How the Australian Paralympic Committee used data to change its media strategy for Rio

News organisations aren’t the only ones ramping up to cover Rio this year. Khali Sakkas of Isentia gives us a glimpse of how the Australian Paralympic Committee is using data to manage its communications.

Above: Javelin thrower Madeleine Hogan has overcome two knee reconstructions to be in contention for her third Paralympics. Photo: Colleen Petch, Herald Sun

Demonstrating success with data is all about knowing the measures and metrics that relate to your objectives and resonate with your stakeholders, and using them to build a compelling story of your achievements.

For PR/communications teams, the outputs of media activity – including metrics such as the volume of media coverage, number of likes and shares, audience reach and website traffic – can play a vital role.

Analysis of the APC’s media coverage during the London Games showed remarkable results in terms of media interest, audience reach and social media engagement. The volume of media coverage increased by 98 per cent from the Beijing Games, with particularly strong interest across broadcast outlets. The IPC’s YouTube content had more than 9.9 million views, while the Paralympics were rated as the biggest trending sporting event of 2012.

Pulling this data together and building the success story helped the organisation to secure an increase in government funding in a year when most sporting organisations had their funding cut. It also helped the APC to win and extend corporate sponsorships from the likes of Swisse, Cadbury, Woolworths and Qantas.

The APC holds that participation in sport provides social and physical benefits to people with disabilities, and plays an important role in changing community perceptions of people with disabilities. So the APC’s media outputs should drive outcomes linked to this purpose. In this case, the outcome to measure was whether the media coverage of the team’s performance during the London Games changed the way Australians perceive our Paralympic athletes.

The APC used market research to demonstrate that 90 per cent of Australians found the team “inspirational” following the London Games. Those mission-defined outcomes not only allow organisations to defend themselves against budget cuts, but can provide a compelling case for increased funding and attracting new partnerships.

But the media landscape is changing rapidly — and with it, so must the media strategy.

After the London Games, the APC used data to understand what had really driven results.

Media content analysis showed that the APC’s media team of 15 produced 134 media releases during the two-week event. Yet this activity resulted in only 3 per cent of press coverage.

The strategy that had worked so well in previous Games was being challenged by the first truly “social” Games. The majority of the attention had shifted from media release-generated content to athletes tweeting about their success from the finishing line. How can a media release compete with that level of excitement and authenticity? The stories were being told directly by the athletes, and the content needed to be highly visual.

The APC used this analysis to confidently change the way it resourced its media team for Sochi and Rio. This meant a greater focus on multi-skilled staff who could be effective across multiple platforms. It also was a clear call that the APC needed to inject more resources into its social media operations so they could play a bigger role in the conversation.

Looking to Rio …

The APC’s general manager for communications, Tim Mannion, talks about the team’s preparation for Rio.

Khali: Social media is set to play a massive role in the coverage of the Paralympics this year. Do you provide social media training for your athletes?

Tim: The APC recognises the power of social media to help build support for the Australian Paralympic Team, which is why we actively encourage all Team Members to engage online to discuss their achievements at the Paralympic Games with friends and communities, share information and build new connections.
The APC also offers social media awareness training to all Team Members in the lead-up to the Paralympic Games. We have conducted dozens of these sessions around Australia since 2012 and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. The sessions are designed to be fun and interactive, while providing practical examples of social media use in sport – both good and bad!

Khali: Following the London Games, the APC recognised they needed to find new ways to tell stories. Can you share any of the new strategies or concepts that you will be using in Rio?

Tim: We know that more Australians than ever before will be following the Paralympic Games this year, thanks to the APC’s new partnership with Seven West Media. Ultimately, the APC’s media strategy is about telling the best stories and ensuring the audience knows they are an important part of our Rio campaign.

When it came to recruiting our media staff for London 2012, the APC primarily targeted print journalists who could file clean, extensive copy for media releases, previews and reviews. Only one member of our team was dedicated to our website and social media platforms. In Rio, it will be the opposite. We are taking just one specialist print journalist while every other member of our media team will be prioritising real-time updates and audio-visual content via our online platforms.

Apart from our two videographers, who will primarily shoot and edit well-produced and in-depth clips every day, our media team will be filing images, video and audio grabs for our website and posting social content constantly via @AUSParalympics from venues to provide fans with that immediate, money-can’t-buy experience.

The appetite for this type of content is already obvious to us. In the lead-up to the Games, we reached very significant audiences with our live streams via Facebook and Periscope during our Team Uniform Launch and our sport announcements to date.

We have no doubt that Australians want to know more about the journey of our athletes, and we are excited about what we can achieve in Rio when the Paralympic Games begin on 7 September.

Khali Sakkas is the Executive Director of Insights and Research at Isentia and was a member of our panel discussion on Hot Data at the CommsDirect Conference. Tim Mannion is the general manager of communications at the Australian Paralympic Committee. We wish him and the whole team the best of luck in Rio. This story was published in Issue 86 of The Walkley Magazine.