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Client view: Red, white, blue - and green

London 2012 gives EDF Energy a platform to sell its low-carbon message to consumers. The company's brand, sustainability and external comms director, Andrew Brown, talks to Adam Hill about trust, powering the Olympics and playing the long game.

There will be much talk about power over the next few weeks, as the world's athletes battle for victory. EDF Energy, however, has a fair claim to being the power source behind London 2012: the official electricity provider of the Games (80 per cent from nuclear and 20 per cent from renewable sources) is powering the floodlights, scoreboards and almost everything with a switch. The company even looks after the gas keeping the Olympic torch alight on its tour round Britain.

There can be few better shop windows for a consumer-focused company than the Olympic Games, something EDF Energy's brand, sustainability and external comms director, Andrew Brown, knows very well.

For the UK subsidiary of French utilities group EDF, the sponsorship has three objectives: to back the company's low-carbon ambitions; to promote the responsible use of energy; and to raise awareness of EDF Energy in the UK.

The company signed its Olympic deal in 2007, but supported the London bid from the off. Its corporate masters threw their weight, meanwhile, behind the failed Paris bid, which Brown insists has not led to any tension. 'We're at the centre of everything going on in London,' he smiles.

To emphasise that point, EDF will light up Tower Bridge (sustainably, of course) and the London Eye. The latter will also become a barometer for Britain's mood when it is used as the backdrop for a lightshow every night at 9pm during the Games.

This part of the plan is half-veiled in mystery, but EDF's techy boffins are probably as keen to get into the blocks and show off as Usain Bolt. The idea is that the lighting will somehow reflect the nation's feelings on that day's action - or at least the feelings of those who take to Twitter. Relevant hashtags and words will be scrutinised as social media reflect the triumphs, disasters and upsets of the day's events. A complex algorithm will be used to sum up how positive everyone is feeling. Then come the nightly illuminations, which will be more than just 'blue lights if things haven't gone well that day', says Brown. Extensive media coverage should be a formality.

There is a serious side to all this, of course. 'We are doing a lot in terms of trying to promote responsible energy use,' says Brown. One of its first comms efforts in 2007 was to set up a greener schools scheme called The Pod, which is part of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games education initiative 'Get Set'.

In March 2011, it reached its original target of engaging 2.5 million young people in sustainability ahead of schedule. 'It will be key to our legacy contribution after the Games,' says Brown.

In 2008, EDF Energy launched Team Green Britain, encouraging people to work together to tackle climate change ahead of the Olympics. Two years later, it formed a partnership with the British Paralympic Association to help the GB team become greener.

EDF is not shy about engaging consumers: during the Games, it will have a pavilion at the Olympic Park. 'It will be very interactive,' says Brown.

In speech and facial expressions, Brown shares a little of his older brother - and former prime minister - Gordon's look and cadence. Perhaps fittingly, Brown junior adopts an affable despatch box tone as he outlines how all this fits into the wider EDF consumer PR strategy. 'We have two big challenges,' he says. 'The first is developing lowcarbon generation: nuclear and renewables. There will still be a need in the energy mix, he says, for 'some gas and, down the line, clean coal - (but) we need to address energy efficiency'.

Hence the Tower Bridge work, in partnership with GE, the Greater London Authority and City of London, will cut carbon emissions associated with lighting the bridge by 40 per cent, for example.

'The second challenge is on the customer side,' adds Brown. 'There is a big issue of trust between consumers and the energy industry.'

EDF thinks that London 2012 offers a chance to soften how people feel about energy companies, as well as opportunities for strengthening relationships with existing and potential customers. During June's media furore over the number of sponsors' staff who were torch-bearers, it managed to stay out of the spotlight. Brown says he will not be carrying the flame: 'The Olympics is an opportunity for us to be seen to be aspiring to be better. There are big issues around the price of energy and big issues about affordability. We were the first energy company to announce a price cut at the start of the year.'

Earlier this year, EDF also launched the Blue +Price Promise tariff - energy from which will power the Olympics, Tower Bridge and the Eye. The low- carbon supply arrangement lets consumers fix their energy prices until September 2013.

'It comes with a unique promise - we'll tell you if a competitor brings out a product that's £1 or more a week cheaper,' says Brown. 'Customers switching to another supplier will not be charged a termination fee.'

Brown feels this will help close the 'gulf in trust' between energy suppliers and consumers. 'Energy prices have gone up massively over the past five years - 100 per cent-plus - and people's living standards haven't gone up at the same rate,' he says. 'We face market forces and have seen wholesale prices go up, and we can't buck that trend.'

Much of what EDF is doing around London 2012 is either eye-catching or innovative. Yet before and during the Olympics, a key problem must be achieving cut-through with comms activity in a fevered consumer market.

If Brown is worried about being heard above the clamour of rival brands, he doesn't show it. 'We've been in it earlier than most and maintained a campaign right from the bid,' says Brown. 'There have been various initiatives along the way, such as The Pod and Team Green Britain activities. Our polling says that has helped produce clear water between us and the other energy companies in the environmental space.'

That perception will not be hurt by EDF's electric vehicle charging points, which will remain after the Games, plus the news that, although it failed to find a smokeless fuel for the torch and the Olympic cauldron in time, EDF has patented one for use at future Olympics.

One senses that Brown rather enjoys the competition. He also sees the importance of stamina. 'We face big challenges from other sponsors,' he smiles. 'But we've played a long game on this.'

LONDON 2012 COMMS TIMELINE

May 2012

Parliamentary reception marks raising £400,000 for British Paralympic Association - £200,000 by EDF staff, matched by the company

April 2012

Announces it will power London 2012 with electricity backed by low-carbon sources

March 2012

Partnership with GE and Transport for London sees first electric vehicle charging points installed at ExCeL Centre

January 2012

ParalympicsGB training camp is first multi-day sporting event in the world to be accredited by the Council for Responsible Sport

November 2011

Team EDF launched: 36 European athlete ambassadors, including 15 Olympic/Paralympic champions, who have committed to be role models for a lower-carbon lifestyle

November 2011

Thank Yous rewards scheme offers residential customers chance to win tickets to London 2012 events

July 2011

Leases 35 London 2012-branded electric cars from BMW

February 2011

Launches 'Legacy Champions' programme, with EDF staff mentoring young people from east London colleges as they implement sustainability focused community projects

January 2011

Unveils partnership with London Eye

March 2010

Partners British Paralympic Association to help ParalympicsGB become greener

October 2009

Sponsors Birmingham Half Marathon, using it to link sport and sustainability as a 'race against climate change'

June 2009

Holds 'Green Britain Day' to launch Team Green Britain climate-change programme

September 2008

Launches schools initiative The Pod

July 2007

Becomes an official partner of London 2012

April 2004

Backs London 2012 bid, with the EDF Energy 'Leap Counter' touring the country, allowing people to register support

BROWN'S AGENDA

Customer trust and the low-carbon investment that the country needs to meet its energy needs for the future are the big challenges, and these things won't have changed after the Olympics has gone. Some of the legacy things, such as The Pod, will still be very much my focus. We'll be looking at how to develop those sponsorship activities. Looking at what we'll do after the Olympics, the deal with the London Eye goes on till 2013. But the sustainability dimension will be a key criterion to judge whether comms activity will be appropriate to us. We'll also have to be doing something appropriate to providing customers with better service and fair value.

AGENCY VIEWS

"Keeping the lights on at the Olympics will ultimately be less important than convincing energy consumers that EDF is giving them value for money. Andrew Brown knows this and in a different way so do Boris Johnson and Seb Coe, because they share the same challenge." Mark Lowe, Founding partner, Third City



"It's not just energy companies that Andrew Brown talks about that have trust issues." Richard Medley, Managing director, Nexus Communications

 

"As well as a sales boost, sponsors will have enjoyed a positive internal impact, taken brands to new audiences and used the Games to forge emotional connections with consumers. Olympic sponsors have done well to maximise their involvement in the 'greatest show on earth', but with the Games tantalisingly close, the sponsors must now turn their attention to their own legacy." Rebecca Grant, Managing director, consumer marketing UK & EMEA, Cohn & Wolfe


"Our client EDF Energy's strategic use of Olympic sponsorship is smart. It has clear-sighted objectives and has activated the sponsorship across all business units, maintaining momentum across a five-year period and keeping it fresh and relevant with a series of initiatives touching multiple stakeholders" Rachel Friend, Managing director, consumer marketing, Weber Shandwick



"Generating and executing big ideas that mesh together across social media and physical content is increasingly vital. In this age of conversation, capturing audience imagination matters more than ever." Richard Brett, Managing director, Shine Communications

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