Games Calling: Promoting the Games

Mornings are not my thing. I can do them when required, but in general, I forgo breakfast meetings whenever possible.  But the chance to meet one of the people involved in public relations for the London Games? That was a breakfast meeting not to be missed.

Robert Wright is the managing director of Davies Tanner, one of the PR firms assisting in the London 2012 effort. Wright has been involved from the beginning, when he and his firm worked with the bid team that sought to bring the Olympic Games to London for a third time.  Since then, professionals from a number of different agencies have been involved in bringing the London 2012 public relations campaign to life.

Lucky for me, Wright’s firm has its U.S. office in St. Petersburg, Florida, and my colleagues from the Tampa Bay Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) asked him to be a guest speaker.

It’s easy to see why the bid team wanted the involvement of Davies Tanner, which specializes in PR for the travel, leisure and tourism industry.  Many of the heavy hitters making the bid for London to host the Games were already clients.

Wright explained the nearly seven-year PR process from the bid to the implementation, and showed off some of the materials that helped London win its Olympic three-peat. Among them, a catchy video featuring David Beckham, Roger Moore (as James Bond) and a host of celebrated athletes and actors from the United Kingdom.  After watching the movie, with its inspiring music, snapshots of London’s signature destinations and a diverse cast of extras, it’s no wonder the city beat out Paris, Moscow and Singapore for the Games. It was close, though. London won the bid on July 6, 2005 by just four votes.

London 2012 Olympic Bid Video

The excitement didn’t last long. The next day, a series of suicide bombings on London Underground trains killed hundreds. To this day, no one is sure whether the blast was a result of London’s winning bid, but at the time, Wright and the PR team went into crisis communication mode, working to reassure a shaken city and its residents that it could and would handle the threat of terrorism when the Olympics came to town.

Wright explained that from the beginning, one of the most important aspects of the combined PR campaign was to help the London 2012 persuade the UK public, tourism industry and influential media members that hosting the Olympics in London would be a boom for the city – during the Games and for years to come. That mission is still a work in progress, if you read newspaper reports.

The statistics surrounding the Olympics and its host city are just staggering: 220 countries have been granted broadcast rights, which will translate into 3,800 hours of programming, with the average household watching anywhere between 15 – 20 hours of Olympic sporting events. And millions upon millions of websites will talk about London, thanks to the city’s role as host.

Combine that with the fact that 25,000 journalists and media support staff will be in London for the Games, and that the city’s population of 6.5 million will grow by at least another million, provides a huge opportunity for tourism. Wright says that London officials expect to rake in more than 2 Billion (that’s with a capital “B”) British pounds on the tourism front.

Now, journalists can hold the key to the castle when it comes to reporting on a host city. Thousands of reporters and support staff will be accredited by the IOC to cover the sporting aspect of the Games at the International Broadcast Centre and the Media Press Centre. The IOC knows their stories are generally going to be positive. But the last thing you want is a bunch of reporters who can’t get to their destination because the Tube can’t keep up with the number of spectators, or who have to wait in line for hours to visit (and write about) a popular tourist site.  Those issues remain real concerns for Wright and the PR team.  But they’re doing something ingenious – they’re hosting a media center for non-accredited media – folks like me who want to cover London’s culture, sights and Olympic atmosphere. The media center will be staffed with public relations professionals who can help reporters get to where they want to go, offer up places they might want to visit, and generally make their experience in London a pleasant one. Why is this important? Because these reporters will write stories that will (hopefully) inspire readers from all over the world to travel to London in the future, their articles will affirm London’s appeal as a great city to visit. That’s one of the lasting benefits of hosting the Olympic Games.

One of the most interesting parts of Wright’s talk was about the role of social media and corporate sponsorship during the Games. The influence of Twitter and Facebook has grown enormously since the 2008 Beijing Games (Were they even invented in 2008?). One negative tweet or post about security or long lines could get days of traction, or “trending” as it’s called in the Twittisphere.  Corporations, who pay billions to associate their brand with the Olympics also wield a lot of power. Security can take away your bottle of Pepsi bottle because Coca-Cola is the official drink sponsor of the Olympic Games. Now, if that spectator decides to Tweet that scenario to the world, well, you can imagine what that could do for London’s reputation, at least temporarily.

There is still a lot more to be done on the public relations front. Concerns about traffic during the Games are still popular story topics, especially in the UK media. Four million people travel throughout London on a regular work day and that number is expected to double during the Games. The folks at Davies Tanner are working overtime to change people’s perceptions. And there’s a big emphasis on crafting potential responses if there should be the threat of a terrorist attack, or an actual incident.

Still, Wright can’t hold back his excitement. He’s planning to attend the Opening Ceremonies (provided he doesn’t have to give up his ticket to some visiting dignitary), and although he hasn’t been involved in the event, he did drop some hints about what to expect: the extravaganza will show off what London is all about, and some tongue-in-cheek British humor will be enjoyed.

So, the countdown to the greatest sporting event on earth continues, and the anticipation I have to get there grows with each day.

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