From record-breaking athletes and blowing up rain clouds to the whacky skits to camera and Tom Daly's tight trunks.... The greatest show on Earth coming to your country is a once in a lifetime event. And so was working on it.
I'm a Londoner of Greek heritage. So when the Olympic Games announced London would be the host city for the third time, I was extra excited and proud. And when I was offered a job as comms manager to look after London 2012 sponsorship for Thames Water, I almost wet myself (pun intended - they'll be a few, hope you don't get too flushed).
Now, I don't know anything about how water is treated and pumped into our homes or how sewage gets out. This was a whole new industry and as a sponsor, it meant I had to have a basic grasp of it so I can represent the company to LOCOG (London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games) and vice versa. Luckily, I know loads about the Olympics... well, the newsworthy bits.
The fields of play were:
- Ensure hospitality for the board and key partners to certain events, namely the opening and closing ceremonies, 100 meter final and all the rowing events
- To build staff engagement
- Build sponsorship as a good news story
The biggest challenge is that Thames Water is a monopoly and runs the water and wastewater network for the busiest and most populated region, the Thames corridor. Ensuring sponsorship doesn't break any laws and justifying the cost sponsoring a huge event instead of upgrading a Victorian system to customers was a potential stink bomb.
In normal speak, this means sponsorship. Managing the activation means how to use brand assets and sign off. Now, LOCOG had their shit together on this one. Off the starting blocks, I was assigned an account manager who took me through the portal where I could download images and brand assets and uploads briefs and prototypes for sign off - making the process a piece of piss.
It was a relatively clog-free experience. The only blockage was internal; LOCOG said they were happy to review whatever was in the pipeline from concept stage. And be involved as much or a little as needed - as long as they signed off the final version that was published. Internally, this translated as 'we're going to be really difficult and judge you on everything you're doing'. This jarred with my (and LOCOG's) way of working.
I'd rather greater collaboration to stop us starting from scratch at the eleventh hour. Lesson learnt for me was to be more assertive with on those on porcelain thrones and clearly had a different ethos.
In general, they were really chuffed with creative and completely understood that others had their own ideas and brand to protect also. Our pins went down a storm - and I was inundated with request from Olympic superfans wanting to add it to their collection.
And with a hop, skip and a jump, I also commissioned diaries (to keep a record of your Olympic year), umbrellas (for delegates and TV appearances), t-shirts (for events), calendars and Willy Wonka inspired chocolate bars to give away 3,000 pairs of tickets to the staff (see internal engagement below).
Luckily, Thames Water's colour palette was similar to the one used by London 2012. And LOCOG had thought of everything, so had every iteration of their logo to match any brand identity, while keeping their own unique branding.
First digital games
London 2012 was the first to happen in the age of smartphones and social media. They explored every lane; from the light shows at the opening ceremony, computer games, an interactive website and apps. Here are some shit hot stats; 109 million unique visitors to the website, 15 million downloads of the app and 83 million emails were sent.
Managing the sponsorship meant I was involved in all the development meetings. I suggested the app included water points to the map, although there would be some conflict of interest with tier 1 super-sponsor Coca-Cola, which was a bit of a ballcock.
Basically, sponsors are categorised into tiers; the more you pay, the more visibility and benefits you get. It's the difference between getting the Brownlee or cack-le brothers to come to your events. You get what you pay for and a higher tier sponsor gets priority.
With a hop, skip and jump, I wrote several pages for the intranet. I was lucky, the comms team, where I was, managed the intranet and it was used across the 5,000+ staff, along with a monthly magazine and several e-newsletters. The tricky part about building engagement was the:
- 94 water treatment works
- 26 raw water reservoirs
- 308 pumping stations
- 235 clean water service reservoirs
- 1 HQ in Reading
- 2 call centres in Reading and Swindon
That stretched from the eastern fringes of Gloucestershire and Wiltshire in the west, through London and the Thames Valley, to the western edges of Essex and Kent in the east. Employees went from apprentices on £12,000 a year to the CEO. Anything I did, had to appeal to the majority.
There was a race to find London 2012 Champions. I wanted reps from the key sites as a minimum, plus involvement from as many of the other sites as possible as teammates. These reps would be cheerleaders by putting up posters, photo shoots, submitting stories and rolling out any games or competitions. As well as arranging their own Olympic themed activities.
In the Reading site, I pulled the trigger on the starting pistol with lunchtime sports days with all the traditional school sports day activities or London 2012 Wii tournaments. The highest scorer won a pair of tickets.
We had a photo finish with a 2012 calendar. Different sites recreated an Olympic sport or famous Olympic moments. Again, giving away tickets to everyone involved with the final 12 entries.
Then there was the Willy Wonka golden ticket giveaway. Olympic rower Andy Triggs-Hodge was a patron for Thames Water, so we dressed him up as Johnny Depp's Wonka, sent him to Caversham Rowing Club and took photos of him for the posters and wrappers. And I got to see him in his pants, so good day all round (although probably not for Andy).
These chocolate bars were then delivered to the various sites and sold at £5 a bar (a price I thought too expensive but was overridden by decision-makers). Needless to say, not many people wanted to spend £5 on what will probably be just a bar of chocolate. Even if there was a chance to go to an amazing sold-out event of a lifetime.
There were loads of opportunities given to us and local businesses were very keen to get involved and ride on our coat tails. I joined the Reading Olympic Committee to coordinate our events with their's and get support.
As always, a lot of the concepts went down the pan due to funding, like utilising the sponsored roundabout with a green-fingered competition and help save what was then called the King's Meadow baths (now the delectable Thames Lido). Instead, we erected flags outside HQ and guaranteed Reading a spot on the torch relay. Including getting an employee who battled with prostate cancer and wanted to use his run to raise awareness for male cancer (this isn't him, btw).
There were other ODA (Olympic Delivery Authority) type events that I was involved in, like the opening of the Old Ford sewage recycling plant, it was attended by the then Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman. Green spaces were irrigated using recycled water, a gold medal for us as this helped London 2012 reach its goal of being the first sustainable Games.
And, I was blessed by having a plethora of sites to use, from the cathedral of sewage, Abbey Mills - on the Olympic Park's doorstep - to Western Pumping Station in Chelsea. Therefore, I pitched getting a tent with refreshments and entertainment at Abbey Mills for staff who didn't have tickets to soak up the Olympic atmosphere.
Of course, working on something like this meant a lot of perks. It goes hand in hand with anything that's remotely glamorous. I attended meetings with Deborah Meaden, Jonathan Edwards, Boris Johnson, Theresa May and Seb Coe in some plush places like The Dorchester, QEII Centre and German Gymnasium.
I was also privy to plans and got to feed into certain channels. And I got to poke around the Olympic Park when they were still building it.
Largely, my hands were tied - restricted by the tier 3 sponsorship and the fact that Thames Water is a publicly funded utility company. Had these reins not been there, I could've been a lot more creative and made a lot more noise around London (the only city that boasts residents hailing from all 204 competing countries and an opening ceremony designed by an Oscar-winning director) and the incredible involvement I and the company had in the first digital and sustainable Games. Different shit, different day.
Phew, I wrote a whole post without mentioning or quoting Siobhan Sharpe off of Twenty Twelve.