Buddying up to build Swimming Australia's brand and community connection

Swimming Australia chief and agency partner, Publicis Worldwide, talk through the work being done to bolster Australia's swimming brand and that of the Australian Dolphins

Swimming Australia team at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games
Swimming Australia team at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games

From Australia’s golden beaches to backyard swimming pools, any kid who has ever ventured into the water knows the importance of having a buddy nearby. So it’s not surprising that as Swimming Australia’s CEO, Eugenie Buckley, propels her organisation into the uncharted waters of brand building, she has buddied up with Publicis Worldwide and its Queensland-based managing director, Simone Waugh.

The tightly integrated partnership is supporting a shared ambition to translate the Australian Dolphins swimming team’s achievements in international competition into success as a professional sporting body, encouraging more Australians to get into swimming.

“Our Dolphins perform very well, but when people talk about swimming, it tends to be for four weeks every four years,” Buckley tells CMO. “Our overall plan is to take our success in the pool and convert it into success out of the pool. We are throwing out the old sports playbook and trying to do things differently.”

Buckley describes the relationship with Publicis as a full integration across both businesses, with marketing and social talent at Publicis effectively working in Swimming Australia roles.

“It is a hybrid, but it is completely integrated, which is why I think it works,” Buckley says. “The Publicis team has really bought in to swimming. They will say ‘we’ and ‘we’re doing this’, and they will be at our events. That is why we will have better outcomes in the long run, because we have that complete buy-in.”

Brand rejuvenation

In just a year, Waugh and her team have helped Swimming Australia rejuvenate its market presence under the new brand of SwimAus. Now prominently displayed at events and in content, it has been designed to be easily attached to Swimming Australia’s sponsors.

The partnership has also led to the renovation of Swimming Australia’s calendar of events, which starts with an ocean swimming carnival at the start of the year, then moves into all-age championships and national team events and a short course competition, followed by the annual state swimming season at the year’s end.

“Swimming is the first sport or activity that kids do before they walk, and it is the last activity that people do as they age,” Waugh says. “It is so ingrained in our culture, so we are bringing all of our big brand expertise into the sport.”

Buckley says these changes arose from recognition that while sports audiences and their expectations had changed significantly in recent years, swimming hadn’t.

This new approach is represented in one of the highlights of this year’s swimming calendar, the Dual in the Pool, which pitted teams including both able-bodied and paralympic swimmers from Australia and the US against each other in a series of pool-based and open water events.

“The event is a combination of sport and entertainment,” Buckley says “We had 8000 attendees over those two days, and we sold out of merchandise the first night. We had a million viewers on Channel 7, and the athletes loved it.”

This year, Swimming Australia will also bring more attention to its short-course contest, which Buckley likens to cricket’s T-20 competition.

“We are trying to do something different,” she says. “We want to show that we are ‘always on’. We have the best swimmers in the world in Australia and they are always competing – it is not just four weeks every four years.”

For Waugh, one goal she is aiming to achieve is to strengthen Swimming Australia’s connection with the nation’s 5.9 million swimmers.

“Our challenge from a marketing perspective is to convert those 5.9 million swimmers into a database so we can constantly engage them and grow participation and attendance at events,” Waugh says.

Part of this strategy involves boosting the appeal of swimming among more communities within Australian society, with the long-term ambition of strengthening diversity of the swim team itself. This includes a goal to have indigenous members of the national swim team by the Brisbane Olympics in 2032.

To achieve these goals, Waugh has designed a strategy based on performance, participation and planning, elevating each of the revamped events throughout the year. This strategy is supported by social and digital content, including creating a new website.

“Getting the foundations right was critical for me, because if we were going to elevate some events and drive more traffic, we needed to make sure that experience in terms of the website was right first,” Waugh says.

Buckley says the work is already paying dividends, with traffic to the site up by 40 per cent over the past year. The partnership also led to a reinvigoration of the Dolphins brand as the moniker for the Australian swimming team.

“The Dolphins will be much more front and centre, and we will be starting to story-tell over the next couple of years the stories behind the people,” Waugh says. “It is about bringing them on the journey and pushing them forward so that their profiles build with Swimming Australia.”

As for the partnership, Waugh claims it is on the leading edge of any integration that Publicis has undertaken.

“We are representing marketing managers, and our studio has direct access into the marketing team that sits inside Swimming Australia,” Waugh says. “We are modelling the agency a lot more around this model because I believe in it. If you understand the business strategy and you feel the challenge, you will come up with solutions. And you do it as a team, rather than a client/agency relationship.

“We couldn’t have done it without that relationship. Eugenie and I have to ensure we are completely aligned in terms of the priorities, because there is a lot to do, and we have to make sure our teams are very clear on the priorities and are running with us and running together.”

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