Selling London to the world

In the middle of a world recession, promoting London to international businesses as the best place to set up a new venture may seem like a daunting task. But Think London seems to have nailed it.

London Eye
Wheel of fortune: Think London is plugging the capital to overseas entrepreneurs on the back of the 2012 Olympic Game

While many are talking about the recession as a negative influence on the economy, Think London is looking at the positives. The direct foreign investment agency, which helps overseas companies set up in the capital, sees the current climate as a “one time window” for companies to move into London at a more affordable price.

For the past few years, the English capital has been positioned as a draw for financial brands and banking but, with the global financial system now emerging from a year of turmoil, the agency has turned to a new approach to market the capital.

Think London is looking to capitalise on the upcoming 2012 Olympics by using the sporting event as a catalyst to encourage businesses to invest on a long-term basis.

Mark Davies, Think London’s recently appointed marketing director, says: “The reality is that the Olympics is an immovable fact so why be negative about it? We have to make the most out of the opportunity.”

Davies adds that the economic downturn means that there are more opportunities for businesses in a city known for its expensive rates and standard of living. “The depressed asset prices are making the place more attractive and we’re seeing the talent pool widen and deepen substantially. Unemployment is driving people into that talent pool. And then you have the compounding positive effect of the currency depreciation.”

Think London’s positive attitude appears to be backed up by research indicating that London’s economy is set to grow by $80bn (£68bn) by 2015, according to the City of London and Oxford Economics. Some $8bn (£6.8bn) of this amount will be created by the Olympic and Paralympics Games in 2012, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers research.

Think London has just embarked on a tour of North America to promote London as a destination for long-term business opportunities. The Route to 2012 roadshow will visit ten cities promoting London in different ways depending on the American location.

Think London is using roundtable events, business meetings and blogging to engage with potential investors. The tour will finish in Vancouver, the host city of the Winter Olympics, to make the connection between a sporting event and business.

This follows a major campaign in China in March this year, where a Think London-branded London Taxi featured in the Road to London initiative, visiting 11 cities. After this event, 40 Chinese companies visited the UK for a tour of the capital in a Connect to London marketing initiative where they saw the Olympic site and the Stock Exchange to help them to visualise the wider opportunities presented by London.

“We did a lot of work making the link from Beijing to London from a business perspective. Companies might set up because of the catalyst of the Olympics and then stay, expand and grow, so it’s a very virtuous circle,” says Davies.

Think London claims that, as a result of the roadshow in China, almost 100 companies have agreed to set up in London in the next couple of years with the help of the agency.

The agency also has the backing of London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, who says it is vital to keep pushing London as a business centre: “In these challenging economic times, it’s more important than ever that we continue to position our capital as a unique and attractive place to invest and remind companies from around the world what a fantastic city London is to live, work and do business in.”

“The depressed asset prices are making London more attractive and we’re seeing the talent pool widen and deepen substantially. And you then have the com pounding positive effect of the currency depreciation”

Mark Davies, Think London

But with the financial sector so badly hit by the recession, surely this will cause problems for London’s grand plans? Davies argues against this, suggesting that while businesses are rightly cautious, there are multiple benefits of starting up in London. He cites the agency’s recently launched London Now economic action plan, unveiled by the mayor, as an example of the body’s commitment to using negative economic circumstances for positive gain.

As part of the programme, Think London has collaborated with UK serviced office business Avanta to provide companies moving to the capital with office space for free or for a significant discount. The advantage for Avanta is exposure to a global audience and potential future business as a result.

After the contract runs out, businesses often stay on according to Chris Taylor, director of corporate development at Avanta. He says the partnership with Think London is helping his business despite the fact it’s offering up to a year’s contract for free.

He says: “Given that we run unbranded buildings, we have to be a bit cleverer in the way we get our brand name out there. This initiative with Think London has opened up the Avanta brand across the world just through this one channel, so the deal works as an effective PR and marketing tool for us.”

Think London’s Davies says it is partnerships like this that will help the agency bring in those more nervous investors: “We’re able to de-risk it for them, which is really a recessionary requirement.”

Other marketing initiatives run by Think London include experimenting with tools more commonly used in the marketing strategies of business-to-consumer companies rather than the business-to-business world.

Davies admits that it’s more tactical than strategic at the moment to use a portion of the marketing spend on digital tools: “We’re looking at what we need to do in terms of engaging and creating participation in the kind of markets that we deal in.”

Think London now has a presence on Flickr, LinkedIn, Twitter, a YouTube channel and YouTube. Some of these channels are all used before and after Think London’s events to maintain interest among attendees and encourage those that didn’t attend to come along to the next event.

Davies believes that these social media spaces will become increasingly important as ways to engage with businesses. He argues: “You can’t engage anymore in a traditional way – community from a marketing perspective is where authority lies. It becomes an inherently digital game.”

The agency is also participating in Google’s YouTube channel Survival of the Fastest, which is aimed at business leaders. It brings business leaders together in a talking-head format in an effort to bring good news and success stories to businesses in recessionary times.

Although it is operating in all these community areas, Davies says it is still struggling to some extent on how to best manage this emerging area. For example, should it create its own community for those interested in investing in London or go to B2B communities that already have a large number of participants?

“The jury’s still out on that one because there’s no benchmark or best practice in foreign direct investment,” Davies admits, adding: “We’re probably going to take a number of approaches. We’re going to deploy more client-facing community tools around sector interests and we’ll pilot a number of those in the coming months.”

He is also trying out virtual events, for which Davies claims there has been much enthusiasm because they are low cost and people don’t have to leave their desks. These webinars have been piloted so far in Japan, China and California.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to get people to come out of the office for meetings, but this way we have increased our capacity to reach clients anywhere relevant that we can’t afford to ship our people to,” explains Davies.

While London’s reputation as the world’s financial centre may not be as relevant as it used to be, Think London is spending significant time and effort ensuring its new brand can find takers in the outside world. Davies argues: “London is the world in a microcosm.” He is banking on the hope that as the world’s economy picks up, London’s investment potential will also boom.

How South Africa is using sport to promote business investment

Just as Think London is hoping to use the 2012 Olympics to encourage business investment in host city London, South Africa is using the 2010 Football World Cup to give the continent an image overhaul.

It is hoping that this sporting event will be a driving force in encouraging tourism and trade to African countries. The rebrand of Gauteng, the host province of the competition, will see Johannesburg promoted as a city for tourism, trade, art and culture.

London agency Navyblue has formed a joint venture company in South Africa called Alliance, part of the government’s programme to ensure racial equality across the country, known as Black Economic Empowerment. Alliance’s biggest challenge will be to change the negative perception of the capital city, often perceived as being unsafe by outside visitors.

Ron Cregan, a director at the brand and communications agency, says the World Cup is the perfect opportunity for positive business messages. He predicts: “Doors will be opened in Johannesburg to build a positive image for people to invest in. The whole point of this campaign is to invest beyond the World Cup, but we’re using the event as a shop window, so it’s important to have the right message to drop into that.”

The aim is to encourage business from inside and outside the continent and help businesses set up there on a long-term basis. Like Think London, Alliance is using roadshows to communicate the positive reasons to invest in the province. The overarching strapline is: “It starts here”. Businesses will be targeted with the message: “Start your business here” or “start your networking relationship here”.

Cregan says Johannesburg and its surrounding region wants to challenge the top global business cities like London: “The top cities will have to keep an eye on the challenger brand because the likes of Gauteng wants to be at the top table.”

He says that Think London is on the right track using 2012 as a jumping-off point to gain a business buy-in for London.

He says: “Sporting events put countries on a global stage. They harness people and build confidence. You can look at individual and team success that can be reflected back into society as a whole. Sport is a great vehicle.”

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