses weren’t very helpful. One spokesman blamed

an inability to test the whole system before going live, while another

was bit too blase, saying you had to expect some start-up problems.

Finally, the company admitted that it had made a mistake and was doing

everything possible to fix it.

Surprisingly, IBM continued to run its ads in the US during the Olympics

declaring that IBM was ‘ready and raring to go’ for the Games, which

only served to remind people of the snafu.

But key audiences for IBM are the lucrative technology services and

networking markets, people well aware of technology’s vulnerabilities.

If IBM addresses the problems of these Games effectively, it can use

this to rescue the marketing effort in advance of the Sydney Olympics.

The verdict is still out on this campaign. While IBM did not react well

initially or alter its PR strategy, it still has time to generate

positive coverage now that the Olympics are finished. By responding

effectively to the crisis, both the synchronised swimmers and IBM could

end upwith smiles on their faces.

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