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Behind the Winning Bid to Bring the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Marathon to Atlanta

The five pillars of Atlanta Track Club’s winning Olympic Team Trials bid.

By Anne Wainscott-Sargent

The power of storytelling and connecting with your audience — always critical to writers — took on Olympic-sized significance during last week’s APMP Southern Proposal Accents Conference in Atlanta after the conference’s memorable and inspiring keynote presentation by Rich Kenah.

Rich, executive director of the Atlanta Track Club, shared with proposal managers throughout the Southeast how his not-for-profit running club won the bid for the City of Atlanta to host the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Marathon next February, beating out Orlando, Chattanooga and Austin for the prestigious award.

For readers not familiar with Atlanta Track Club, it happens to be the second-largest running organization in the U.S. This year the Club will celebrate its 50th year organizing Atlanta’s annual AJC Peachtree Road Race — a 4th of July tradition and the world’s largest 10K race that attracts 60,000 runners.

Next Feb. 29th, 500 of America’s top runners will converge on Atlanta to compete for six positions on the U.S. Olympic team before a live televised global audience. The City of Atlanta anticipates 100,000 spectators will watch the marathon live, with the total economic impact for Atlanta estimated at $30 million.

“What made us the winning bid? We reviewed the challenge, asked ourselves the hard questions and understood the course and the race,” said Rich, a former Olympic runner who brought together a team of volunteers and leaders in the city to formulate a compelling bid that ultimately won over the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Going the Distance

Thinking outside the box was a given. “Our bid had to differentiate ourselves from other bid cities and to constituent groups, where many had competing interests,” he said. “We did a lot of white-boarding.”

Those constituents included the State of Georgia, NBC, Resurgens and key athletic organizations: the International Association of Athletics Federations, the international governing body for the sport of athletics, and USA Track & Field, the U.S. national governing body for the sports of track and field, cross country running, road running and racewalking.

Another challenge was the fact that Atlanta has no 100% flat running course unlike other bid cities — something known to the athletes.

Appointing a ‘Coach’

Assembling a winning Olympic bid: Shana Smith and Rich Kenah from Atlanta Track Club.

Rich looked to the talents of his Club’s 30-person staff, who had never submitted a bid before. He appointed a “coach” to own the submission, pull together pieces of the 88-page bid response over a two-month period and keep everyone on track and on deadline: Shana Smith, who has a Master’s of Science in Sports Administration and serves as the Club’s registration manager.

“We have such a great team here – we definitely understood the support roles and strengths of our team and leaned on each other,” said Shana. “One thing I learned in this process is the power of flexibility.”

Shana noted that “building a buffer for the unexpected” also served her well. Her advice to anyone tackling a high-profile bid response? Be patient, allow time for creativity and editing and recognize that “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Embracing Atlanta’s Olympic Legacy, Olympic Future

Atlanta Track Club staffers developed five bid pillars fashioned after the five Olympic rings that articulated why Atlanta should be the chosen host city, built around the theme – Olympic Legacy, Olympic Future.

“Atlanta Track Club will reignite the city’s Olympic fever and recognize Atlanta’s Olympic Legacy while celebrating America’s top female and male distance runners as we build an Olympic Future,” the Club’s bid Executive Summary states.

Another pillar was Atlanta’s Olympic legacy and Olympic future: Rich explained that Atlanta had the advantage of being a former Olympic city, with much of the infrastructure built to support the 1996 Olympic Games still widely used by the community today (think Centennial Olympic Park and the dorms on Georgia Tech’s campus). With Atlanta as host city, several TV stories could be shown set in these Olympic venues.

Another pillar promoted Atlanta’s walkability – how the city’s MARTA transit train system would ferry athletes from the airport to their hotel and racing venue without ever having to get into a vehicle and deal with the city’s congested roadways.

Above all, the bid proposed a sustainable model that “recognizes the value that each constituent group brings to this Championship in a city that has a vibrant Olympic and running history.” The five pillars captured the imaginations of both the evaluators and the athletes. For one, it proposed a first-of-its kind revenue share relationship between a local organizing committee, USA Track & Field, and most importantly, the world’s best and most respected endurance athletes.

This concept was particularly significant to Rich, who recalled during his own Olympic journey how elite athletes received deferential treatment compared to qualifiers who lacked sponsorship but were still vying for a place on the U.S. Olympic team.

Sharing a Message from Meb

Meb Keflezighi and fellow runners pose for a photo after completing the AJC Peachtree Road Race on July 4, 2014 in Atlanta.

Atlanta’s bid wouldn’t be complete without a dynamic video message from Meb Keflezighi. The silver Olympic marathon medalist narrates the host city bid video, sharing why he’s a major fan of Atlanta and the city’s running culture.

“Atlanta is where runners can chase their dreams and their goals,” stated Meb, recalling his first glimpse of Atlanta as a UCLA student watching the 1996 Games in Atlanta; in 2004 he won Olympic silver in the marathon and finished in fourth place in the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Investing in Atlanta’s Youth

Instead of accepting the RFP requirement that the host city pay $100,000 to the Olympics’ national governing body, Atlanta’s bid team countered with a novel concept: committing $75,000 for youth fitness programs here at home — to get area young people moving. Rich notes that such an investment may result in lost revenues in the short-run, but it’s the long play that he and other city leaders are most focused on.

“We are looking to inspire Atlanta,” says Rich, noting that the fifth bid pillar — for Atlanta to become known as “Running City USA” — will hopefully inspire every day Atlantans, from soccer moms to teens and retirees — to embrace a healthier lifestyle. 

In the SEO Game, Key Words and Strong Content are King

Ever wondered how to maximize your online presence through Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

Stacy Williams, Search Advisory Net blogger and president of Atlanta-based search engine marketing firm, Prominent Placement, Inc., recently shared her best practices with an audience of Atlanta-based technologists with the International Association of Business Communicators.

The most important step, according to Williams, is generating strong and on-target keywords. “If you target the wrong keywords, then nothing else works. Use the verbiage your target audiences uses, not only what your industry or internal experts use.”
Stacy Williams, president of Prominent Placement.

Her company has a lot of B2B software clients, and many of them don’t like to talk about software; they like to talk about solutions. But their target audiences are searching for software instead.

When thinking about what keywords to use, the more detailed the better. You should think about the buying cycle of your prospects you’re trying to reach. The more specific you are with key word choices, the  higher probability of higher rankings and of connecting with people who want to make a purchase decision.
What do you do once you’ve figured out what keywords to target?  Williams says her team then takes one or two key search terms and assigns them to the key pages of the site.  “We like to work it into text headline when we can and the copy on the page – these are real important places to put your keywords.”  She also points to the title tag in the blue browser bar as a key place to put keywords.
Search engines don’t just look at the web page itself when determining rankings, Williams emphasized, rather, they also assess the quantity and quality of links pointing to that web page.
“Creating a well respected, authoritative site with lots of links pointing to it is the goal. Google knows which websites (and links) people want to read.” She considers link building one of the hardest tasks any SEO firm pursues.  Ideally, you want to get links from sites that are in your industry, on the same topic and are related.  
“The easiest way to get links is to not go out and ask for them, but to create really good content whether it’s a widget of some type, an article a lot of people refer to – something cool, something funny, something that goes viral.”
One way to build links is through so-called “optimized press releases.” This is not “doing PR. But, it is taking a PR tactic – a press release – and using it for search marketing purposes. For example, using a service like PR Web, you can embed keywords in the headline and press release lead – you can dictate your anchor text. “These releases show up in search engine results and serve as search engine results agents,” Williams says. 
Another factor that can affect a company’s rankings is its level of activity on social media, including posts on Twitter or blogs, as well as a company’s Facebook and LinkedIn presence.
While your search engine ranking – how high your site is referenced on a page compared with competitors — is important, it’s not as critical as the number of visitors who actually come to your website and are converted into a customer.   For this reason, Williams advises that companies invest first in the content of their website, before investing in an SEO service to drive traffic to their site.
Hear Williams’ podcast on  the latest in social search. The 10-minute presentation covers how social media has changed the search landscape, Google+ and what marketers think about its chance for success, and how businesses can improve the SEO value of their Facebook page.

Writing Wisdom from Children’s Books

My children know the magic of books. Since before they could talk, my husband and I have read to them nearly every night. Reading was one constant in our family’s evening routine. I found myself loving the opportunity to bond as we lost ourselves in the worlds of Narnia, Hogwarts, Whoville and the Hundred-Acre Wood.
Children’s literature goes beyond its purpose to entertain and inform; it provides youngsters with an early – and often enduring – introduction to language and the power of storytelling.  I’ve witnessed the benefits of a regular diet of literature on my own kids’ imaginations. It’s most apparent when they create their own stories on the fly when we are on long drives and want to break up the monotony of the road.

Here are a few key writing fundamentals from children’s stories that you can apply to improve your own writing, with examples of these techniques in action.

– Using imagery to set the stage and to bring characters to life

– Introducing alliteration and rhyme to make passages unforgettable (and fun)
– Varying sentence length for dramatic effect (simplicity works)

                                       Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

British author J.K. Rowling is masterful at setting scenes rich with detail that come to life on the page. This excerpt comes from the fourth novel in her Harry Potter series.

“Four fully grown, enormous, vicious-looking dragons were rearing onto their hind legs inside an enclosure fenced with thick planks of wood, roaring and snorting — torrents of fire were shooting into the dark sky from their open, fanged mouths, fifty feet above the ground on their outstretched necks.

“Mesmerized, Harry looked up, high above him, and saw the eyes of the black dragon, with vertical pupils like a cat’s, bulging with either fear or rage, he couldn’t tell which….It was making a horrible noise, a yowling, screeching scream…”

Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss

This line by an exasperated Mr. Knox gets my kids giggling non-stop. It’s a clever use of both alliteration and rhyme that moves the story along:

“I can’t blab such blibber blubber! My tongue isn’t made of rubber.”

Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White

The beautiful conclusion to this classic tale underscores how you can intersperse short sentences with longer ones for dramatic effect.

“Wilbur never forgot Charlotte.
Although he loved her children and her
grandchildren dearly, none of the new
spiders ever took her place in his heart.
She was in a class by herself.
It’s not often that someone comes along
who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”


Let the Party Begin – Targeting Key to Social Media Mastery

Evidence of social media’s explosion onto the business landscape is everywhere. More than 250 million people use Facebook Connect every month. Since April, Twitter has gained 40 million users, according to ClickZ.

The time has never been better to integrate social media into your marketing efforts — but where to begin? I spoke with Social Mediaologist Dawn Gartin on tips and tools to getting started.

“You can spend 15 minutes a day building your brand through social media – it’s easy with the tools available today. The key is to make it a part of your daily routine,” says Gartin, a 15-year speaker and trainer in the technology industry, who regularly consults with entrepreneurs and small business owners on their social media strategy and implementation.

Gartin likes to tell groups that social media is a “PARTY” – an acronym she uses to describe the five steps you need to make social media an integral part of your work life:

  • Plan: strategy, design and develop
  • Act: channel setup, SEO content
  • Reply: engage, fresh, feedback, listen
  • Test and try
  • You measure: what does success like?

 “The most common pitfall is taking too much on without a plan,” says Gartin, who has seen instances where people think that doing social media is about “being everywhere.” But, that’s not doing social media right. According to Gartin, savvy social media users tie their online efforts to their business marketing plan. You must target those channels where you will find the influencers you need to reach. “Are they on Facebook? YouTube? LinkedIn?”

If you decide you want a broader online presence and need to keep track of conversations on multiple sites, you can use resources to manage those connections. A great dashboard management tool is Hootsuite.

For communicators just testing the social media waters, consider starting with LinkedIn since it is the leading business social media networking site.
“Join the party – be social, have fun, grow your business,” she says.