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Jul 23, 2003
Case Study

How Vancouver Won the 2010 Winter Olympics: Gorgeous Multi-Step Email Campaigns to VIPs

SUMMARY: This Case Study is worth checking out just for the creative samples alone. Plus, it's a fun story. And, it definitely has ideas for business-to-business marketers who have to influence an entire committee, instead of a single decision-maker.

If you are considering doing a rich media email campaign (an email with Flash, audio or anything fancier than simple HTML) definitely read this for a reality check. Yes the marketers did use Flash, and yes it worked, but they do *not* endorse it for everyone.

"The rules of engagement really changed after Salt Lake City," Michael Cameron, Vancouver's Olympic Bid Advertising & Events Director, explains.

"No sponsored flights, no inviting IOC (International Olympic Committee) members to visit your country. They could not come to Vancouver."

Only about 130 people are on the Committee that decided where the 2010 Winter Olympics would be held. And they are serious VIPs -- including royalty, famed athletes, and national leaders.

The decision was due July 2nd 2003.

By January 2003, Vancouver's bid team had already spent four years of ceaseless outreach, trying to educate and influence IOC members. Now the heat was on, they had just seven months left.

The competition was intimidating. The other two cities being considered were Salzburg Austria -- an obvious winter sports destination -- and Pyeongchang Korea who promised if they were chosen that the North and South Korean teams would compete together as one force.

How do you beat a picture postcard and the promise of world peace?


Together with marketing consultant Raquel Hirsch, Cameron devised a strategy to make his campaigns even more powerful for the final push.

"We needed to somehow surround the IOC - a 1,000 person target of members and influencers - and keep reinforcing our message through every medium."

IOC headquarters supplied contact information for members, and many of them had included email as a requested contact method. Cameron knew the other two countries were sending email blasts to this list.

But - the others didn't integrate their messaging. Their print newsletter and email broadcast might be different topics. This, Cameron decided, was Vancouver's big chance.

"Our strategy was, our message is going to be singularly focused."

The marketing team settled on five specific messages to get out to IOC members before the big vote. For each message, they created a print booklet (an 11x17 sheet folded), an email letter, and a matching micro-site. These were:

#1 - Feb "The Sea to Sky Games: Vancouver 2010"
#2 - April "Update - Sort and Venues"
#3 - Early May "Update - Athlete's Villages"
#4 - Late May "Update - Vancouver 2010 Response to IOC Evaluation"
#5 - Mid-June "Vancouver 2010 Celebrates Olympism!"

-> Copywriting the email letters: Language, length, tone

How do you write copy that influences global VIPs? Hirsch notes, "English is not the first language for many of these people. We had a strategy question - do we personalize it in the mother tongue of the people receiving the email?"

The problem is translations are fraught with peril - especially with Asian languages. The team could not risk upsetting even a single committee member. So, each emailed letter was presented in both of Canada's national languages, starting with at the top English and then duplicated underneath in French.

Tone was equally important. You don't want to be to snappy or salesy in an email that's sent to fairly dignified people. On the other hand you don't want to bore them.

The letters were each about four paragraphs long -- enough space to introduce topics properly, but not so much people would stop reading.

Then each letter contained multiple links to various pages of a microsite with further information. The great thing about this, Cameron says, is that he was actually able to offer more in-depth information through the combination of an email plus site, then he could in the printed booklets with their space limitations.

-> Creative design: Taking a chance on Flash

The team struggled with their decision to add a Flash-based video and audio to the emails and sites.

Hirsch says, "People who have a background in mass media love it because it looks like a TV screen. Agencies love Flash because it lets them be very creative. But, it's not a TV ad, the metaphor is completely different.

"99% of people who land on a site that has a Flash intro, skip the intro. You don't want to ever force people to go through Flash to get to your site. Plus, if you add it in email it takes longer to download, and some people might not be able to see it."

On the other hand, many voting members of the IOC had never been to Vancouver in their lives, so they had no gut-level appreciation for the location. The team had sent out DVDs and videos ... but no one knew how many had actually been viewed.

"We really wanted to hit the recipient in the face with the beauty of Vancouver. Flash can do that," says Hirsch.

So they agreed on a test -- the first email would be sent with a small snippet of Flash above the letter copy. Recipients would be able to click on a link to view the entire Flash presentation, or they could scroll to read the letter and click on links within it to view the non-Flash content of their choice instead.

If the test worked out, then they would use the format, with varying Flash snippets, for all five sends.

-> Microsite: Better than a bigger home site

As mentioned above, each email sent contained links to its own special microsite for more information on that topic.

Why not send links to the main site? "You can only have one objective with one tool. The purpose of the main site was to educate every Tom, Dick and Harry, to get local volunteers, to offer answers for anyone who every had a question," explains Hirsch.

"If you're an IOC member, you're going to vote on our future. We have very specific answers for your questions. We wrote copy, designed the landing page, to achieve the one single message objective of each mailing. Sometimes simplicity helps."

-> List hygiene: Mission critical

Each time an email was sent, the team carefully collected bounces and, with help from IOC headquarters, corrected email addresses for problematic recipients.

If a few people hold your fate in the palm of their hands, you don't risk your message not getting through.

-> Bonus campaign: Sending a news alert

Part-way through the final few months, Vancouver politicians decided to hold a referendum to see if citizens really supported the idea of hosting the Olympics and attendant expenses.

While biting their nails and vigorously promoting pro-vote messages to the community, the marketing team also readied two email messages to be broadcast to IOC members the split second the votes were tallied.

One canned message was created to soften the blow of a "no" vote, the other to celebrate a "yes" vote.

Thankfully "yeses" won by a considerable margin. Now the team waited to see if the IOC agreed...


Vancouver won the Olympic Bid, and the integrated print/email/microsite campaign was definitely a part of the success, although obviously there were plenty of other elements also responsible.

Cameron definitely feels the consistency of message combined with the high-end production values impressed committee members. "We got some great comments back from people when they opened the email."

More results details:

- The delivered open rate for the first message topped 60% and the second almost reached 70%. Subsequent messages began to go slightly down over time.

Hirsch says the key difference between the first two messages was the fact that the first mailing was "from" Vancouver, while the second was "from" a personal name - John Furlong who headed the bid committee and who'd met many IOC members personally.

- The ratio of single to multiple opens was constant over time. So people who tended to open messages repeatedly or pass them to friends to open, were a constant factor.

- Clickthroughs went dramatically up after the first email. Cameron says the first message tried to say too much in the text. Subsequent messages included more click lines for information, and generated more clicks.

- Fewer than 5% of total clicks from all the campaigns as a whole (combining all clicks together) were from people who could not view the Flash in the email. (Note: This doesn't indicate that everyone else could view the Flash, just that they didn't click when they couldn't see it.)

- Recipients who could view the Flash apparently loved it. Hirsch says, "We were getting amazing emails from IOC members saying they really, really liked it."

Final note: Obviously this Case Study only applies directly to a handful of marketers in the world. However, it should also serve as inspiration for every single marketer who has to sell to a committee instead of an individual.

Useful links related to this story:

a. Link to samples of all the emails sent (definitely click on this one - they are beautiful)

b. Hirsch Strategies - Did the campaign's strategy and copy

c. Connectus Inc. - Did the campaign's design and execution
See Also:

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