As Lenovo's VP-Olympic marketing, the Beijing native is orchestrating the Chinese company's coveted sponsorship of a symbolic 500-day countdown segment on China Central Television (CCTV) that started March 27.
The 25" slot will run every night until the event kicks off in Beijing on Aug. 8, 2008. Airing just before the popular evening news broadcasts at 7pm and 10pm on CCTV 1, the countdown will reach tens of millions of local consumers, and will also air on CCTV 5, the state-run network's sports channel.
“These events will tell millions of Chinese citizens that the countdown to the games has begun," said Ms. Li.
Lenovo won the title sponsorship deal, worth about $20 million over the next 500 days, at CCTV's annual auction of its most valuable advertising slots in November 2006. In a sign of the importance CCTV--and China's government--place on the games, the slot was the first item auctioned off that morning in a high-profile presentation that was widely-acknowledged to have been predetermined in Lenovo’s favor.
The segment starts with a 10" animated countdown, in which one of the five cutesy mascots created by the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games plays an Olympic sport. In the first cartoon, “Jingjing the panda” shoots an archery arrow into a bulls-eye on a Lenovo laptop, after which its computer screen displays the number of days left until Aug. 8. The cartoon, which will change each month, is followed by a 15" TV spot for Lenovo that is tied in with its existing, “New World, New Thinking,” marketing platform. Next month's cartoon will feature a swimming mascot.
As the mainland's only global sponsor of the games, the countdown is just one aspect of Lenovo's plans to use the games to launch its brand to the world, as well as cement its leadership position at home. Those efforts are led by Ms. Li, who joined the company's Beijing headquarters in a media relations position in in 1988.
Between 1993 and 2002, she assisted the investor relations team in Hong Kong. In 2003, she spearheaded the launch of the new Lenovo brand after a name change from Legend. She then played a key role in the company's decision to join The Olympic Partner Program (TOP), the realm of global sponsors, in 2004. More recently, she helped Lenovo join forces with international sports organizations like the National Basketball Association and Formula One and sign sponsorship deals with Chinese and foreign athletes like FC Barcelona's superstar, Ronaldinho.
In her current position, she has ten full-time staff, including four overseas--one in Singapore overseeing Asia/Pacific, one in Paris for Europe and two in Lenovo's U.S. headquarters in Raleigh, North Carolina.
But nearly everyone in the company's sales and marketing divisions are connected to the Olympic sponsorship.
“Just about everyone has to integrate it into their daily job. All of our product launches, promotions and campaigns are built around the Olympics,” said Ms. Li, turning her into one of the company’s savviest diplomats.
"Alice's uniqueness is her ability to navigate the complexities of a massive, sales-driven local company while never losing sight of the rewards of long-term brand equity. She pursues an enlightened agenda with the skill and savvy of a surgeon," said Tom Doctoroff, JWT's CEO, Greater China in Shanghai. JWT is one of three agencies working with Lenovo, along with Dentsu and Ogilvy & Mather.
During her tenure at Lenovo, the company has evolved from a sales agent for imported computer products and a manufacturing outpost for multinationals like IBM Corp. into the world's third-largest computer company, through organic growth and the acquisition of IBM's personal computing division in 2004. It is also China's fourth-largest mobile phone brand--and the largest local player--following Nokia, Motorola and Samsung.
But scale doesn't guarantee success. While sales are strong in China, where PC shipments grew 17% during the last three months of 2006, Lenovo is still struggling overseas. During the same quarter, shipments in the Americas dropped 4%, putting pressure on Lenovo to make sure its Olympic investment pays off.
The countdown campaign, which starts about the same time Lenovo winds down an ambitious road show to 1,000 tier four and tier five cities in China to promote the history of the Olympics, is another in-country marketing exercise. But Lenovo will launch an overseas campaign later this year.
"We have been working on the plans to roll out marketing campaigns globally when closer to the games, and preparing the Olympic Games onsite projects such as internet lounges, showcasing [and] hospitality," said Ms. Li, who holds a bachelor of science from Beijing's prestigious Peking University and MBAs from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
Partnering with the Olympics, which costs at least $80 million at the TOP level, is more than a marketing move to introduce the Lenovo brand to the world, however. As the sponsor of computing equipment for the games, the event is a massive product demonstration for the four billion people expected to tune into the 2008 Olympic Games.
Virtually every aspect of the event depends on Lenovo's technology. Hundreds of its PCs, monitors and servers are being integrated into game management systems like accreditation, staffing and scheduling, transportation, sports entries and qualifications; timing and scoring; ticketing; and installation of internet cafes for athletes and coaches in Olympic villages.
The network is centered in Beijing at an Integration Test Center but facilities will also be set up in other cities like Hong Kong, site of the equestrian events, Qingdao, host for the sailing events and Tianjin, Qinhuangdao, Shanghai and Dalian, where Olympic football matches will be held.
With most of the world's eyes on China and the Olympics, Lenovo knows even a small failure could be devastating. The company began testing its equipment and technicians last summer with the World Women’s Softball Championship, and will continue with other sporting events over the next year such as the Triathlon World Cup Event and Boxing International Open.
Dozens of test events will help Lenovo “look for problems,” said Leon Xie, Lenovo’s Olympic technology & sponsorship director in Beijing, “not find out how good we are.”
The games are “a great opportunity for us, it’s a great platform to build a global brand and change the perception of Lenovo. But it’s a challenging job," she admitted. With 500 days still to go, "we are continuously learning."
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