Freshfields: An unlikely sponsor reaps rewards of Olympic Games

The first official legal services provider at an Olympic Games, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer – known in its branding simply as ‘Freshfields’ – probably won’t be the most recalled sponsor at London 2012, but the event has had an impressive effect on its brand awareness within the legal industry.

According to research firm Acritas, which surveys heads of company legal departments worldwide, at the end of 2011 Freshfields was named among the five most recognisable law firms 51 per cent of the time – more often than any of its competitors. That was up from 28 per cent the previous year, with Acritas crediting the rise mainly to Freshfields’ marketing and PR around the Olympics.

Freshfields chief marketing and business development officer Libby Chambers says that the Games gave the firm the chance to showcase its ability to “navigate the complexity” of an event with “a lot of different stakeholders that all felt differently about almost every single aspect of how the Games were going to be delivered”. There were also rich opportunities to form and build commercial contacts, she adds.

“If you look at the roster of sponsors that was finally assembled, there were many excellent business opportunities sitting among those big brands. When you become a sponsor, you immediately join a group, and you are all trying to play your part to deliver the Games. In doing so, you need a lot of these other organisations. We were able to help the other sponsors think through what their approach was going to be, whether it was ambush marketing or compliance with the UK Bribery Act in terms of hospitality.”

Another big benefit to Freshfields from its involvement with the Games was its effect on employee engagement. Over 1,600 employees attended an Olympic event, with all staff offered a free ticket and a day off by the firm. Freshfields tracked a variety of measures of their enthusiasm on a quarterly basis in the lead-up to the Games with every one showing progressive improvement.

Perhaps most importantly, in September 2012 more than three-quarters of employees said they would recommend Freshfields as a place to work – less than half said the same a year earlier. A small selection of around 30 young lawyers even had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to work directly on the running of the Games for the organising committee, Locog.

“For an entire generation of young trainees, that experience of being seconded to Locog was transformational,” says Chambers. “You can’t really manufacture an experience like that for your trainees. What it has enabled us to do is tell a story to recruits, who are just coming out of university and typically don’t really understand what mergers and acquisitions or global arbitration are in practice. What the Olympics have given us is a platform with which to talk about the kind of work we do through a lens of something that is quite familiar. It comes across to recruits as innovative and different.”

As Chambers notes, as an engagement opportunity the Olympics have now passed, but Freshfields’ experience with London 2012 has led the company to new work advising the organisers of the winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia in 2014 and the FIFA World Cup in Qatar in 2022. And Freshfields now knows how to use those events as marketing opportunities for the future.