Nicky Forrest, Phipps: Gold medal for 2012 comms

Those involved in long-term projects can learn a lot from the PR for the London Olympics.

A post-credit crunch UK is not really the best place to be leading a publicly funded project with a budget of almost £10bn.

This is the huge challenge facing the Olympic Development Authority (ODA) and the London Organising Committee (LOCOG) as the clock ticks down to the London Olympics in 2012.

And it is not just the economic climate. The UK has a long history of incompetence in large construction projects. Overambitious promises, delays and escalating costs will long be associated with the Millennium Dome and Wembley Stadium.

Combine this with political and environmental sensitivities, pressure groups, watchdogs, community relations, lottery funding and the media watching every penny spent like a forensic accountant and you have the ingredients for a vast PR disaster.

In the face of such odds, the reputation of the London 2012 project and its team remains untarnished. The latest milestone - two years to 2012 - generated excellent media coverage when top athletes Sir Chris Hoy, Michael Johnson and John Amaechi showcased progress on the Olympic Park.

It also featured strong launches of the Games volunteer programme and the Mayor of London's request for 8,000 people to join the London Ambassador programme.

The celebration of milestones has kept the news offering fresh and energised. This is a good example to all those engaged in long-term comms projects of how to break content down into manageable chunks.

Other strong comms elements have been the management of the websites for both ODA and LOCOG, the launch of the London 2012 ticket website, the excellence of Lord Coe as lead spokesman and creative highlights such as the Games logo and mascots Wenlock and Mandeville.

Underpinning the coherent and well-managed comms effort is a sensitive operational strategy and a culture of delivery. Over the past three years, the ODA has set out its construction and infrastructure milestones and progress towards these milestones is documented on the ODA website.

And how many projects fall into the trap of being London-centric? Organisers have worked together to develop grassroots ownership of the project across the UK. For example, nearly 1,000 events were held across the country during an 'Open Weekend'.

As well as financial worries, climate change concerns have dominated headlines throughout the project. The ODA understood this and has put issues such as carbon emissions, biodiversity, water use and waste management at the heart of its operations.

Of course there have been negative headlines, gallery politics in the House of Commons and simmering anger in communities most affected by construction, but overall the comms approach has been highly competent.

Companies would do well to look at the London Olympics campaign as a masterclass in managing the corporate reputation of the organisations and individuals involved. By consulting all stakeholders, issues have been identified early and managed, and targets have been realistic. The comms for London 2012 have been delivered with transparency and clarity and have engaged the public's emotions.

There is a long way to go. The security and transport issues alone would give most PR people sleepless nights. And then there is the legacy of the Games. When the tourists have gone home and the world's media have departed, the domestic scrutiny will begin.

Performance to date suggests that the ending of one of the world's biggest construction projects will be just as good as the beginning.

Views in brief

- Which organisation has most improved its reputation in the past year?

McDonald's used to be the whipping boy of the food industry but has repositioned itself as the consumer champion for decent quality fast food sourced with integrity. Its appointment to help recruit and train volunteers for the London 2012 Games could consign the 'McJob' stigma to the bin forever.

- To what extent do dwindling public sector budgets offer an opportunity for corporate CSR programmes to fill the void?

The 'Big Society' idea creates a fantastic opportunity for corporates to contribute to the way in which our society develops.

Nicky Forrest is managing director at Phipps

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