CAMPAIGN: TfL pedals a grand tour around London

In September 2006 London won its bid to host Le Grand Depart of the Tour de France in July 2007. Transport for London worked with Four Sports, Arts & Sponsorship to promote the event and London as a tourist destination.

On the wheel: TfL turned around initial negative press coverage for Le Grand Depart
On the wheel: TfL turned around initial negative press coverage for Le Grand Depart

Campaign: Le Grand Depart
Client: Transport for London
PR Team: Transport for London and Four Sports, Arts & Sponsorship
Timescale: October 2006 – July 2007
Budget: £100,000

To demonstrate London’s ability to host international sporting events. To increase the number of people cycling in the capital. To profile London as a world-class visitor destination.

Strategy and plan
The brief covered media in the UK and key European cycling nations France, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy.

A three-phase programme was des­igned to engage media in the months leading up to the event.

With the exception of sport editors, most UK media did not understand the Tour de France so a media lunch was held in January with Tour hopeful Bradley Wiggins, former Tour rider Chris Boardman, and rower James Cracknell, a keen cyclist.

National and regional media were briefed on ‘how to be a Tour de France fan’, the daily diet of a cyclist on the course and Wiggins’ training diary.

In the second phase, ambassadors targeted non-sporting media to raise the profile of cycling in the city and encourage tourism. Media were invited to ride the route of the prologue time trial with Wiggins to help showcase London as an iconic venue.

Immediately before and during the event all target media were briefed on the weekend’s activity, with interviews set up for international business media including CNBC. A 600-desk media centre was set up at ExCeL for 2,000 accredited journalists. A bus and boat shuttle service provided access to the race, and journalists were given the chance to ride with motorcycle outriders.

Measurement and evaluation
A series of six tour-related pieces was broadcast by ITV over five months. Radio Four broadcast five features from April onwards. Inter­views were also broadcast by BBC London, Chris Evans on BBC Radio 2, BBC Five Live and Capital FM.

Le Grand Depart weekend gen­er­a­ted 15,000 pieces of coverage before and during the event, inc­lu­ding pieces in every UK national newspaper.

On 7 July, French sports title L’Equipe published its first ever English front-page headline ‘God save Le Tour.’

Ipsos Mori research showed 82 per cent of Londoners had seen media coverage of the London Grand Depart, and that 28 per cent present at the events said coverage had encouraged them to attend.

Jeremy Whittle, cycling correspon­dent at The Times, said: ‘TfL did a brilliant job and turned around a largely negative media build-up to leave everbody glowing over a wonderful opening weekend.’

An estimated one million fans turned out on 7 July for the tour’s 7.9km time trial in central London, with more than two million in Kent and south east London for stage one on 8 July.

The event was widely praised by media as a dry run for the 2012 Olympic Games, and images of London landmarks were published around the world.

Cycle shops in the capital reported a 20 per cent increase in trade before, during and after the weekend.


Luke Blair (l), director, London Communi­cations Agency: Bringing the world’s biggest annual spor­ting event to central London is one hell of a hook, but guaranteeing media attendance is only half the battle.  TfL’s hard-working press and special projects teams also had to ensure the 2,000 accredited journalists got what they wanted in terms of access – to individuals, to the course and to special briefings.

I liked the touches that helped this happen along the way – dedi­cated bus and boat shuttles to move media around, limited edit­ion lap­top bags and packages with Tour stars like our own Bradley Wiggins. 

Although acres of media cover­age was guaranteed, ensuring key messages were delivered  was a different chall­enge altogether.

Our agency helped TfL ann­ou­­­n­ce back in 2006 that the Tour was com­ing to London. So I was inter­ested to know on the back of the event itself how TfL messages pen­etrated a key target: London media. 

When you consider more than half these papers don’t cover the area where the Tour took place, that is a good result on a key deliv­erable for TfL’s press team. 

But the huge organisation and effort that went into the event and its media circus paid off. Even the Evening Standard congratulated special projects director Mick Hickford and his team – an ext­remely rare piece of public praise for the back office teams who work so hard making these kinds of events a success.

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