The fourth and final edition of the 2010 National Communication Partnership Conference saw communications experts from the private and public sector pledging to use their Confederations Cup experience to deliver an outstanding 2010 Fifa World Cup.
The football spectacular kicks off on 11 June 2010 and ends 30 days later.
The one-day conference was an initiative of the International Marketing Council (IMC) and Government Communications and Information System (GCIS).
It aimed to provide professional communicators with the tools to launch an intensified and coordinated 2010 strategy, which will reach as many people as possible and set off a wave of excitement and support that will sweep the entire continent.
“The World Cup is South Africa’s next defining moment,” said acting IMC CEO Paul Bannister in his welcoming address. “This is going to influence how the rest of the world looks at us from now on. We have to get it right – who knows when the next defining moment will be?”
Among the issues discussed were the safety and security of fans, the mobilisation of people across the continent, and the increased use of tools, such as the diski dance and the national anthem, to build excitement and national cohesion.
The diski dance is as unique a facet of South African football as is the vuvuzela and the makarapa (a somewhat modified hard hat). The dance borrows much of its style from the Beautiful Game, and with moves like the Header, the Juggle and the Table Mountain, it is as infectious as the spirit of optimism that is fast pervading the nation.
Minister of Transport Sibusiso Ndebele said in his keynote address that his department’s prime responsibility is to get fans to the stadiums safely and on time, and back to their hotels afterwards.
With around 500 000 fans expected to pour into the country during June and July 2010, said Ndebele, the safety of both citizens and visitors is non-negotiable.
A tighter national strategy and better coordination between national and provincial government, he said, will assure fans of a secure environment. Part of this tighter strategy included the establishment of a single command structure to run the entire plan.
Ndebele praised South Africa’s law enforcement agencies, saying that they have proven their capability during previous international sporting events. “They will continue to improve on their capacity to deal with crime incidents and will be ready to neutralise any potential threat.”
He added that his department is waiting for Fifa’s final draw, which takes place on 4 December 2009. “Then we will have a better idea of where the big crowds will be and can plan accordingly, especially for the smaller metropolitan areas that may not be fully equipped to deal with huge crowds.”
The transport department’s 2010 strategy involves a combination of various modes of transport including buses, trains and taxis.
Negotiations with the local minibus taxi sector, which earlier in 2009 protested over the Rea Vaya bus rapid transport system, were continuing, but the minister expected a positive outcome.
“Rea Vaya will go ahead,” he affirmed. “There is no turning back.”
Feedback from the Confederations Cup, he said, was mostly positive but aspects such as the park and ride system still needed attention. These will not be neglected, he added.
Local Organising Committee (LOC) chair Irvin Khoza encouraged the country to make the most of the forthcoming extravaganza, and to understand the enormity of the project.
“We won’t get another marketing opportunity like in this in the next 100 years,” he said, referring to the chance to promote South Africa in all its diversity to the international community.
With the Confederations Cup now behind them, he said, the focus is firmly on the big event and communication must move into top gear. “We need to feel that the show is in town. This is the real deal.”
Khoza likened the upcoming World Cup to a television commercial for South Africa, except that its duration is 30 days instead of 30 seconds.
“This commercial will be watched by billions around the globe,” said Khoza, “and it is our chance to present South Africa as a dynamic and exciting place to visit”.
Khoza said that the biggest legacy of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, besides national pride, skills development, better infrastructure and more, would be to bury what he termed “Afro-pessimism”, and show that South Africa is on a par with developed nations in this sphere.
He also urged South Africans to support all six African teams, and to shift support to a team from Africa should national team Bafana Bafana fail to make it to the later stages.
The conference featured two panel discussions, chaired by TV veteran Jeremy Maggs and Paul Bannister respectively.
The first session, centred on Confederations Cup feedback, featured transport minister Sibusiso Ndebele; Sindiswa Nhlumayo, deputy director-general in the Department of Tourism; Ron DelMont of Fifa’s local office; LOC marketing chief Derek Carstens; Gab Mampone, acting CEO of the embattled South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC); and assistant police commissioner Ben Groenewald.
Each assured the audience that their departments and organisations were hard at work to address the flaws revealed during the Confederations Cup.
Ndebele promised that the park and ride system would be overhauled, and that there would be smoother coordination between the various transport modes.
Nhlumayo said the focus of her department would be on service excellence.
“We want those 500 000 visitors to go home and become ambassadors for South Africa,” she said. “In this way we will penetrate markets we have not yet reached.”
She mentioned that the tourism department had enlisted the help of the Disney Institute, the professional development and training arm of the Walt Disney Company, to conduct research, identify the weak spots and implement best practices across all service areas.
She also announced the October 2009 launch of the National Service Excellence Initiative. This is a private-public partnership with the Tourism Business Council of South Africa to develop greater levels of service excellence, thereby increasing the sector’s US$19.7-billion (R159-billion) contribution to the South African economy, and ensuring its global competitiveness.
South African Police Service (SAPS) assistant commissioner Groenewald stated emphatically that fans would be safe. The dry run of the Confederations Cup was a big success overall, he said, although there were a few critical areas that needed attention. Lack of communication and not enough standard operating procedures were identified as shortcomings that would be addressed.
Fifa’s DelMont said the organisation was happy with the progress to date. He mentioned that although four stadiums were used for the Confederations Cup, there remained another six untried stadiums around the country. DelMont encouraged the six host cities to follow the example of the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality, which hosted events in its brand-new stadium before the Confederations Cup, and was therefore able to assess its performance in a live situation.
Derek Carstens of the LOC reported that crucial targets for the Confederations Cup had been met. As an example, he said that ticket sales for the South African event had matched that of Germany, and in a world recession to boot.
The LOC is also awaiting the final Fifa draw in December, said Carstens. “Then we will start driving hard.”
Mampone of the SABC assured all present that the organisation would deliver on its promises. “Our plans are well advanced, and the resources we will need had been set aside a long time ago.”
In broadcasting terms, he said, the Confederations Cup saw excellence all around, with over 200 countries receiving consistent high-quality signals.
World media perception
Between panel sessions, the audience watched presentations by Wadim Schreiner of Media Tenor SA and Jos Kuper of Kuper Research.
Schreiner spoke on the world media perception of South Africa and the 2010 Fifa World Cup, obtained through a survey of 42 countries across June and July 2009. Research revealed that, while recent strike action had dented the country’s image slightly, on the whole South Africa had recovered from its lowest point in May 2008 during the xenophobia attacks.
He said it was likely that South Africa would receive strong international media attention from now until June 2010.
Kuper reported that active engagement through, for example, the diski dance and the national anthem was crucial in order to stir up 2010 fever among South Africans.
Igniting the nation
The second panel discussion, hosted by Paul Bannister, carried the theme Igniting the nation to deliver.
Panellists included Rich Mkhondo and Derek Carstens of the LOC; Mvuzo Mbebe of the SABC; Wendy Tlou of South African Tourism; Kwakye Donkor of the Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern Africa; Themba Maseko of GCIS; Vish Naidoo of the South African Police Services; German branding guru Nikolaus Eberl; and David Smith of the Foreign Correspondents Association.
All agreed that a multi-faceted strategy was necessary to galvanise the nation. Early and effective communication was needed, not only to reach the thousands of visitors but also the expected 18 000 media professionals.
“We don’t want them to report on just the football while they’re here,” said Mkhondo.
Maseko of GCIS agreed that communication was the key to delivering the best World Cup ever.
“We need to develop an appropriate and resounding communication strategy,” he commented. “As government, we have set up a number of structures to enhance our marketing and communication plan and to ensure that government speaks in one voice.”
To overcome communication and cultural barriers, said Naidoo, the SAPS plans to enlist police officers from other countries and bring them to South Africa to visibly patrol in their uniforms. This will help the SAPS to effectively police foreign nationals.
UK journalist Smith commented that while the controversial issue of a “Plan B” host was over, the question of South Africa’s readiness was yet to be firmly established in the UK. “This is because we didn’t have a team in the Confederations Cup and there wasn’t much coverage,” he said.
Smith encouraged the local media to accentuate the positives, but to be truthful about any shortcomings.
The way forward
The second part of the conference included four breakout sessions under the themes: domestic mobilisation, tourism, communication, and continental mobilisation. During the sessions participants pooled their ideas for boosting South Africa’s brand.
The communication group decided to strengthen existing campaigns, and to integrate them in order to promote a positive attitude. For instance, the Football Friday strategy adopted by hotel group Southern Sun could be developed into a national event to be held later in the year.
Getting the country behind the national football team, anthem, and flag were important elements of domestic mobilisation. The group also suggested the composition of a 2010 song.
Continental mobilisation would benefit from better communication and wider access to information, it was decided. South African embassies abroad need more information, possibly in the form of an information package which could be easily distributed. It was suggested that other key events across the continent could be linked to the World Cup.
The tourism group concluded that the diski dance and Fly the Flag for Football campaigns need to be used more extensively, in order to entrench them in the nation’s consciousness. It was suggested that the dance be taken to schools and performed at every domestic football game from now on.
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