Remembering Pat McGovern

“Boston, MA – March 20, 2014 – International Data Group IDG announced today with great sadness that its Founder and Chairman, Patrick J. McGovern, died March 19, 2014, at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, California.”

via Remembering Pat McGovern |

I worked for Pat McGovern for eight months in 2005 when I was running online at CXO — the branch of IDG publishing that published CIO, CSO, CMO Magazines. I competed against his publications in the early 80s when I worked for PC Week, the arch-rival of IDG’s InfoWorld.

There are going to be a ton of Pat McGovern stories told over the next few days. Here’s mine.

While Pat was a lion in technology publishing he was also one of the first and most influential western businessmen to operate in the People’s Republic of China.  His presence in China, his reputation there to this very day, is legendary and made him the most well known and respected Westerner sin the Chinese tech sector. His VC investments in the likes of Baidu were early and massive successes. The man even spoke Mandarin.

During the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics I was surprised to find myself riding in the back of a bus with Pat on our way to a private dinner with Lenovo’s senior executives and some heavy hitting senior execs from Qualcomm, Google, Microsoft, Intel, AMD, etc.. I saw him sitting alone in the back of the bus, so I sat down beside him and started chatting him up, thanking him for the opportunity to briefly work for him before quitting to join Lenovo. He was legendary for his photographic memory and immediately made the connection and started peppering me with questions.

As the bus crawled through traffic it was apparent that most everybody sitting within six rows of us was eaves-dropping on the conversation, most of them unaware of who Pat was. He was a big man but a soft spoken one; not at all brash or loud.  So I introduced him around  to the people in the adjacent seats as the first Westerner to do business in Communist China, well before Deng’s market reforms that led to “capitalism with Chinese characteristics” and unlocked the Chinese growth we marvel at today. I urged Pat to tell the bus the story of how he infiltrated China in the 1970s. The story went roughly like this: Pat was on a flight from Japan to Russia and figured out he could make a “connection” in Beijing. This is back in the era of Nixon-Mao and PingPong diplomacy. Let’s just say there were no princelings drag racing Ferrari’s around the third ring road back then. Anyway, the plane lands, Pat looks out the window, amazed he’s this close to the mysterious closed country. So he gets off the plane. The plane leaves without him. The Red Guard are confronted with this American standing in their airport essentially saying “Take me to your leader.”

Pat humbly regaled the bus for 30 minutes with the story of how he invaded China, set up the first Chinese tech publications, and earned the trust and respect of the Chinese government. When we arrived at the restaurant it was my Chinese colleagues who really lit up at the sight of him, hustling him away to a place of honor next to the chairman and CEO of Lenovo as befitted the father of Chinese computer journalism.

He was a genuinely great man. Here’s his story of how he entered China as captured in the official IDG oral history:

Continue reading “Remembering Pat McGovern”

Relentlessly Self-Improving

I confess I haven’t rowed on the water once this calendar year. My only excuse is a shitty start to the season with the torn bicep back in January and the five months of rehab. Now it looks like that same arm has a “slap tear” at the top of the bicep, and that means some specific movements are both painful and very weak, including lifting the shell out of its rack and getting it over head.

The winter injury happened just in to time to knock me out of the 2012 CRASH-B sprints (the “world championships” of indoor/erg rowing) and I never got motivatedenough  to wake up extra-early for the calm water and portage my scull down Old Shore Road to the harbor.   Crossfit and the tedium of physical therapy had my full attention and now, with Thanksgiving holiday ahead, it’s time to start hyperfocusing on the indoor rowing season which traditionally begins for me with the Concept 2 Holiday Challenge (200,000 meters between Thanksgiving and Christmas) and ends with the Crash-B’s in February.

This is my last year in the 50-54 men’s heavyweight division. In 2011 I tanked after going out too fast from the start and bonked in the last 500 meters, blowing a nice pace and finishing 14th with a 6:39.9.  I had won the Cape Cod “championships” at the Cranberry Crunch the month before with a 6:42 and was all full of myself and cocky at the Crash-Bs and went out too fast. I learned my lesson and left the arena at Boston University determined to come back better in 2012. I signed up for Crossfit Cape Cod the next week and have been training with an eye towards getting faster on the erg.

Today I did my first 2,000 meter test to set the baseline for my training over the next three months leading up to the race on February 17.  I climbed on the erg, stripped off my shirt, set the monitor for a 2,000 meter piece and decided anything under 7 minutes would be a good place to start. I made it. Barely, with a 6:58.8.  That meant an average 500 meter pace of 1:44.7. Respectable, but a long way from where I need to be in 12 weeks. Ironically, focusing on Crossfit has made me slower on the erg — proof that randomizing my exercise the Crossfit way between metabolic and strength conditioning isn’t as effective as my tried-and-true model of putting in tons of meters and shifting to short sprint intervals as the races grow near.

I logged my time on Concept2’s online ranking page and now stand 39th out of 616 heavyweight men ages 50-59. The winning time in my division last year at the Crash-Bs was a 6:11.4. The world record is 6:07.7 set by Andy Ripley in 1998. The world record — period — for men is 5:36.6.

Breaking seven minutes is a great goal for any guy in good shape, but being the competitive egomaniac I am, of course I am going to obsess on the winning times in my division and have my eyes on the next age group’s record of 6:18 set by Harvard/Olympian legend Dick Cashin.    As for this year. I would dearly love to get under 6:30 in 12 weeks. That means shaving 30 seconds between now and then. It’s improbable, if not impossible, but it is at least aggressive. The question is how to develop a training plan that will get me there while allowing me to do the daily Crossfit workouts, and taper in time for the big event?

If I pull one 2K per week — say every Saturday. I should be shaving 3 seconds off every week if I want to break 6:30 on February 17.  I bet if I were to attack a test piece now with the same intensity a race requires — “emptying the tank” — and leaving nothing to spare at the end, I might get to 6:45 with a superhuman effort. The question is how shave the last 15 seconds knowing full well the law of diminishing returns that sets in as one gets closer to the goal.

Developing a training plan to get from here to there is not a simple matter of plotting a line from 7 minutes on November 15 to 6:30 on February 15 and hoping a miracle will happen somewhere along that line. It won’t. Physiological adaptation doesn’t work that way.

In fact, to be more geeky about it. The best way to look at the challenge is not by gross finishing time, but the specific pace that has to be maintained to get there. For that I turn to the Concept 2 online pace calculator. The rowing machine has a monitor that counts down the meters, notes the strokes per minute and most prominently displays a big bold number — the erg’s equivalent to the speedometer on a car — the current pace for 500 meters. In Saturday’s baseline piece, my average split was 1:44.7. I didn’t row a a flat 1:44.7 every one of the 200 or so strokes it took to tick off 2,000 meters. I started with a 1:33 and gradually degraded to as slow as a 1:50 at one point. Fortunately, the monitor also displays an estimated finish time that one can improve by pulling harder, so having sat down with a sub-7 minute performance as my goal, I was able to keep the predicted time under 7 minutes and not let things decline and get out of hand.

Split strategies are essential to a great 2,000 meter performance. Using the Concept2 calculator and entering in 2,000 meters as the distance and 6 minutes, 29.9 seconds as the goal. I hit pace and it tells me that I would have to maintain a 1:37.4 pace on every stroke. Alas, I am not a machine so I start strong, fade, and then comes back to sprint to the finish. Hence my splits are all over the place. The experts say the trick is to pull negative splits — meaning go progressively faster every 500 meters and not do a “fly and die” and rush out of the start and go like mad until something goes very wrong (which it always does in a fly or die situation). The discipline required, not to mention the conditioning, is massive.

As Mike Tyson said, “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” All of my pre-2k battle plans go out the window the second I start whipping myself back and forth trying to get the flywheel up to speed and realize the adrenaline is pushing me way too fast out of the blocks. After I settle down to my planned pace, and do my power-tens on the 500 meter marks, the dreaded visit to the pain cave begins about 750 meters or three minutes into the race, then comes what my friend Dr. Dan calls the “talk with Jesus” in the third quarter following the half-way point. All sorts of bad thoughts creep into the mind in during the 500 meters when the lactic acid is flaming, tunnel vision begins, and one’s head starts to roll around. This is when the debate between survival and simply continuing and just stopping and puking happens. In a boat you can’t stop. If you stop it is a disaster like an eight car rear end collision on a foggy highway. No one stops in a rowing race. It just can’t happen. Rowing is all about the inner debate between the survival part of the brain and the more noble “because it’s there” part. To hell with winning. The third quarter of a 2K race is about continuing. The last quarter is the realization that in 50 strokes the agony ends and the realization that anyone can do anything for two minutes.

I just need to figure out a practical path to get my numbers down in what should be an interesting test of the “quantified self.” It is a very profound psycho-physiological-spiritual question to ponder: if hope springs eternal as the cliche says, and if one is a “relentlessly self-improving” man (to quote Doctor Evil in Austin Powers), at what point does the aging ego accept the fate of all flesh and realize that the wheels have started to come off and indeed, as we age, the rower’s adage of “the older we get, the faster we were” is the bitter awful truth?

A 18-year old, prime-of-life specimen of immortal perfection can look at next year and rationally expect, with hard work, training, supplements, steroids, whatever …. to go faster. Athletes peak in their 30s. Most Olympians are in the 20s, some in their 30s, (depending on the sport of course. )The oldest successful Olympic rower is Sir Steve Redgrave, who won five gold medal in consecutive Olympics. He won his last in 2000 at the age of 38 and then retired, was knighted, and was the guy who ran the torch from the motorboat into the Olympic Stadium during London’s open ceremonies this past summer.

The best way to show the reverse parabola of progress would be to plot all the erg scores from the Crash-B’s against the age of the competitors. It would show a quick improvement from the teens up through the 30s, then a steep decline that accelerates through the 50s.   Masters rowers — 40 years and up– are  generally Type-A personalities, well funded, and obsessively competitive on and off the water.  I suspect not one of them accepts the truth that they are going to get slower next year, and most, like me, are throwing themselves into training plans, double-session workouts, expensive fish oil, post-workout protein supplements, weight regimens, and new boats (a new high end single scull costs well over $10,000 for 18′ and 35 pounds of carbon fiber). Speaking for myself — we’re fighting the clock.

To end this disquisition on age and improvement …. there is nothing like an ergometer to give one the naked lunch* truth that in the end, everybody has to slow down and stop some day. Eventually everybody runs out of water, has to check oars, and back down before slipping over the spillway and cascading, lifelessly over the foaming precipice. To that I call bullshit and hope to be the toothless cackling codger who walks out on the floor of the Agganis Arena in 2052 at the age of 94 and pulls a sub-ten minute piece and gives time and deterioration the middle finger.

*: defined by the William Burrough's novel Naked Lunch, where "Burroughs states in his introduction that Jack Kerouac suggested the title. "The title means exactly what the words say: naked lunch, a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.""

Realtime Interactive Olympics? I Hope So

It would appear that the International Olympic Committee bestirred itself from its antediluvian luddite position on online media and demanded that the bidders for broadcast rights cease the ass-hatted pre-Tivo practice of taping and delaying coverage for prime-time American audiences and make available the athletic events in realtime AND online.

Online was a misery of DMA takedowns during Beijing (which I lived firsthand thanks to the paranoia of the IOC that any manifestation of YouTube video would undercut the value of its crown jewel broadcast rights).

While details are sparse from the New York Times coverage today, the second paragraph of Richard Sandomir’s article stands out: “…Comcast responded with a knockout bid and a promise that it would show every event live, on television or online, a recognition of the immediacy of technology and a drastic reversal of NBC’s policy of taping sports to show them to the largest possible audience in prime time.”

If you’ve ever watched Olympic coverage in Europe on EuroSport you’re accustomed to getting complete coverage of every event,  , no matter how long-tailed, in realtime. Think hours of men skiing with rifles and you get the European viewing experience, versus the usual NBC saccharine around some perky pre-pube gymnast who overcame Demeaning Plebney while ardent fans of the 50 meter air pistol get bupkus and have to scrounge around online in hopes someone, somewhere encoded a feed of their passion.

If the Games make it truly online — and they sort of have to now that the world is 100% obsessed with video the way they want it, when they want it — then London ought to be a delight for longtail sports fans. Let’s just hope NBC gets its online act together in time, doesn’t strike a Devil’s deal with Microsoft Silverlight, and delivers a multiplatform stream (iPad, droid, PC) that kicks ass and finally delivers on the promise of a truly interactive Olympics. If I were at NBC interactive I’d be on the phone to the guys and looking for some technical ninja help.

The online rights and pay-per-view revenue should, in theory, kick the stuffing out of the old broadcast rights that typified the Dick Ebersol era when there were three networks, no Tivo, and no Interweb. My fingers are crossed.

Olympic blogging policies for the 2010 Winter Games

The International Olympic Committee has issued explicit blogging guidelines to “accredited” participants in the Vancouver Winter Games that take place this month. As a marketing representative of the Olympics who promoted a large athlete blogger program — Voice of the Summer Games — in Beijing in 2008, I had some intimate insights into the IOC’s attitude towards blogging and freedom of expression by athletes which I stifled at the time in light of the corporate relationship. My true feelings towards the IOC and its bureaucrats may never be expressed in public, but suffice it to say that initial concerns about censorship going into Beijing which were directed at the wrong authorities. The guidelines just released confirm in my mind that the IOC is hyper-sensitive and misinformed about new media and self-published content, are trying to preserve their lucrative broadcast revenues by prohibiting athletes from posting videos of themselves or other athletes, and are primarily concerned about athletes using their blogs to promote non-Olympic sponsors. Bottom line. The IOC is protecting its bank.  The guidelines continue to be restrictive, negative, and defensive in nature, and shows the wide  distance the IOC needs to cover before it catches up with the reality of athlete, coach, sponsor, and fan generated content and coverage. The IOC should establish a program to promote blogging, tweeting, first-person streaming, and do its utmost to use its best assets — the elite athletes — to promote the Olympic ideal. Instead it will likely continue to issue DCMA take-down notices against non-sanctioned video and do its utmost to say “no” when it should be saying “yes.” I understand from a colleague who worked with me in Beijing that there is some hope for London, but someone needs to throw an intervention in Lausanne and tell the IOC the time has come to promote, not negate, athlete blogging. Sorry for the rant, but as one who was deep in the weeds with the IOC over this issue, it is depressing to see little if any change in their attitude in the past eighteen months. They are on Twitter: @olympics.

Thanks to Kaitlyn Wilkins for alerting me to the new guidelines via twitter.

Update: Newsy has produced a piece quoting from this post. I am not alone in finding the IOC wrong on this issue it would appear.

Prizes and awards

After I failed to win a college creative writing contest in 1979 and groused about it, one of my advisors, the late John Hersey, told me words to the effect that “Homer didn’t win squat for the Odyssey.” True that, but Hersey did win a Pulitzer (I was part of a team that got nominated for one….)

I still like to brag and today I get to brag on behalf of the digital media team here at Lenovo who delivered the goods in a big way in 2008 for our Olympic sponsorship with Voices of the Summer Games. We’ve won two big awards in the public relations world for our work – thanks to the diligent applications of our agency, Ogilvy PR’s 360 Digital Influence team of John Bell, Rohit Bhargava, and Kaitlyn Wilkins – the Catchup Lady.

The first award is the Holmes Report Golden Saber . This, to PR people, is a really big deal. And we won the Global Program category with our athlete blogger program – 100 athletes, 25 countries, telling the world about their experiences in Beijing on Lenovo IdeaPads. Simple idea, massive execution project, and it came off flawlessly (well, almost). So, I have a Saber going for me. Here’s Rohit picking up the hardware.

The second award got announced last week, a Bronze Anvil from the PRSA (Public Relations Society of America). We won the Social Media category.

The people at Lenovo who need to take bows are:

  • Deepak Advani
  • Esteban Panzeri
  • Alan White
  • Tim Supples
  • Bob Page
  • Kim Preslar
  • Jim Hazen
  • Geraldine Kan
  • David Rabin
  • Carina Van Vlerken
  • Margaret Lam
  • Sheji Ho
  • Kevin Walker
  • Mike Cunningham

Supporting us:

  • The aforementioned Ogilvy folks
  • Neo@Ogilvy for driving a remarkable media plan (Nicole Estebanell and team)
  • Tom Lowry and the Google team that let us borrow their portal and blogging
  • Federated Media – John Battelle, when I first briefed him, was negative and persuaded me it would wither in the noise if we didn’t do something smart. Federated delivered that)

Cue up the music, escort the man in the tux away from the microphone, cut to commercial ….

Digital Agency Report Cards 2008: Adweek

via Digital Agency Report Cards 2008.

My Google Alert sent in the annual rankings by AdWeek of the various agencies. Lenovo’s agency of record is Ogilvy. I’m happy to see Lenovo was cited as a high point in their 2008 ranking.

OgilvyInteractive is trying to figure out social media. It’s established some bona fides. For Lenovo, it showed benefits of electronics giant’s products by putting them in the hands of athletes at the Summer Olympics to blog for a Lenovo site. The “Voices of the Olympic Games” program generated 1,500 postings by 100 athletes. But, social media can bite back.”

Couple things to clarify. OgilvyPR’s 360 Digital Influence ProjectRohit Bhargava, Kaitlyn Wilkins, John Bell — did the heavy lifting with blogger recruitment and management during the Olympics. Neo@Ogilvy – Nicole Estebanell’s team — led the media selection and execution of in-market dollars.

The project was conceived on the client side by me, executed by Lenovo’s Alan White, Esteban Panzeri and Tim Supples and supported by Lenovo’s comms team, especially Bob Page.  Ogilvy did a magnificent job rallying around us under impossible deadlines to make this program happy. Sidenote: the Voices project was a finalist in PRWeek’s annual awards for best use of digital, but alas, lost out to an Ikea and milk moustache campaign

And for my next trick … Farewell to the Olympics

I started writing this on August 27th somewhere over Siberia, between the Patom and Aldan Plateaus, the Verkhoyanskiy Mountains somewhere ahead and to starboard, the line on the SkyMap showing China receding astern at 550 miles per hour.

With the taiga unrolling below me, and the Arctic Ocean somewhere ahead, I had ten uninterrupted hours to take stock of the past 20 days, photos to sort, thank you notes to write, but a blog post seemed too short and frivolous a thing to express what could be, in hindsight someday, the most interesting and important three weeks in my life.

So I watched a movie instead and procrastinated about this for about a solid month.

Not to be portentous and mawkish by using works like “portentous” and “mawkish,” but I was flying away from the scene of a very amazing event, one familiar to the world from their televisions, but one that I walked through, sweated on, wrinkled my nose at, and sleepwalked through for three very long weeks. I met greatness, witnessed excellence, saw a country make its debut on the world’s stage, drank too much, laughed till I ached, and felt like weeping on multiple occasions when too much jet lag and not enough exercise ganged up to strip my nerves raw. I fought the forces of stupidity, tried to stand tall against censorship, threw a massive tech support temper tantrum, spent $5 million in one week and ate things that I hope I never eat again. I got lost in a city I fell in love with, and started to believe I was getting to know on the very day I had to leave.

And I got to sing the Star Spangled Banner at the top of my lungs in the middle of 1,000 grinning Chinese fans in the finish line grandstand at the Shunyi Water Park after the USA Women’s Eight won gold in rowing.

So I have that going for me.

The athletes were the most unforgettable aspect of the experience. As a good friend said to me in an instant message while delivering some photography advice: “focus on people, they are much more interesting than landscapes.” Well, yes. I took pictures of the Bird’s Nest, the Water Cube, this building and that monument, but it was the Japanese baseball cheerleaders with their bleached reddish hair, the countryside Chinese standing agape in Tien’amen Square before the Forbidden City and the chubby cheeked portrait of Mao, the weightlifter playing beer pong, the celebrities, the fox-faced Russian fans climbing into their souped up Audi A-8s with the cartoon bear logo of Club Bosco on the windows … but it was the athletes that stood out in the middle of the noise and the chatter about sponsorships, the broadcast rights, the jockeying for who would host the 2016 Games.

There is an unseen light that surrounds an Olympian, a buzz that says it is a good thing to be twenty years old, in perfect physical condition, and set free in Beijing during the month of August. On the subway from the Korea-Cuba baseball game – the last baseball game – there some unnamed rower from the US lightweight men’s four told us about not making the finals, but rowing in the petite finals. “Congratulations,” I told him. “For making it here.” He looked a bit surprised, I guess figuring it was hollow grandmotherly praise to be told “You played and that’s what counts” but then, when I told him I knew the sport, that I empathized with the agony of surviving 2,000 meters, he brightened up and realized to his surprise that the world does care about an Olympian, medal or not.

For the last 12 months I’ve worked with a great team to deliver what we hoped would be a decent online experience around Lenovo’s sponsorship of the Olympic Games. That experience started in the winter of 2007, starting taking shape in July of that year, but didn’t really kick off until the torch started moving through great controversy in London and Paris last Spring.

The plan should familiar to readers of this blog. It was this: take advantage of the International Olympic Committee’s decision to permit athletes to blog during the 2008 Games and equip as many as possible with Lenovo computers and digital video cameras. Recruit the athletes on the basis of their proclivity to blog, and their passion to talk about what they do. This was not a typical “sponsor-the-medalist” play where agents got involved, contracts executed, and the athlete would be expected to be a spokesman for the brand. This was a fairly arms length, handshake deal where the athlete was given a PC and asked, not required, to put a badge on their blog (not Lenovo’s blog) indicating their participation in the program. The athletes were under no obligation to blog, their blogging was not subject to Lenovo’s review, and the only requirements in place were those dictated by the IOC in its guidelines to athletes.

What we did was aggregate, or combine in one place, all the athlete blogs by compiling all the feeds from those blogs on a single page. That page allowed readers to select athletes by country, sport, or language. It showed a preview of the post, carried links to biographies of the bloggers, and directly linked out to the athletes’ blogs. The page carried a small tile that indicated the athletes were using IdeaPads and ThinkPads as part of the program, as well as a comarketing nod to our partners at Intel. There were no ads on the page, no calls to buy now, and the only editorializing on our part was a box at the top of the page that acted as a news “box” to promote a blogger or specific post.

We engaged Ogilvy Public Relation’s 360 Digital Influence Project, a Washington, D.C. based team led by John Bell and Rohit Bhargava. John and I launched Lenovo’s first corporate blog, Design Matters, in the spring of 2006, so it was a natural fit to turn to John in December 2007 to seek his team’s assistance in bringing our blogging program to life.

We set a target of recruiting 100 bloggers by June 2008 and specified to the Ogilvy team that we wanted bloggers who would otherwise not receive a lot of attention from the mainstream sporting press, who represented more “obscure” sports, and who either had a blog, or who had the potential to launch and tend to a blog despite the pressure of competing. I personally recruited the first blogger – Australian rower Drew Ginn – as I had been reading his blog for over a year having a keen interest in both the sport and the phenomenon of a blogging elite athlete. I phoned Drew over Skype, described the program, and was delighted when he agreed to participate. With him as our paradigm – a champion (he won a gold medal in Athens), a technically adept explorer (Drew is all over YouTube,, Skype and Blogger), and a charismatic writer – Ogilvy then went forth and rapidly recruited 99 more athletes from 25 countries representing 27 of the 32 Olympic sports.

On the Lenovo side, three people put in extremely long hours pulling the project together. Alan White was the project manager and the first person I want to thank because he brought a keen focus on executing the program, making sure it happened on time, under budget, and was communicated appropriately. His expertise in what some have called “marketing 2.0” is now immense, and I can’t express loudly enough how much of Lenovo’s Olympic success online is because of Alan.

Technically and strategically Lenovo is blessed to have Esteban Agustin Panzeri driving its social media marketing programs. Esteban is a polymath with incredibly prescient instincts about everything from blogging tools to design. He is sysadmin, analyst, coder and a blogger himself. What you see at is all Esteban.

Getting 100 PCs and FlipCams personalized and delivered to 100 athletes is the personification of a logistical nightmare, but Tim Supples made it happen. His attention to detail insured the athletes were happy, taken care of, and given the support they needed.

On the ground in Beijing, Sheji Ho and Kevin Walker in our International iLounge (think Internet café) in the Athlete Village provided on the spot support and assistance to any athlete – not just the 100 athlete bloggers – who walked through their doors. They were the front line of tech support when bloggers couldn’t post to their blogs, or needed assistance with their new notebooks. Bob Page on our communications team provided great promotional support, helping us share the story with the press and calming me down with sage advice and counsel when certain bureaucracies began to get under my skin. Yan An in Beijing was our primary point of contact with the IOC and the Beijing Organizing Committee, helping get our program approved and working with the organizing committees to define the terms of the program and open up blogging for the athletes.

From Ogilvy, the team on the ground that drove the production of the program and acted as bloggers-in-chief were the incredibly effective duo of Rohit Bhargava and Kaitlyn Wilkins. They were everywhere, crawling over Beijing with great tenacity, seeking out the athletes and producing a compelling stream of video, Tweets, and in-person meet-ups that showcased the athletes and brought their stories to the attention of the world. For future Olympic sponsors looking for a breakthrough online play, look no further than Bhargava and Wilkins. Their passion for the Olympics is infectious and they bring not only innate expertise as bloggers to the table, but they are total pros when it comes to promotion and communications, combining the classic and the new together.

Finally I want to point out that without the unflagging support of Deepak Advani, Lenovo’s Chief Marketing Officer, the Voices of the Summer Olympics would not have happened. He immediately saw the value in the concept, challenged me to take it even further, and when forces both internal and external attacked the concept as too risky and unproven, stood tall and defended it.

So, how did it do? Or, better question, what was it supposed to do?

In the long run it comes down to selling personal computers. If this project can build an association in a potential buyer’s mind that Lenovo builds awesomely engineered PCs and is cool enough to give them to elite athletes so they can make history and share their stories with the world for the first time, then it did its part to support Lenovo’s role as the official provider of computing technology to the Olympics games.

Some metric goals were set, all of them were exceeded. I would argue that raw statistical measures are not the way to gauge a social media marketing program – that there is a number of softer metrics which need to be taken into account.

First are the gross tonnage metrics – how many people saw it, how many impressions, how many times, etc.

Second is the promotional model – how did we market the existence of this program and make people aware that it existed?

Third is engagement – did the program capture the users’ attention and compel them to interact with the athletes? With Lenovo?

Fourth is public relations and perception – did the program cast Lenovo in the right light? I would argue that given the controversial build up of issues leading up to these Games, that mitigating the censorship issue was a big thing for a company with deep China ties. No, Lenovo does not set political policies about Internet openness in China. Nor should we. But I believe our support and enablement of this program should be regarded as Lenovo’s commitment to principles such as freedom of speech and expression. To raise the flag a little bit, if we’re marketing our IdeaPads to consumers as a product that enables them to create and share their ideas, then putting those same products in the hands of athletes to create and share their experiences with the world would seem to be a perfect match.

On gross tonnage: about 1.6 million people visited the Lenovo pages. We don’t know how many people visited the athlete’s blogs directly nor how many people subscribed to the individual feeds of the athlete’s blogs, but we do know the athletes posted about 1,500 posts and received approximately 5,000 comments to those posts from readers.

The promotional plan was largely driven by Federated Media who brought in a unique play combining their own network of blogs andc Facebook, where Citizen Sports developed an application for users to download and install to cheer their home country’s athletes on. We contracted for 200,000 downloads, paying a fee per download, with anything beyond that 200,000 being a bonus to us. The program delivered 250,000 downloads and more than 1.5 million invites were sent through the Facebook app.

Ad creative and integration with the blogger program was the smart play, something we insisted on in our planning with Federated and Citizens. First, we syndicated the bloggers’ content and most recent posts into the ad units and Facebook pages, insuring a steady flow of new and compelling content into the program and the ad creative. That creative was not carrying a strong promotional message of “buy now” as we were running the entire campaign around awareness and not classic demand generation, so not a lot of surprise around the relatively low click-through rate.

Paid search was an important component of the plan, and we bid on Olympic related search terms to build traffic directly to the sites. This program was managed by Kim Preslar on the Lenovo side and our search agency Covario.

Engagement, or social metrics, indicate we received 10,000,000 theoretical impressions. The use of Twitter under the ID Lenovo2008, contributions to the #080808 hash tag, and constant publishing to Flickr and YouTube helped surround the blogging program with related content and connections.

  • Total Social Media Impressions – 10,404,344
  • Total Social Media Mentions- 202 sites
  • Lenovo Site Visitors – 1,400,000
  • Total number of athlete posts – 1500
  • Total number of comments on athlete blogs – 5000
  • Flickr Photos & Views – Over 800 photos and 6000+ views

Public relations: I am not an expert at communications metrics by any stretch of the imagination, but on the basis of verbatim and anecdotal testimonials, the program did very well. The negatives – some bloggers gave the program grief for looking and feeling too “corporate,” for not being adequately optimized for search engine optimization, and because the athletes weren’t being racy enough in dishing the dirt. After we guided some critics to the fact that Lenovo was not editing or influencing the athletes’ content things turned solidly positive.

In concluding, let me share some random lessons learned.

First: as David Armano pointed out, programs such as this personify the possibilities of Marketing 2.0 and breathe new life into the old and tired “microsite” model of the past. Second: pushing programs like the Voices of the Summer Olympics requires a lot of patience and a very adventurous leadership team. Getting buy in from the highest levels and then having the fortitude to hang in there despite the slings and barbs of doubters is the most important ingredient for success. Third: don’t fall in love with your plan. Be flexible and go where the program takes you. Don’t fall in love with your own vision and let other people modify it with their best thinking along the way.

I am pretty sad this project is over. Lenovo won’t be sponsoring another Olympics. Athlete blogging will live on and doubtlessly the next games in Vancouver will see some sponsor do something equally good with the technology or the next technology. It’s been a great experience, a hard one, but now to move onto the next big thing (and boy do I have something even bigger cooking at present).

Marketingprofs case study on Lenovo Olympic Blogger Program

Wish you could read it, it’s pretty good but it’s behind the subscription wall.

“Quick Read:
It worked for Sony in ’64 and Samsung in ’88. This year in Beijing, Lenovo joined their ranks, leveraging its Olympic sponsorship to develop global brand awareness.
Unique about Lenovo’s approach was the company’s use of new media, which both fortified its traditional marketing and created a new level of athlete and fan interaction that will no doubt change the way the world engages with future Olympics.
The campaign centered around an athlete blogging program, the first allowed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and included the first Olympic-themed Facebook application. It was also the first to use a Zumobi smartphone application in connection with a major event.
And the results? Well over a million visits to the campaign Web sites, more than 1.8 Million Facebook views, 60,000 smartphone downloads, and perhaps above all else: discernible global recognition.”

My wrap up post to come. Almost done. Waiting for some more content and then I’ll publish.

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