Monday, August 9, 2010

Tennis Canada's new website: it's love.

(And I mean that in a good way.)

It's a generally-accepted truth in PR that new organizational websites don't automatically become news anymore. By "anymore," I mean new websites were news back in the days when websites were a big deal... but nowadays they're table stakes for any large-scale organization seeking any public credibility.

As a result, unless the launch has a strong, audience-focused communication strategy behind it, a "new and improved website" usually goes into the same news category as a "new payroll system." It may be a big deal to the people involved, but the rest of the world pretty much yawns.

Recognizing this, Tennis Canada executed a great PR strategy over the last few weeks to make its new website news -- and from what I can see, at least, it looks like it worked.

Lesson from Tennis Canada: how to make your new website news

1. First, make sure the changes you're making truly are noteworthy; a new font ain't gonna cut it.

Tennis Canada's old website was, let's say, not great. In fact, it was so not great that in last year's PR major class, it was one of the examples I used to show what an ineffective website looks like. In the words of Tennis Canada's own director of communications and media relations last week in an interview with Marketing Magazine,
"Our old site was an online binder... It was more for putting up our annual reports and strategy plans and there was no opportunity for dialogue."
The new site is far more than that, offering a great mix of static and interactive content geared to the organization's audience (people who enjoy and play tennis in Canada). As Liz Atkins from the communications agency Smith Roberts put it in the same Marketing article, the new site's objective is to "talk less about Tennis Canada, and more about tennis in Canada."

It's a key distinction that will make all the difference to Tennis Canada's audiences.

In addition to all the regular stuff you'd expect like live streaming of major events (e.g. Tennis Canada's annual Rogers Cup) and live scoring, the site offers discussion forums and chats surrounding special events (e.g. last Friday's live draw for the men's Rogers Cup in Toronto); blogs from a range of perspectives (pro tour observers, a member of the Rogers Cup ball crew, a Canadian junior player); and opportunities to submit questions about your game to a pro coach, who will reportedly deal with submitted questions in video lessons on the site.

There's a good mix of content related to both pro and amateur tennis, reflecting exactly what Tennis Canada's audiences are likely looking for: ways to get more information about the sport they love, and to connect with others who do.

2. Give your new site an interesting angle that'll get people talking.

Despite its olden-days image as a stuffy, country-club sport, tennis is fun to play and follow. Tennis fans want their tennis experience -- including their relationship with their national tennis organization -- to be fun.

Old URL: [predictable, professional... not so much fun]

New URL: [wha?? fun!]

People love to feel like insiders, and a good campaign targeted at a group that has common "insider" language will draw on it to make that audience want to get involved.

In tennis, "love" is the term used to signify a score in a game, set or match (but not a tie-breaker!) of zero. If you have two games and I have none, the score is "two - love." So in tennis, love really does mean nothing... and makes for a great "insider rewards" URL that will grab tennis fans' attention.

It also sends a signal that this site isn't going to be the stuffy old "binder" of information it used to be.

3. Then, tie your launch to something big.

As far as pro tennis goes in Canada, there's no bigger event than the Rogers Cup, when the top-ranked male and female players in the world come to Toronto and Montreal to play. So if your objective is to get some attention for your new Tennis Canada website, you're not likely to find a time when Canadian tennis fans are talking more about tennis in Canada than during the Rogers Cup.

Tennis Canada set its new website to launch with a live feed of world number one player Rafael Nadal at the announcement of the men's Rogers Cup draw last Friday afternoon -- and in so doing, gave fans a reason to want to come check out the new site. In addition to re-directing to the placeholder page above, it did some proactive publicity work in advance, which resulted in stories like this one on the Toronto Star sports blog, and used the Rogers Cup Toronto Twitter feed to drive fans to the site launch.

I don't know how many visitors the site attracted Friday afternoon, but I'd bet it numbered in the thousands; the chat room running alongside the draw alone had 700 members at one point.

4. And if you can, tie it to someone big.

[Photo courtesy Beth Wilson]

Nadal is the number one men's tennis player in the world and, it must be said, an all-around great guy. Fans love him, players love him, the media love him. If you want to attract tennis fans' attention, having Rafa involved is a great way to do it.

So that's what Tennis Canada did. It live-streamed Nadal's participation in the announcement of the men's Rogers Cup draw on Friday afternoon, and at the event, had him answer questions from fans submitted through the new site (all of which had figured prominently in the advance publicity).

I'm from a tennis family. Dad, siblings and I have all played and coached; my sister and I were "ballboys" at the Canadian nationals a zillion years ago; we download and use Grand Slam apps; we don't miss a major tournament; and we've attended the Rogers Cup. But with all that said, I have never taken the time to watch a "live draw" event.

That is, I hadn't... until last Friday.

5. Then, make your audience feel like they own it.

As I mentioned above, Tennis Canada has woven a number of great community-building features into the new site, all of which I think will keep people coming back post-Nadal (a few early bugs like broken links notwithstanding).

But the organization has also taken it a step further, and is letting the site's users write its headlines. The form you fill out to join the site includes a field that asks what "love" means to you; fans' quotes now rotate on the site's masthead.

How could a tennis fan not love it?

Or not want to contribute and be part of it?

Or not keep coming back to see new fan-generated quotes about the sport they love... and maybe even their own?

Kudos, Tennis Canada.


  1. Well hello there, tennis-lover!

    I'm glad to be the first one to comment on this- it means you'll most likely see my post and know that I am taking major note of this blog post and all of the information in it! :)

    I like tennis, too. I haven't played or watched in a really long time, but since this happened, yes it does make me want to watch and take part in the groovy new website!

    I now understand Glenda's tennis obsession! And it almost feels like she and you had some kind of impact on the communications guy at Tennis Canada, because if he's good at what he does (obviously he is), he would've googled the organization himself to see what people think. And in my opinion you two are obviously noteworthy and very media-savvy!

    Can't wait to make an awesome audience-attention-grabbing Weebly site for my IPP!(Basically I can't wait to get going at school with it!)

    Thanks again, Melanie!

    PS: I like your Blogger layout! Pretty!

  2. Haha - well, I can't speak for Glenda, but I know the only thing I've ever said about Tennis Canada online before now was what an outstanding job the organizers did of last year's Rogers Cup, from an event management perspective. I think highly of the organization - always have.

    The thing about websites is that every public organization needs to have one -- but may not have the resources to make it sing right off the bat. An "online binder" it is better than nothing, so the old site did a job for Tennis Canada until they were able to invest the time and resources in the new one.

    I'm glad to hear this post was helpful - looking forward to seeing that IPP!

  3. You're right, TC did a marvellous job in re-invigorating its on-line presence and coming up with a design that can bring the Canadian tennis community much closer together.

    And as for the launch itself, clearly it was done in 'lock step'. ;)