Communications: Special Olympics World Games

≡ The Backdrop:

The Special Olympics World Games, the largest event in the world for athletes with intellectual disabilities, was awarded to a private organizing committee in Los Angeles in 2011. Initially budgeted at $104.6 million, with a projected 823 full-time staff and as many as 40,000 volunteers, the project’s goal was to promote acceptance and inclusion for these athletes, from as many as 177 nations. The Games dates were July 25-August 2, 2015.

With a year to go, available funding allowed only a much smaller organizing committee; hardly any preparations had been made for media accreditation outreach, media facilities or volunteers.

≡ The Work:

Perelman, Pioneer was engaged to create, manage and produce the Media Operations function from scratch, beginning November 1, 2014.

Because of the limited funding available, Pat Harris DiLeva and Rich Perelman were the only Media Operations staff that were hired for the World Games. However, with their extensive experience in multi-sport Games, a world-class program was devised and implemented quickly:

  • Media Operations facilities specifications for each sport;
  • Media Operations staffing requirements for all 23 venues;
  • Media Operations technology equipment needs for all sites;
  • World Games invitation for media accreditation (six-page PDF).

A detailed, 61-page operating plan for the Media Operations sector was completed in 30 days and the venue, staffing and equipment specifications within 60 days after engagement.

Because only two people were hired for the entire department, we adopted an “inside & outside” deployment strategy. Ms. DiLeva worked primarily in the office and handled internal communications, media credentials and staff recruitment and processing, personally interviewing each potential Media Operations staff or volunteer candidate. Mr. Perelman worked primarily outside the office, visiting venues and coordinating facilities, media flows and procedures for the writing press, photographers and television media (including ESPN, which had most of the rights to the World Games, in coordination with the Senior Vice President/Broadcast).

Refined versions of the Operating Plan were provided on March 5 and May 1, 2015, and individual plans for each competition and support venue (including line-item equipment and supplies lists) were provided to each venue and sport manager in January and June of 2015.

More than 200 staff were interviewed and secured for Media Operations, with in-person training begun, live and on-line, in June 2015.

An aggressive media outreach strategy created the most interest in World Games coverage ever, followed by an intensive, electronic mail-based communications program:

  • Confirmation of media credentials;
  • LA2015 Factbook, in three editions: May 1, June 1 and July 1;
  • LA2015 Guide for News Media, published 10 July;
  • LA2015 Media Communique (sample), published weekly from June 8-July 13, three times the following week and then daily from July 20-August 3 (24 issues in all).

A special section of the LA2015.org Web site was dedicated for media use (with a separate address) and along with a specially-arranged Flickr site, offered news and royalty-free photography of the Games for use by media both in Los Angeles and those unable to attend.

≡ The Outcome:

Coverage was outstanding and shattered all records for media support of the Special Olympics World Games. Among the highlights:

  • Accreditation for media reached 1,728, from 79 nations, overwhelming the prior mark of 889 set in 2011. Of these, 1,514 were on-site in Los Angeles (many could not get visas).
  • Daily Media Communique featured not only media advisories and announcements, but highlights of all 25 sports and rosters of celebrities expected to participate in awards and personal appearances. Sent to ~2,000 daily as a PDF by electronic mail, actual circulation topped 6,000 on many days due to forwarding by media and staff.
  • Photography of the World Games available on Flickr eventually included 23,108 images, covering all of the sports and venues, and was heavily re-used.
  • Television coverage, led by ESPN, was brilliant. In the U.S. alone, ESPN programming – originally planned for 10 hours – reached 38 hours in all, reaching a total audience of 20.16 million. The Opening Ceremony was shown live, with highlight shows aired daily.
  • Venue media operations ran smoothly, with excellent access for the photographer and TV-heavy media corps (~90%) that attended the Games. Dedicated work spaces, with complimentary Internet access, were arranged in every venue.

Ian Payne of British broadcaster ITV, summed it up thus: “I’d like to compliment and thank you for an incredibly well-run tournament and superb media communications.”

Our success was due to (1) the thoroughness of the planning for each site, (2) the excellent work of the 200-plus Media Operations staff and volunteers, and (3) to the aggressive approach to communications. A week-long celebration of inclusiveness and awareness was the happy result.