The London Olympic Games is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to showcase London and the UK to a global audience over a sustained period. It is no wonder that brands and organisations have been clamouring to use the Games to show the world what they do and highlight their commitment to sport.
However, such global exposure is always accompanied by a degree of risk. Over the past few years we have seen consumer scepticism of brands increase. Greater media scrutiny of corporate promises collides with the financial imperative for businesses and brands to establish trust and competitive differentiation.
When it comes to the London Games this represents a challenge. With the world's attention focused on London, brands have a major opportunity to raise awareness, recognition and profile. However, what does involvement in the Games offer brands that want to build reputation after the athletes and cameras go home?
London 2012 is the culmination of many years of work to stage a world-class sporting event. The overwhelming temptation will be to breathe a collective sigh of relief once the Games are over. If the goal for brands remains solely awareness and profile, then the temptation to breathe a sigh of relief will be overwhelming too.
However, for those companies that are truly interested in building long-term authentic corporate reputations, the answer to the above question surely lies in the legacy of the Games.
When Sally Hancock at Lloyds TSB talks about 'authentic' sponsorship she is absolutely right. Unless companies that are involved through sponsorship - or partners and suppliers to the Games project - fully integrate their involvement it will be difficult to move beyond claims of 'badging' or self-interested 'promotion.'
We all know that good corporate reputation is not just about comms, it is about how businesses operate. For sponsors, it is important not to get involved solely in the run-up to the Games or the event itself. By looking at the opportunities beyond, brands can properly fulfil the potential of the Games to inspire change in the behaviour of citizens in host countries, encourage social inclusivity through regeneration and community-based action, and catalyse economic growth and development by equipping cities and regions with the infrastructure they need to compete internationally.
Sponsors have the opportunity to be part of a much longer Olympic legacy. Instead of using the Games for brand building and profile, they can showcase how their businesses can improve society and the economy in the longer term, and that requires a greater commitment to the Olympic cause than just a few weeks in 2012.
A pioneering example of this approach is the construction industry. The industry used the Games, one of the world's largest construction projects, as a catalyst for best practice in sustainable buildings. By meeting the benchmarks laid out by the ODA, construction companies have wholly embraced a new and progressive approach to sustainable development that has effectively become a de facto standard for major construction projects in the future.
That is the type of legacy that will help companies build an authentic corporate reputation that is grounded in real operational and industry improvements.
Once the bandwagon has rolled out of town, brands will remain. Using the London Games to showcase real and measurable improvement at a community and industry level may well be the key to unlocking the reputation potential of London 2012.
VIEWS IN BRIEF
What is the key to great sponsorship activation?
Do not just badge events or sponsorship properties; create opportunities for people to engage, interact and get to know you as a brand.
What style of comms will most successfully link a brand to London 2012?
Authentic and not flash, low-key not showy, community-based not global, for the benefit of all and not solely for your target audience.
Which Olympic sport most closely resembles your business philosophy?
Fencing. A combination of strategic insight and athleticism with a constant eye on the target.