Alec Mattinson: Olympic sponsors have a legacy to give too

If cynicism were an Olympic sport, the UK would already have an unassailable lead in the medal table.

Alec Mattinson: Sponsors must explain why their money is crucial to the Games and beyond
Alec Mattinson: Sponsors must explain why their money is crucial to the Games and beyond

Headlines in the run-up to the Games have been dominated by the, admittedly disastrous, G4S debacle, criticism of corporate sponsors and general doom-mongering about everything from London's transport to the miserable weather.

But hang on a minute. Where are the headlines about unfinished venues, sub-standard athletes' accommodation and shambolic event organisation? Whisper this quietly, but could it be that a Games delivered on time and, depending on which definition you take, on budget is about to provide the biggest non-royal family-related PR boost Britain has had in a generation?

We have already seen the media fervour generated by the heroics of Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and Andy Murray in recent weeks and one suspects any lingering media negativity will be washed away by a Team GB gold rush.

It's no surprise then that brands want to place themselves at the centre of the action.

There have been audible murmurs of discomfort about the power of London 2012 sponsors, from the plethora of corporate tickets to the aggressive restrictions on anything remotely 'unofficial'

There's a debate to be had about the over-commercialisation of the Games, but the simple fact is that the modern Games would not be possible without commercial cash.

Sponsors need to do a better job of explaining how their money is crucial for British athletes and the legacy of the Games. And while they might be multi-million-pound marketing and advertising operations, it's the PR component that can really add meaning to these brands' involvement.

The real measure of the Games' success will not be revealed in the medal table; it will be the social and environmental legacy left for east London and beyond. Here, many of the sponsors have convincing stories of transformative grassroots investment - the challenge is crafting this worthy activity into a compelling narrative.

An excellent example of this is Sky's backing of the phenomenal Team Sky cycling outfit. The Sky logo was on every front page on Monday, but a more impressive association for the brand is its wider campaign growing cycling participation to unprecedented levels.

The Olympics has the capacity to change not just the lives of those competing, but also the communities, localities and individuals it touches. Brands must play a vital role in delivering this legacy - and that should be the real test of whether cynicism around their involvement is justified.

Alec Mattinson is deputy editor of PRWeek.

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