London 2012: What if London doesn't win?

London 2012's partners have nothing to lose even if the team's bid fails. Adam Hill reports on the brand-building opportunities for all involved.

London's place on the five-city shortlist to stage the Olympic Games in eight years means that it is hot property in PR terms. Last month's sudden move of erstwhile bid leader Barbara Cassani into the shadows - as former Olympic gold medal winner Lord Sebastian Coe steps onto the rostrum - has been broadly welcomed. Yet sports politics can be a brutal business and portents for the success of London 2012 are mixed.

At the back of everyone's mind must be the nagging question: what if London doesn't win this time? However, London 2012 is apparently seen by Labour as having a 50:50 chance of success. And being mid-table after an initial International Olympic Committee (IOC) assessment does not seem to have put off 20-odd partners, which are expected to contribute around £10m to the bid through hard cash and services. Canary Wharf Group, for example, hosts the bid's offices, while Royal Mail has donated £1m. It is perhaps unsurprising that none of the firms PRWeek spoke to would countenance failure.

Lucrative partnerships

There are four tiers of corporate involvement - under IOC rules, no one can call themselves a 'sponsor' - with bid 'partners' ranked as premier, major, champion and supporter, depending on how deep their pockets are.

Royal Mail, interestingly, has no official status, since its donation was made before the tier system was introduced.

Premier partners, such as British Airways and BT, will get the most mentions in London 2012's promotion. BA flew the victorious England rugby team to Sydney last year and its involvement has an obvious fit with travel and international logistics. For British-branded companies, there is also a patriotic logic to attaching themselves to the flag. Partners will also have access to athletes for promotional activity.

EDF Energy, as a lesser-known brand, has been quick to maximise its presence.

A photocall for CEO Vincent de Rivaz at the so-called Leap Counter, a gimmick through which people can walk to register their support for London 2012, attracted media attention.

Failure to win the bid is dismissed by the company as 'not a significant worry', and you can see why: its connection with the proposed regeneration of 1,500 acres of East London's Lower Lea Valley for venues and accommodation makes sense whatever happens.

For EDF, high-voltage overhead powerlines will have to be moved and there will be an upsurge in electricity demand as development continues. 'We own the electricity infrastructure,' says comms director Gareth Wynn.

No wonder it is using the chance to promote itself as London and the South East's energy provider of choice.

Similarly, BT's sponsorship is part of ongoing corporate messaging regarding its expertise in information communications and technology.

Grabbing a slice of the pie

Both companies are part of the corporate advisory group on strategy and marketing of the bid, as well as offering technical advice. London 2012 director of corporate relations Philip Beard says: 'If we were to lose, a lot of the work we have put forward in that area will happen anyway.' The potential commercial gains in the future are clearly a major consideration.

The privately owned Radisson Edwardian Hotels has nine hotels in central London. In addition to supplying bedrooms and meeting spaces for the London 2012 team, it will use its association with the bid to position its brand.

In a similar way, London's position as a global financial centre has persuaded City companies such as Clifford Chance and Deloitte to get involved. Other supporters include Microsoft and the Hilton Group.

The involvement of brands from differing sectors confirms the broad appeal of the Olympics.

While the bid might have been tailor-made for customer relationship management activity, there are wider promotional opportunities on offer for organisations in these obesity-obsessed times. Hill & Knowlton sports marketing sponsorship MD Alun James says: 'The bid itself could be the vanguard for a large campaign linked to government initiatives on anti-obesity and getting the nation's health sorted.'

Time is certainly pressing. Next spring, an IOC delegation will spend a week in London examining how the city is going to physically stage the bid (stadia, transport, accommodation and so on). IOC voters are likely to smile on a bid that demonstrates significant backing from government, corporations and the public, although a lot depends on Coe's credibility with the international men in suits.

And while it seems likely that no company will attract negative press for backing a failed British bid, partners will be hoping that, on 6 July next year, London will bring back the gold.

EDF ENERGY

Gareth Wynn, director of comms - 'The bid will help drive our profile and raise awareness of our brand. The Leap Counter worked well for the nationals and London 2012 will help us create photo opportunities with athletes. If this makes us more interesting to the media, it will be useful. Failure is not a significant worry. You have to have an eye to the fact that, despite our best efforts, someone else might do better. Come that time, we'll have to think again, but the most important thing is that the bid team and everyone supporting it plays to win.'

RADISSON EDWARDIAN HOTELS

Nicky Wright, partnerships manager - 'London is our market and our mission is to be the most admired company in London. There are three parts to our strategy: to help London win the Olympic bid, to promote Radisson Edwardian Hotels, and to maximise networking opportunities. We have an extensive internal plan for employees to understand why we are supporting London 2012 and how this should be communicated to customers. We are working with agency Mason Williams to form a PR plan around London 2012, in order to maximise all the opportunities.'

BT

Michael Wadley, spokesman - 'Our sponsorship strategy is based on demonstrating our core capabilities. The main thrust of BT's comms strategy will be around the technical aspects of the bid. We believe we can use our expertise in information comms and technology (ICT) to bolster its credibility. At the same time, it will give us the opportunity to demonstrate to our audiences what a major ICT player BT has become. In addition, BT has a successful record supporting major and global sporting events, such as Global Challenge and Rugby World Cup 1999.'

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