Behind the scenes at London 2012

In the final hours before London 2012 kicked off, Kate Magee visited the London Media Centre to take a look behind the scenes and soak up the atmosphere.

London 2012 stadium
London 2012 stadium

09.30: I arrive at the London Media Centre (LMC). Although the centre does allow accredited media in, it has been set up to mainly cater to the 8,164 non-accredited media who are heading into the capital for London 2012.

It is hosted at One Great George Street, an imposing building just past the Houses of Parliament, Whitehall and Horse Guards Parade, where trucks are delivering huge piles of sand for the beach volleyball event.

The LMC and its 50-day content programme have been in the planning since 2008 and London & Partners, the London promotion organisation, is taking the lead on the centre.

Security is tight. I have to pass through an airport-style metal detector before getting to the registration area to collect my pass. These passes also double up as filming permits for the London boroughs to simplify council red tape for broadcasters.

After passing through another scanner, I enter the main foyer that hosts a range of stalls run by partners of LMC including Visa, Visit Britain and the FCO. An army of friendly staff wearing blue T-shirts are helping journalists navigate the centre. They are staff of Rushmans, an event management firm that has been hired to handle logistics.

10.00: I head downstairs to a small theatre-style room where Royal Mail is kicking off the first press conference of the day. It is launching its initiative to produce and sell stamps of any Team GB gold medal winners, within 24 hours of their victory. Gold medal winner Darren Campbell is part of the panel and talks about how it feels to win a gold medal and compete.

The initiative is ambitious. The normal process for producing a stamp can take up to 18 months. This will be compressed into 24 hours. To speed up the process, Buckingham Palace has pre-approved all the stamps and a partnership with Getty Images has been set up. Getty will send pictures of any Team GB winner as soon as they are taken to Royal Mail's designers. Post Offices will open on Sunday so the public can buy stamps within 24 hours.

The assembled journalists have questions ranging from a stamp collector specialist asking if the stamps will show marks from different printers, to questions on what would happen if a gold medal winner got stripped of the medal.

Royal Mail

There are up to five press conferences a day taking place at the LMC between 10am and 5pm. London & Partners works closely with LOCOG to try to mirror events that are happening in the International Broadcast Centre/Main Press Centre - the LOCOG-run media centre for accredited media in the Olympic Park. For example, a press conference that took place recently on the building and infrastructure of the venues was repeated at the LMC afterwards.

11.00: London & Partners' head of comms Chloe Couchman takes me on a tour of the venue. Outside the smaller press conference room there is a cafe that serves a range of food to cater to the different nationalities, and expects to serve six miles' worth of pasta throughout the event. On the entrance level is a large workroom for photographers and videographers complete with lockers for them to store their equipment. Upstairs is a much larger press conference room and a huge airy workroom with desks, phones, power cables and TVs showing rolling BBC News and some London & Partners broadcast packages.

Main workroom

11.15: Couchman gives more details on the centre. She says the London & Partners' media line is receiving around 350 press calls a day, and the LMC is receiving at least 200 per day. The calls are varied, but they often tend to be requests for spokespeople or for suggestions on what the media should do in their downtime and quirky places they can film. 'The weirdest request was from NBC's breakfast show, which wanted to find abandoned tube tunnels where they could film a James Bond-style piece. We put them in touch with the right people,' says Couchman.

It was a mammoth task to pull together a 50-day content programme that would interest the wide variety of journalists and media outlets that are registered. During the accreditation process, journalists were asked to indicate which areas they were interested in, from history to food and drink. 'This helped us get the right balance of stories for the content programme and has shown us what different nationalities want. For example, Americans still love stories on the royals and British heritage,' she says. 'We saw the content programme as a very long press trip,' she quips.

In the week before we meet, around 300 journalists attended the centre each day. But once the Olympics starts, the team is expecting this to rise to 700. London & Partners has a team of five comms staff who are taking it in turns to work shifts of 8am-4pm or 4pm-midnight, although the press centre is open 24 hours, so they are always on call. 'We've always said this is a marathon not a sprint, so we made sure we had a rota that we could all function on. Having said that, I am about to start 14 days straight with no break,' she smiles.

12.00: The second press conference of the day is from the Design Council. The two designers of the Olympic Torch - Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby - are interviewed on the design and production process before the session opens up to journalists' questions. The pair won the brief after a five-way pitch. It is interesting to hear the thought process behind the design, including the elements they had to include. The holes represent the 8,000 Torch Relay runners but also help improve the grip, reduce the amount of material used and make it lighter for children to carry. The torch was also tested at BMW's headquarters in Munich, to see how it would perform at temperatures from -10 degrees to 40 degrees, in wind gusts of up to 75mph and 50mm of rain per hour.

Journalists from China, America, Mexico and Brazil attend the press conference. There are a total of 73 countries represented in the LMC including Bangladesh, Barbados, Sierra Leone and Somalia. In order, the largest groups are the UK, China, Japan, Brazil, the US, Canada and Australia.

13.00: Downstairs I go to the Visit Britain stand, which is arranging press trips for journalists. These include behind-the-scenes tours at the Tower of London and partnering with the Orient Express Trains and Cruises to take journalists on one of its vintage trains.

Pullman train

13.30: Couchman explains how London & Partners is already thinking about the comms landscape post-Games. Her team has put together information for broadcasters on the best places to film in London with good backdrops. It has collected this information from councils, royal parks and venues and the BBC.

'We need to make sure this co-ordination does not get lost after the Games,' she says. She adds that her team is also making the most of having journalists in the LMC, to get feedback on future campaign plans and messages.

Couchman's Brazilian counterpart, who will be doing her job in four years' time, is also spending the week in the LMC to pick up tips for the Brazilian Olympics. 'We were saying we should create a PR baton to pass on,' jokes Couchman.

She rushes off for a media interview with a regional BBC radio station, one of an average of 20 interviews she and her team do in a day.

'We always say that we will not know what the take-out message from the Games will be until we see the BBC montage at the end of its programming,' she says. Watch this space.


LOCOG's programme

Haymarket Network (part of the company that owns PRWeek) is the official publisher of London 2012. As well as publishing all the official souvenir programmes, the team is producing the daily programmes at the Olympic Park.

PRWeek spoke to associate editor Steve Landells last week, as he was standing in the media centre.

'I came into the media centre a couple of weeks ago and it was relatively quiet. There were just a handful of journalists here. Today it's really kicked off. Lots of journalists flew in over the weekend, and there's a real tinge of excitement.

'This is my third Olympics after Athens and Beijing and it's a very similar set-up. There's a massive open-plan room with lots of workstations.

'So far all the international journalists I've spoken to have been very positive about the facilities in the media centre and their hotels. I met an Austrian journalist. This is the tenth Games he's covering and he was raving about the facilities.

'We're producing the official daily programme for LOCOG. The process began in November 2010, and I started interviewing people for the programmes in May 2011. About 90 per cent of the content is already written, but each day we'll review what happened the previous day and what we need to update in the programme.

'Each programme will be around 68 pages. Our day will start at 9am and the press deadline for the journalists will be 6pm. There will be a team of three writers and myself based in the media centre at the Olympic Park for the duration of the Games.'

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in