NEWS ANALYSIS: Olympics face PR battle

Universal public and media derision met this week's launch of a London 2012 logo. Where does the PR operation go from here, asks David Quainton.

Expensive new corporate identities rarely go down well with the media. But the storm that accompanied the unveiling of the new London 2012 logo made even the notorious British Airways tail fins look popular.

The question that will be playing on the minds of the PR team at the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog) is the extent to which this poor start in communicating 2012’s values will affect how the games are ultimately received by all stakeholders.

The general view amongst senior journalists is that 2012 PR teams have done a good job before this week.

‘Considering the problems they face – problems which are inevitable in the build up to any games – the PR machine has done well,’ says Times sports writer John Goodbody, who has covered the last ten summer Olympics.

Public confusion
Despite the best efforts of Locog and the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), there are still issues to be addressed.

Locog and the ODA are the bodies charged with bringing the games to fruition. Alongside the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, they have defined the 2012 comms message. Their role has been simply defined by Locog chair Sebastian Coe many times – the ODA ‘builds the theatres’, and Locog ‘stages the plays’. But according to BBC Sport editor Mihir Bose, the public is confused.

‘There’s a gap between what they [Locog and the ODA] do and what the public understands they do,’ explains Bose. ‘I think they acknowledge that there is an educational job to be done still. And that also goes for money spent on regeneration.’

Bose is referring to the fact that much of the money being spent on the Olympic Village and stadia was already set aside for regeneration projects. Unfortunately, this is not factored in when the media report the cost of staging the event.


2012 Olympic swim park

‘The budget fiasco has hampered any positive messages,’ suggests Daily Mail sports columnist Charles Sale.

‘They need to emphasise that regeneration does cost a lot, but it’s a good thing.’

In Sale’s opinion, this week’s brand launch will help ‘draw a line in the sand’ putting the publicity about funding behind it.

But with said line drawn, what next for the Olympics? ‘The budget fiasco has hampered any positive messages,’ suggests Daily Mail sports columnist Charles Sale.

'They need to emphasise that regeneration does cost a lot, but it’s a good thing.’

In Sale’s opinion, this week’s brand launch will help ‘draw a line in the sand’ putting the publicity about funding behind it. But with said line drawn, what next for the Olympics?

‘Later this year a London 2012 roadshow will help the games message reach the regions and a younger audience,’ reveals Pitch PR MD Henry Chappell, who currently advises London 2012 non-executive deputy chairman Sir Keith Mills. ‘It needs to be perceived as a UK event, not just a London show.’

Convincing the partisan masses of places such as Manchester and Glasgow that London 2012 is their games too will be tough.

Emphasis on positive aspects
‘London 2012 needs to make the most of its assets,’ argues Chappell. ‘Although there aren’t many great British athletics champions expected from 2008’s games, there are plenty of past heroes and many from other sports that can inspire kids and get people behind the games.’

There are fears a poor athletics showing next year in Beijing could stunt positive 2012 sentiment.

‘Funding is the key to success and games comms departments will have to show that there is hope for the London games because so much money is being spent,’ says sponsorship, PR and events agency Capitalize MD Richard Moore.

Vero Communications chief Mike Lee, who Goodbody described as ‘vital in helping London secure the games’ in his role as head of comms for the bid, says the road show will help, but the key to success will be remaining proactive.

‘There are so very many positives to staging the games, but inevitably it’s a roller-coaster ride,’ he says. ‘Sydney stuttered all the way to the games. Fortunately our games has not been significantly damaged by the budget issue. Now the key is to emphasise young Olympic hopefuls, the successful new identity and the impressive sponsorship deals.’

But however the games is perceived now, it could all change come the opening ceremony.

‘In Sydney, before the games, workers would ask to get dropped off in taxis long before their actual destination. The event was despised,’ reveals Goodbody. ‘A few weeks later and it’s the most successful games of all time. So far, in comparison, I think London is doing rather well.’

LOGO LAUNCH...

The 2012 brand logo was released on Monday – to widespread public indignation. Hours after the unveiling, the BBC’s ‘have your say’ section on its website had hundreds of posts, and over 95 per cent were negative:

‘More ironic than iconic’

‘A complete waste of money’

‘It makes me feel ill’

'An absolute pile of crap’

‘It looks like a big fat pink swastika’

‘Some of my GCSE artwork was better’

‘Give us a logo we can be proud of and not this national embarrassment’

Get involved in this week's video podcast to hear Pitch PR MD Henry Chappell talk about Locog's logo battering

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