words and vision

The Volvo Ocean Race starts in October of this year, five teams announced and with increased focus on the role of the on board reporters, (OBR’s) to promote the event there are many points to ponder. Blue Robinson gives you a few…

Knut Frostad has stated quite clearly what the On Board Reporters (OBR’s) must do, with the ‘fundamental axis of the race’s communication policy and philosophy in this edition is storytelling. Stories will be the cornerstone around which the race will evolve. ‘with ‘the human factor taking centre stage.’ Cameras and extensive footage do not automatically translate to a good story. These OBR’s must distill what is happening around them into a narrative which people will want to return to for the next iinstallment Onboard there is tension, noise, nerves and the breathtaking moment of uncertainty as each team commits to a strategic move on just about every leg.

There will be exhaustion and fear. Sometimes a heck of a lot of both. Use it. All of it. Suck the marrow out of the situation and paint an evocative picture for the reader or viewer – putting them right there, amongst the closeness, chaos or carnage of the team members being smashed on the bow or mentally fried in the nav-station. Do this well and people will read or listen to it, probably be shocked by the conditions onboard, then keep coming back for updates – and tell their friends about it. But with this philosophy now centre stage of the Volvo Ocean race, the teams and their OBR’s have to decide the how and the who. How will they frame their content and who to pitch it to?

What style do they want to work on? Something based on the Big Brother/ Survivor model? Or what about using humour, something along the lines of Jeremy Clarkson and the highly successful British Top Gear show? How about a straight documentary style – say national Geographic or the classic BBC style?  Or something edgy, with constant tension and lots of close held shots – a cross between The Blair Witch project and Banged Up Abroad. And who are you pitching to? Facebook or Flintstone generation, tablet or TV? Sailing or non sailing? You can try all these in a scattergun approach but that may not work.

One thing I mentioned about the Media Crew Member in the last Volvo race is that they were probably the most important person on the boat. This raised eyebrows from people pointing out the strengths of X being an outstanding navigator or Y a sensational strong downwind helmsman. Yes they certainly are, but the men and women on board the VOR 65’s are now part of the package that needs to be sold, and the better the selling, the greater the return. With the finest crew in the world supported by a mediocre OBR you can win the race but lose the event – but a boat that grabs the occasional podium place and has a great media team may dominate with this exposure and the backers are hungry for that.

One of the keys could be interaction, the shore media team pulling relevant points trending from race followers and bouncing them back and forwards to the boat, so that questions are answered in real time. The other side of this is interaction with primary/high schools and universities. What about a section dedicated for schools or Uni’s, so for one week focusing on primary school level Geography/Maritime History on that leg/, then the next week University level Meteorology/ Oceanography? Can you imaging high school Students in Holland getting links from Brunel as they weave through the trade routes the Dutch East India company set up four hundred years ago? Or the stand out boat could be the young guys on Alvimedica being uber cool and going viral on the web or the SCA crew making the other half of the sky smile when they nail podium places over the guys…

Technology transmits the message, but it is the written and spoken word that is the key. It has the power to explain and enhance the still/ video images across print and online media, providing the teams with the broadest market to deliver for the people funding all of this – the sponsors.  The team with the clearest and coolest vision in this will dominate the event in the eyes of the public – and whatever their overall placing for the Volvo Ocean Race Trophy, they will secure just as tough a prize; the battle for ROI.

– Blue Robinson.