Torched opportunities

Posted on 10 Jul 2012

The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games may be the greatest sporting showcase ever held in Britain, but draconian marketing restrictions mean the event has had to squander a great opportunity for British business – especially when manufacturing needs much more PR. Will Stirling investigates.

Eight years in the making, 10,000 pages of planning applications, 46,000 workers, 1.2 aggregate years of broadcast time, several hundred thousand tonnes of concrete, 80,000 seats and a enough lycra to encase Stratford, the 2012 London Olympic Games is here. In the expectation that Danny Boyle’s creative masterpiece involving cows and a cricket match will pass the scrutiny of the world’s sporting cognescenti, it will be an unsurpassed showcase for the United Kingdom.

Such a vast infrastructure and logistical project is of huge direct benefit to British industry. The London 2012 Olympic Organising Committee, Locog, says that over 240 UK companies won contracts for the stadium’s construction, and thousands of others were involved through supply chains.

But in terms of the clear cut economic benefit, these Games are not without controversy.

“I have personally encouraged companies around the country to get hold of a local newspaper reporter and get the paper to write an article about what the local company has done.”
Sir John Armitt, CBE, Chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority

Commentators have tried to weigh-up the overall net benefit of the Games, comparing construction, tourism and legacy revenues with the economic disruption to London businesses and the lost GDP from holidays and ‘sickness’ absences as visitors flock to watch the events. Despite the distraction, however, few would claim that the overall net effect to the UK’s economy will be negative.

But, given zero growth, the spectre of the next stage of eurozone crisis and the need to improve, nay transform, PR for manufacturing, some things have not been well managed.

For example, many London businesses face severe inconvenience, perhaps an unavoidable consequence of hosting such a vast event. Some have only narrowly avoided total disruption during the Games. One rumour has it that the London Olympic authorities asked several businesses on a site directly opposite the Olympic Park to close for the duration of the Games. It was pointed out that these companies included the printers for The Guardian and Financial Times newspapers, and having two national newspapers out of print during the first UK Olympic Games in 64 years might not be a great idea.

Perhaps the biggest issue for industry, however, is the no marketing rights imposed by Locog. Suppliers to the Games have been left frustrated at the so-called ‘gagging orders’ placed on any non-sponsor and nonlicensee supplier, crushing any knock-on benefits that could have boosted British business.

Any Olympic Games franchise is obliged by the International Olympic Committee to protect its brand. The IOC has to provide exclusivity to the sponsors, who in effect pay for the IOC and the individual Games’ existence. In September 2010 Locog published its No Media Rights Protocol for suppliers, contractors and consultants to the Games. The rules are clear. The guide says that suppliers should not issue press releases, run advertising or undertake any marketing or PR campaigns around their involvement in the Games. Suppliers must not in any circumstances, it says, use the Protected Marks; or make any association with London 2012, the Olympic or Paralympic movements, or the British Olympic and Paralympic teams [in promoting their businesses]. It is unambiguous and much is reasonable – companies are frequently not permitted to publically mention the details of large contracts with well-known clients to leverage bids for new work, and Locog is no different.

However, companies supplying to the Games have objected to the both clarity of these rules and the wider point that, in a flatlining economy where business need any help they can get, there is a strong case for Locog, influenced by the Government, to relax such punitive rules.

Mixed messages

Firstly, while the rules may be clear to Locog and the Olympic Delivery Authority, they are not being uniformly understood or explained to all companies, nor are they seemingly applied equally.

Suppliers Premier Sheet Metal and Alucast, for example, were given the contract to make the London 2012 Olympic Torch. Their websites comply with the rules perfectly – Olympic Protected Marks are not displayed and PR is within the maximum 120 words. But The Manufacturer ran an online story about Alucast which provided quotes from management about the win. Technically, such quotes are not allowed, but to our knowledge there has been no recourse – has not been asked to withdraw the story. So can other suppliers sing a little louder about their involvement in the Games? Strictly speaking, if you don’t pay for it, no you can’t.

Alucast was happy to publicise its involvement in the 2012 Olympics. Others have been put off by heavy-handed marketing rules.

The protocol says very clearly that suppliers cannot send press releases and yet not everyone understands this. Sports and industrial covers manufacturer, Warrington-based Stuart Canvas, sent a press release to confirm it had won a contract to design and manufacture covers and screens for several Olympic venues and events. It includes a quote from chief executive Edward Stoddart. Stuart Canvas’s website does not say that it is a London Olympics licensee. The company, like many others, may be unaware of the marketing restrictions – and yet these are supplied as a legal component of the contract.

AkzoNobel said that several editorial opportunities had been vetoed by Locog’s marketing protocol

It is not only small to mediumsized companies who seem to be in the dark on the rules for Olympics PR. AkzoNobel, the Anglo-Dutch chemicals and coatings group, discussed some potential content for The Manufacturer about their London Olympics involvement – the company has provided large quantities of paint to the Olympic Park venues. AkzoNobel said that several editorial opportunities had been vetoed by Locog’s marketing protocol and, with regret, declined to provide any more details. But in fact any company supplying to the 2012 Olympic Games is allowed to confirm facts to a reporter. So providing the reporter “found out” the suppliers’ story, relayed it to the company, who can confirm the facts, there would be no reporting restrictions.

AkzoNobel is not alone. Sustainable facilities management company, Cofely, also told TM that it could not share information about its contribution to the Games. Cofley designed, built and financed the energy centre at the Olympic park, but a source said: “The ODA and Locog say they definitely don’t want anyone writing about the energy centre.” A seemingly bizarre decision for organisers of what has been positioned as the greenest games in history. The source said this decision was partly due to a “political” fear of Cofely’s possible competitive conflicts with EDF Energy, the official energy supplier to the Games.

Permission to Speak

But Sir John Armitt CBE, chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority, told at an awards event on June 20 that the media restrictions’ smokescreen had been widely misunderstood. He said, “Any media agency can in fact say that company A, B or C is involved in the Games and supplies to the Games, is based in X town and so on – it’s factual reporting. And if the company produces marketing material they’re not prevented from making reference to the ODA, as long as it is in the context of listing other companies that they have supplied to, so it doesn’t single out the Olympics.”

But he admitted: “Clearly it is frustrating, particularly for manufacturers. Smaller companies often rely on advertising in trade magazines. Looking forward to after the London Games is finished, there are discussions between Locog and the IOC about what can be done to make this easier in the future.”

He added: “I have personally encouraged companies around the country to get hold of a local newspaper reporter and get the paper to write an article about what the local company has done. It’s in the public domain. What they can’t do is use brand association.”

Local disruption, and buying British

While the London Games has provided hundreds of companies with lucrative contracts, there are other areas where UK plc has failed to benefit.

Super-tight security in London during the Games will severely disrupt the operations to companies close to the Olympic Park. The need is understandable, at the opening ceremony, 187 heads of state including the Queen and President Obama will be present in the same location, but a parliamentary question about securing compensation for businesses left temporarily inaccessible by the security operation revealed that such compensation claims would be assessed case-by-case. One company close to the Olympic Park said that no details of compensation had been offered by June 22.

As for promoting domestic supply chains, procurement construction material and sports equipment for the 2012 Games is certainly largely British. But other product categories are not so home-grown.

In April, it was reported that historic medal-maker Vaughtons, which made medals for the 1908 Olympic Games, lost out to the Royal Mint for the contract to make the 2012 Games’ medals. But Vaughton’ sales director Nick Hobbis said the fact so much merchandising had been manufactured abroad was a betrayal.

The Olympic authorities revealed that 84% of official souvenir items being sold on the London 2012 website were made outside the UK. “I’m not so disappointed with the medals as I know the contract has gone to a British firm,” he told The Birmingham Post. “But I am disappointed so much of it has gone abroad.

“This is a British Olympics being held in London, the capital city, but almost 90 per cent of the [merchandise] being sold has been made in other countries like China or Turkey.”

When manufacturing needs a lift and many UK firms are capable of making souvenirs like replica medals and mugs, the opportunity to make the 2012 London an intrinsically British showcase, promoting the country’s manufacturing capability on an international stage, has been missed.

Aerial view of the Olympic Park - photo courtesy of EG Focus. Click to see a larger version of the image.

While not responding to this point explicitly, the ODA’s Sir John Armitt acknowledged that far more needs to be done with the IOC, Locog and the British Olympic Association – who are seeking sponsors for 2016, and who will in effect inherit the Olympic brand from the IOC post-2012 – to allow better publicity of British business involvement in the Games.

“A lot of the work I’m doing now is with UKTI, trying to promote British businesses who’ve been involved in the Games. Very often the challenge is to use your imagination – finding ways to talk about what companies have done where you are not breaching these strict rules.

He added: “In part it’s complicated because of the very large sums of money involved here. The big global sponsors are paying tens of millions a year.”

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills also acknowledged the conflict between protecting the Olympic brand and promoting British firms that want to shout about their success. The benefit of their efforts may be felt but only after the Games.

A BIS spokesman said: “BIS, together with UKTI, is supporting DCMS [the Department for Culture, Media and Sport] in looking at how businesses are able to communicate the work they have done on the Olympics and Paralympics after the Games. We have already had success in providing opportunities for UK-based businesses to communicate the work they have done to supply the Games – the best example being the UK Suppliers Directory ‘Springboard to Success – UK Major Event Expertise’.”

A final question must be, how many companies are frankly that bothered? Manufacturers, by reputation, are not exactly publicity-hungry. Manufacturer’s organisation EEF said their members had not indicated that tight marketing rules were a problem, and the CBI was even more detached from the issue. But those companies wanting to leverage their Games involvement further will hope Sir John Armitt and BIS’s discussions with UKTI, IOC and the BOA about loosening the reins will lead somewhere and that they can win the public association they should be entitled to.