John Fisher explores what it is like working as a comms/events agency in the run up to the greatest show on Earth, the London 2012 Olympics
Driving into work recently in the heart of Oxfordshire, going northwards I might add, I noticed for the first time a flashing message on the overhead motorway sign: ‘For Olympic events, plan your journey to arrive on time’. This was curious on many levels. The Games do not actually start until 27th July. The nearest Olympic venue is 65 miles away, in completely the opposite direction. And the message itself suggests very strongly to me that there are going to be significant travel issues for visitors in London, come July.
But let’s start at the beginning. London won the 2012 bid in 2005 against stiff competition from Paris, by 54 votes to 50, so a close call. The various UK committees were then formed to start planning the resources it would require. By 2010 UK events UK agencies got very excited about the potential event business spin-off possibilities. After all, some £700 million of sponsors’ budgets had been pledged to the London Olympics, all to be spent in and around Games activity. Coca Cola itself accounted for around £45m alone. So we all trooped off to various industry briefing sessions about how to make the most of this ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’.
But it soon became clear that to enjoy the profits boom you had to be a member of the ‘Olympic Club’. And if you weren’t already in the club, you were too late to join it anyway. The thing is the Olympics is a very closed shop. The only way in is to be associated with a sponsor or partner. To be a sponsor a corporate needs to have paid tens of millions upfront to have the promotional right to be associated with the Games. Then they pay for the tickets. Then they pay for the accommodation. All on top of the sponsoring fee. I attended a briefing session where sponsors admitted that they were spending as much again on implementing their right to be associated as they were on the actual permission itself. So all the logistics, event planning, hotel costs, promotion were over and above the basic rights fees. Of course this is great news if your client is already a sponsor as they will need someone to organise the nitty gritty. Hooray! But not so good if you happen to have no Olympic-linked clients.
The other issue, as far as being a domestic event management company is concerned, is that there is a travelling circus of Olympic-events specialists who wander the Globe, going from Olympic destination to Olympic destination, accredited by the Olympic movement to handle Olympic-related projects. So in a pitch situation to handle the local implementation you can probably guess who is going to be the more impressive resource to choose in a straight competition. Most of these specialist agencies have already moved on to Rio for 2016, leaving just a handful of consultants in the UK now with implementation being handled by local ‘grunts’ and temp agencies.
So what we are left with is the ‘happy few’ agencies who are fortunate enough to already have Olympic-sponsoring clients and the vast majority of UK agencies who don’t.