When competition is fierce, how do you stand out from the crowd?
That was the novel strategy the Indiana Sports Corporation used in 2008 to bring the National Football League’s Super Bowl XLVI to Indianapolis.
Dianna Boyce, communications director of the 2012 Super Bowl Host Committee, had me riveted as she told me the story of how “Hoosier Hospitality” won the bid and cast Indianapolis in a whole new light.
You see, the Indiana Sports Corporation had also bid on Super Bowl 2011, but lost out to North Texas. Determined to try again, the corporation crafted another bid package, which was due to the 32 owners of professional football teams by 5 p.m. of the first Friday in May.
“Twelve days before bids were due, somebody had the idea to have eighth-graders from school districts across central Indiana hand-deliver the packages to team owners,” Dianna said. “It was a personal touch. In the extreme.”
An intentional strategy
The bid team wanted eighth-grade “ambassadors” because they’d graduate high school in 2012, the year Indianapolis wanted to host the Super Bowl.
To give their special delivery plan wings, the corporation sought out Dianna, who had served as an intern for the 1987 Pan American Games, several Big 10 tournaments and NCAA Final Four basketball tournaments, and other Indianapolis-hosted high-profile sporting events.
The window was open just wide enough for Dianna to work an organizational miracle. The fresh-faced eighth-graders helped Indianapolis win the bid. The host committee hired Dianna to run its communications in January 2010, two years before its big event.
She was the sixth employee of the host committee, which topped out at 35 members by the NFL’s 2011 preseason. Buoying paid staff were 150 volunteer subcommittee co-chairs, who led 800 subcommittee members. Game week, there were 8,000 volunteers in roles across the city ranging from parking to hospitality.
Coordinating resources and roles
“I’m only a wannabe athlete, but I am pretty good on the sidelines,” said Dianna, whose duties ended in July after filing an After-Action Report. “Looking back, the highlight was being part of a multi-year community event that brought out so much community pride.”
It’s not uncommon for host committees to hire executives who have run previous Super Bowls, but Indiana preferred homegrown talent who were willing to study NFL Senior Vice President Frank Supovitz’s “Sports Events Management and Marketing Playbook.”
Dianna oversaw media relations (the NFL issued credentials to 5,100 reporters and photographers!), interactive media, a speakers bureau and site promotions.
She also appointed 30 volunteer communication liaisons to attend subcommittee meetings and pitch stories out of them to different audiences. (That’s how a story on Super Scarves – scarves hand-knit by people across the world for the 8,000 volunteers – ended up in the New York Times.)
“There’s no time to ramp up, even two years ahead of time,” Dianna said. “I knew I couldn’t tell the host committee’s story all by myself, and there wasn’t time to train people. It helped that I already knew great communicators working for the children’s museum, the symphony, and other organizations that I could go to for help.”
She assembled the Speakers Bureau in much the same way. She tapped 30 locals who were already good public speakers, shared an overview of the host committee’s preparations, and offered them to speak at civic club and neighborhood association meetings from South Bend to Evansville. In all, they made 500 presentations!
To communicate a big event, Dianna recommends:
- Observe. Attend the event before you host it. Ask people to tell you what you’ll need to know. Read the After-Action report.
- Put your team together. Make sure they already have the skills to do the tasks you need. Put your plan in place.
- Execute your plan, adapting it as needed.
- Evaluate your plan from start to finish.
Dianna said attending the Super Bowl in 2010 in South Florida the same week she was hired was invaluable because it helped her differentiate the responsibilities of the host committee from the responsibilities of the NFL.
“The host committee has little to do with what happens on the field game day,” Dianna said. “The most frequently asked question I got over the last two years – hundreds and sometimes thousands of times a day – was about halftime entertainment, which is a 100 percent NFL-driven decision.”
Dianna and her communications liaisons told stories about how Indianapolis was getting ready to host the Super Bowl.
Traditional media is still the most effective means for getting your story out, Dianna said. Indianapolis’s NBC affiliate broadcast a Super Bowl prep story every Thursday for a year. You can’t beat that for mileage!
A planned $12 million commercial redevelopment of a three-block area near Lucas Oil Stadium became Super Bowl Village with a zip line over it. (Dianna did it twice! “Wonderfully exhilarating even on a 40-degree day,” she reports.)
A trail connecting cultural amenities downtown was improved. A suburban airport lengthened its runway in anticipation of game day traffic.
An eye on enhancements and improvements
“Nothing new got built specifically for the Super Bowl, but it was the impetus to go ahead and get some things done,” Dianna said. “It was fun to be able to tell the story of how Indiana turned out, literally and figuratively.”
Dianna said she revamped her “interactives” strategy to do more on Twitter, whose popularity mushroomed from 2010 to 2012. The host committee consulted Klout.com social media engagement ratings to identify Indiana’s “Social 46.” Volunteers on the interactives committee reached out to those people in hope they would Tweet about Super Bowl activities to their followers.
Mission accomplished. The buzz reverberated beyond traditional sports fans.
The host committee’s website also went through several renovations with the scope and frequency of postings and as interest broadened from Indiana, to national, to international.
“The website needs to be a staff responsibility,” Dianna said. “You can’t expect volunteers to do it, especially as you get close to the event and you need to update information minute-by-minute.”
Dianna’s earned her degree from DePauw University in interpersonal communication, but she says key points of good communication remain the same regardless of whether you’re working small or big.
- Know your audience.
- What are the best communication tools to reach them?
- Expect to use lots of communication platforms if you want to reach a lot of people.
- Face-to-face is always important. Decide how often you need to meet and keep that schedule. Report what happens to others in a timely fashion.
For me — part of the 166.8 million TV audience nationwide — the Super Bowl was a Sunday evening with the Giants, the Patriots, Madonna, LMFAO, M.I.A., Niki Minaj and Cee Lo Green at halftime.
For Dianna, the Super Bowl was two years of very hard work that left her working 21 hours a day by Game Week, and even sleeping on an inflatable mattress in her office a few nights.
Shortly after finishing up her work with the host committee, Dianna accepted a position as senior director of corporate communications for the Indianapolis-based sports outfitter Finish Line.
Check out Dianna’s interview about the economic impact of the Super Bowl.
Want to read more articles geared to school communicators? Click HERE.