Jumping the final hurdle

Can Lord Coe’s team strike gold for London’s bid to host the 2012 Olympic games, or will the capital’s bid fizzle out?

The race to host the 2012 Olympic Games has entered its final stages, with the technical bid documents completed and submitted by the five short-listed cities.

Many observers have already labelled the competition as a tale of two cities – London and Paris, with Madrid, New York and Moscow seen as outside runners. But the race is not over and the London bid could still stumble on the many obstacles between now and the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) decision in July 2005. Not least of these is the level of public support for the bid.

People power

Along with proof of capability to host the games, bidding cities needs to demonstrate overwhelming public backing. Drumming up this support is the task of the 2012 marketing team, led by former Go marketing chief David Magliano and Air Miles and Nectar loyalty expert Keith Mills.

The indications are that the team is on the right track, according to an exclusive Marketing Week survey of 1,007 adults conducted by TNS Phonebus last weekend.

In total, 72 per cent of Great Britain supports the London 2012 bid, while 23 per cent does not. Some of the strongest support – 76 per cent – comes from the crucial London population. Regionally, the weakest support is found in East Anglia – 47 per cent – and Scotland with 58 per cent.

The survey also indicates that most people in Britain believe hosting the Olympics will leave behind a positive legacy, which is a key selling point of the London 2012 bid. About 77 per cent of respondents agree the games would benefit Britain in 2012. Londoners were again among the most enthusiastic, with 81 per cent seeing the advantages.

A golden chance

While the results do not match the support level of 94 per cent claimed by rival Paris among its residents, the results indicate that the popularity of hosting the Olympics is growing, as previous surveys have polled support in London of between 67 per cent and 69 per cent.

However, the news is not as good for the bid team itself, which is still recovering from a barrage of negative publicity triggered by the ousting of chief executive Barbara Cassani and criticism from high-profile figures such as Linford Christie.

Only 54 per cent said they thought the bid was well run, with 26 per cent believing it was not well run and 20 per cent unsure. This time, Londoners were less enthusiastic than the average across Britain, with only 52 per cent saying the bid team was doing a good job.

However, the marketing behind the bid appears to be working, given the sea change in the perception evident from both the Marketing Week poll, and from anecdotal evidence.

When Marketing Week put the question of support to a group of opinion-formers this summer, the verdict was simple: “Must do better.” Even the bid’s supporters admitted London had been slow off the blocks. Now the noises are much more positive.

In the summer, London Chamber of Commerce head of media Dan Bridgett had spoken cautiously of concerns about public apathy. He had also worried about the media backlash against the bid, which was portraying a white elephant of Millennium Dome-like proportions.

Bridgett says the bid has now raised its game and the public’s perception has turned as the media has become more enthusiastic. He says: “It has become a popular cause and negative newspaper reports are rare. The business community is seeing the race as a head-to-head against Paris and we should win.”

Getting into the spirit of things

Bridgett believes the sudden rise in optimism around the London bid follows a successful Athens Olympics: “There was a feeling that London was off the pace. But Athens was a massive boost, from both the medal haul of British competitors and the passion shown by British spectators.”

Bridgett’s words in the summer were also echoed by Derek Wyatt MP, chairman of the Parliamentary all-party Olympic group, who had expressed concern that the London 2012 bid had been slow to step up its public marketing campaign following Team GB’s success in Athens (MW August 26). Wyatt says: “I’m much more confident than I was three months ago. It has grown up under Lord Coe and is easily one of the best bids.”

And that is despite the Marketing Week survey figures showing widespread uncertainty about the running of London 2012.Wyatt believes the introduction of Lord Coe as chairman has been crucial because of his sporting and political credentials.

Deloitte & Touche managing partner for tourism, hospitality and leisure Alex Kyriakidis agrees the bid has recovered from a shaky start, partly because of the leadership of Lord Coe. He highlights the bid team’s focus on the long-term infrastructure legacy as a key to winning the games and using this to boost public support.

But there is also the question of convincing the IOC.

Advantage London

Kyriakidis says: “The major infrastructure issues have been reasonably addressed. Have we got enough to beat Paris now? It is going to be very close but I think London has an advantage in its stronger link between the games and the economy.”

Kyriakidis argues that the bid needs to start turning its growing support into additional and visible marketing, using its commercial partners to become a ubiquitous brand presence across the country.

Marketing is the area of the bid that has improved most visibly, although some – like Kyriakidis – argue that more needs to be done. London was slow off the mark with its campaign, and was criticised for a lack of imagination in its advertising.

New York’s television advertising, for instance, broke before the summer, and features celebrities such as Jerry Seinfield and Billy Crystal. The ads were created by a collective of the heads of the largest ad agencies in the city. The Paris bid, meanwhile, is supported by stylish Publicis-created advertisements featuring the music of Serge Gainsbourg and declaring “L’Amour des Jeux”. The ads broke on July 12 and will continue until the end of the year.

London’s advertising also could be said to be characteristic, perhaps, in its lateness. One advertising agency chief, who pitched for the 2012 advertising account, criticises the bid’s “Leap for London” and “Back the Bid” slogans and pictures as too understated. The advertising, he adds, lack the glory of the Olympic Games: “So far the campaign has done little to grab the hearts of the British people.”

But while he might criticise the creativity behind the advertising, there is no doubt the campaign’s reach has been stepped up, most noticeably in the capital through the bid’s &£9m deal with Transport for London. Television advertising will also be used and distribution deals have been agreed with retailers for merchandise to be sold (MW August 5).

The bid team is also launching a “2012 Day” on December 20, which will see a range of activity from both the bid team as well as partners such as British Airways, EDF Energy and Virgin to generate support.

Outspent, but not outdone?

A spokesman for the London bid says that the marketing activity is limited by the amount invested by supporters, and points out that rival bids have enjoyed a higher marketing budget. Valerie Amant, a spokeswoman for rival Paris, confirms the bid is backed with a marketing spend of &£3.3m, slightly higher than the &£2.8m supporting London’s effort.

But Amant says the Paris bid has always put a high value on marketing. “Marketing is very important. People have to realise that although 2012 is very far away, we need their support now to get the chance to host the games.”

Marketing chief Magliano has said in the past that London has a different timetable to its rivals with three key phases. The first started in September and runs to this month’s visit by the IOC pollsters. The second phase is when the IOC committee visits in February and the third comes just before the bid decision in 2005.

Given Paris’s head start on marketing, it is perhaps little wonder the city claims the higher level of public support. However, all is not lost, as former marketing director for the IOC Michael Payne says that current support levels for London should be a sufficient starting point. “Any number over 70 per cent is a solid basis to launch a bid,” he says.

Support from Londoners is key, he explains, while the need for backing outside the capital is overplayed and points to Sydney in 2000 and Turin in 2006 as successful bids for major events that lacked national support.

Almost as important as public support, he says, is the bid’s international marketing campaign, as IOC members read the international press. Up until now there have been restrictions preventing any international marketing of the bids, but these have now been lifted. Political and historical factors also apparently count a great deal.

Michael Parker, chief executive of Team Saatchi and a former Olympian, thinks that London could be disadvantaged by recent bid history. It is the third time that Paris has bid for the games, which he says means the city is well prepared and also carries “a huge sense of injustice and a burning desire to win”.

Capital gains

Parker says London’s marketing has been slow to start and that the “Sport at Heart” cinema advertisement unveiled last week was the first time the bid team has managed to successfully tap into the Olympic spirit in its marketing communications. But even with the increasing public support behind the bid, Parker is not prepared to back a winner at this stage.

Likewise, others say all bets are off. Payne has successfully predicted the winner in every Olympics in recent years, but says this time it is impossible. “I wouldn’t gamble on this one yet. I have always picked the winners – even Athens against popular opinion – but this one is too close to call.”

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