Agencies face Olympics hurdle as transport chaos looms

As London counts down the last 100 days to the Olympic Games, agency heads have spoken about fears the transport chaos in the capital could leave them unable to cope with the heightened levels of work during the industry's busiest weeks of the year.

Feeling the strain: The Tube will handle millions of extra travellers (Rex Features)
Feeling the strain: The Tube will handle millions of extra travellers (Rex Features)

Agencies have told PRWeek that they expect employee attendance to be down by 20 to 40 per cent, while at the same time they will need to put even more resources into the singular media focus on the Games.

Covent Garden-based Waggener Edstrom's V-P of human resources Paula Green believed the agency would be down to 60 per cent attendance, adding that the disruption of the Games was in danger of being underestimated.

A consumer agency head with offices near Tottenham Court Road said that it had a high proportion of clients who are participating as sponsors in the Games, and it feared its ability to execute ambitious Olympics plans could be hit by an inability to get people into the office. 'With an extra three million people using the underground, it's not going to be pretty,' said the source.

But many also complained of a lack of guidance from Transport for London.

Ketchum Pleon's UK CEO Avril Lee complained that TfL's information is 'so patchy and non-specific that it's actually hard to put in place a detailed/effective response'.

The agency has not received any direct correspondence from TfL, which Lee said 'did seem pretty poor not to update businesses formally'.

W Communications MD Warren Johnson said he had not received any guidance from TfL: 'The cynic in me doesn't expect TfL to get in touch but it should have and there will be a negative impact on my business.' Johnson's agency has decided to deal with the added strain by changing its shifts to 7am-2pm and 10am to 8pm.

Other agencies felt they could limit the impact by using technology and remote working, while some will operate a rota system whereby a percentage of people work from home on each day of the Games.

Porter Novelli said it was expecting 80 per cent attendance, albeit with more flexible hours.

The agency has set up a working group to come up with practical ways to work through the Games as best for clients and colleagues.

Other agencies told PRWeek they were yet to put contingency plans in place.

HOW I SEE IT

Mandy Sharp, Managing director, Citizen Brando

We live in a world of 'always on' PR, with connectivity and comms being more fluid and easier than ever before. So we have circulated details on how the Games will be impacting on journeys, introduced flexible start and finish times and home working where appropriate.

James Herring, Owner, Taylor Herring

I am more concerned with what the Olympics will do to media coverage of non-Olympic-related stories. We know that, in central London, the usual locations and backdrops for events and pictures are already pretty booked up and space is at a premium.

IN NUMBERS

3m Estimated extra journeys that will take place on public transport

£6.5bn The amount invested in upgrading and extending transport links in UK

200 Number of extra buses operating in London during the Games

50% The increase in capacity on the Docklands Light Railway

Source: Transport for London

TfL calls for agencies to make contact to 'get advice'

Transport for London has advised the PR industry to get in touch to discuss how agency bosses can plan their organisations around the Games upheaval.

A spokeswoman for TfL told PRWeek that 'the onus is on PR agencies to contact TfL to get advice'. She added: 'We can't send letters to every company in London, but we have done a massive PR campaign to get people to sign up.'

TfL has held talks with more than 500 of the biggest businesses in London to help them put sustainability plans in place, while it has liaised with about 25,000 small companies and intermediary groups.

This week, TfL has published full 'hot spots' information on where and when underground and rail services are most likely to be affected during London 2012.

TfL estimates that up to three million additional journeys are expected to be made in London alone during the busiest days of the Games.

It advises companies to work at alternative locations including home, stagger working hours, work longer but fewer days, take annual leave or swap to alternative modes of travel - including walking and cycling.

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