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.