The greatest pitch on Earth

Roll up, roll up for the greatest pitch on Earth. This is the opportunity of a lifetime: the marcoms strategy brief for the four years up to and including the London 2012 Olympics.

Oddly, though, agency groups aren’t falling over themselves to turn up to the initial chemistry meetings, taking place about now.

Now why should that be? After all, 9 million spectators and a TV audience of 4 billion-plus in
220 countries isn’t to be sniffed at.

Cursory scrutiny of the brief soon reveals their principal anxiety. Where’s the money? Hard though it may be to grasp, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog), which is in charge of the brief, is expecting the winning agency to do it all for love, or at least glory.

It’s not as if Locog doesn’t have some wealthy backers – for example, the UK government and Mayor of London (with his massive tax receipts). Or, and this is a real rub, that the idea of a marketing budget is entirely alien to the committee. After all, as more than one agency chief has fretted, they were happy enough to blow £400,000 on creating a logo whose only visible achievement has been to create a great deal of notoriety.
But maybe that’s partly the point. Locog had a pretty bruising experience at the hands of the media over the Wolff Olins logo: it’s understandably reluctant to repeat the experience on a wider scale.

It’s not about money
And, by the way, Locog has not said it won’t pay. It’s simply been vague about remuneration. It has, for instance, talked about creating a special marketing services partnership with ‘potential’ Tier 3 sponsorship benefits. There’s even the possibility of the winning agency taking a percentage of any marcoms funding raised. Though this last suggestion, you’ll note, raises as many questions as it answers. Are the agency’s clients expected to stump up?

So if not money in any great quantity, what benefits can you expect to secure if you win the pitch?

Well, as the brief somewhat archly points out, here is an opportunity to showcase a four-year long truly integrated marketing/communications strategy under the most trying circumstances imaginable. A case study to beat all case studies. And all, of course, in the service of your country’s greatest ever project.

There simply is no precedent for this kind of pro bono activity. The Dome? That had a fairly generous budget and was of relatively short duration. Political advertising? That’s normally run by a few agency enthusiasts, and requires little intensive activity outside election time.

The Olympiad, by contrast, is a four-year haul which will require massive, full-on commitment from the agency during the whole of that time. There will be difficulties right from the start.

Winning the marathon
At the heart of the brief is an inherent contradiction. On the one hand, 2012 must – in that politically correct, inclusive way – be ‘Everyone’s Games’. On the other, the Games have to focus overwhelmingly on getting young people involved in sport, because that was the defining criterion of our successful Olympics bid.

Then, too, Locog has set an ambitious ‘step-change’ agenda for these Olympics in promising that they will be the ‘first truly digital Games’.

Good luck, as well, in juggling the notoriously fickle UK media. Four years is an awfully long time to keep them interested in the project. And, if you’re really unfortunate, they’ll fill the longueurs with the odd ‘disaster’ story. While we’re on the subject of the logo, whatever is the winning agency going to do with that less-than-lustrous debut to Olympics branding activity?

So, some suitably Olympic challenges for 2012’s prospective agency. But neither these nor the lack of ready cash are what will most prey on agency chiefs’ minds. The single Olympic event that this brief most resembles is the marathon. The sheer strain and disruption of covering the course will put many off from contending in the first place.

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