News Analysis: Olympic victory - the inside story

London 2012's communications director says his team's highly integrated approach made all the difference in the final sprint to the Singapore vote.

When I joined London 2012 - just over 18 months ago - there were negative perceptions about London's bid which meant we faced an uphill struggle.

We had to work extremely hard to improve the level of public support for Britain hosting the games, to show the degree of political enthusiasm, and to change adverse perceptions of London's transport infrastructure.

The product - a London Games - was underdeveloped and we had only limited resources to build the London 2012 brand. It was vital to formulate coherent technical plans and gather every ounce of support from our commercial partners.

At the same time we were aware that an 18-month comms campaign would be long - and it would clearly be a challenge to sustain momentum up to the final days in Singapore.

The success of such a massive reputation task was always going to hinge on an integrated communications approach. So we built a strong in-house PR team, which comprised all the strands that we needed: media relations, public affairs, community relations, a speakers' bureau and a network of ambassadors in the world of sport - small in number but with skill, experience and dedication.

It was also critical for me as director to have a close working relationship with the chairman, and with the appointment of Lord Sebastian Coe this became an essential element in the bid.

Although we did use limited agency support in specialist areas, including Hill & Knowlton for some international media relations, the vast bulk of the communications and public affairs campaign was handled in-house.

International focus

The UK initiatives we undertook are now well documented, but it is easy to forget that at least as much work was done on an international stage.

After all, the 117 members of the IOC - who would ultimately decide our fate - were scattered right across the globe.

How could they be won over on a limited budget - and with severe restrictions on how we were able to influence them? Communications and marketing were central to the answer, as was the right relationship with our political backers, including the Prime Minister.

Fortunately our team's unrivalled expertise in modern marketing and media techniques equipped us well for this challenge.

In media terms we knew that generating the right coverage, in the right international cities, was going to make a difference. Indeed, our evaluation reveals that right throughout the campaign we were typically generating twice as much media coverage globally as all the other bids put together.

But it was also focused. From Tokyo to Los Angeles there were a number of journalists - maybe no more than 25 - who could influence IOC members' opinions. These were critical targets.

Here we had another advantage. London is a city with a truly global reach, both culturally and through its density of foreign media. We turned this to our advantage.

There were a limited number of news hooks internationally but we were determined to use the six official IOC presentations to our advantage.

When we visited the cities - which included Doha, Brisbane and Accra - we built a mini-media strategy around each event, gaining substantial share of voice in each city and region at that time.

One of the most difficult obstacles to overcome was the perceived lukewarm support from Britons. And we knew that when the IOC polled the populations of bidding countries in November 2004, London would still lag behind its main rivals.

This is why we had to find other ways of proving indigenous support.

Hence devices such as the 'Leapometer', asking people to register their support by text and the website, which eventually gave us a massive three million pledges of public support.

The vital concept was momentum. We had to give the impression to the world that, yes, perhaps we were the underdog, but that we were gaining all the time. We made liberal use of athletics metaphors in this context.

It was going to be 'a long race', we were gaining 'lap by lap' and in the final stages it was going to be 'a photo-finish'.

This narrative worked particularly well alongside our bid leader, Coe.

No other city could claim a double Olympic Gold winner as its figurehead.

From early on, we saw Coe as a unique selling point and were able to build a great deal of our media activities around his personality.

Global election

Coe's background as an MP and aide to William Hague was also significant.

I had worked for David Blunkett, and Coe and I both viewed the bid as a kind of global election campaign. There are many similarities - gaining the right combination of local and global support, demonstrating leadership credentials, and having a vision for the next generation.

It wasn't all an upward curve. I think the low point for me was just prior to our presentation at the Athens Olympics, when a BBC Panorama programme used undercover reporting in a way which offended many in the Olympic movement. For a moment I began to believe the old Olympic cliche that you cannot live with the British media. The team worked very hard to tackle this, putting together a successful presentation to the world's media in Athens.

It was a tough ask, but I believe the uniquely robust nature of the British media helped forge a comms team that was naturally fitter and sharper than those of our competitors.

And when in June the French camp complained that our campaign was 'too aggressive', I knew we were having an effect on them.

The final stages of the bid were crucial. We worked extremely hard on the Singaporean print media and targeted the news channels shown in the IOC hotel.

It was this attention to detail, combined with teamwork and an unfailing visionary outlook from the whole team that helped bring the 2012 Olympic Games to London.

We can now enjoy a brief respite before another massive communications challenge begins.

Mike Lee is director of communications and public affairs at London 2012. He spent four years as senior adviser to David Blunkett MP.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in