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London 2012: a victory in strategic communications

20Aug Posted by Tom Clive

Few people can deny that the London 2012 Olympics have proven to be a great success for Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Despite being a relatively small nation, our athletes delivered 65 medals, of which 29 were gold - 18 more medals than in Beijing four years ago and our biggest haul since 1908.

Apart from this great medal success, I also believe that London 2012 scored a great victory when it came down to strategic communications. In the digital age, societal expectations have changed and people want questions answered, issues addressed, and results delivered faster. I believe that the London 2012 Olympics showed encouraging signs of how many organisations are beginning to understand this shift in dynamics.

Expectation management

We were repeatedly told by the TFL that the London transport system would be extremely busy during the fortnight of the Olympics. We were warned of queues of up to an hour and a half at some underground stations and it was recommended that people should work from home. Here at Sermelo, we braced ourselves for the worst, working out who would need to be in the office at which specific time so we all wouldn’t have to endure the chaos. However, the reality was that the London transport system held up remarkably well, and ironically, it appeared to be comparatively less busy than the weeks prior to the Olympics. I thought that TFL handled our expectations extremely effectively: they braced us for busy times but never wavered on their message that the transport system would be able to cope. In the end, we were all pleasantly surprised when we were still able to get from A to B relatively easily and, as a result, many people now consider the London transport system to be more resilient than previously thought.

Aligned messaging

With so many athletes delivering professional, articulate and engaging interviews that were aligned in their message, there is no doubt that the media training that took place prior to the Olympics had a positive effect on the GB team. All interviewees took the time to acknowledge the importance of their funding and thanked the crowd for their fantastic input. For me, this just goes to show that by demonstrating empathy and understanding the needs of your audience, you can transform an ordinary man or woman into an ambassador at an event as large and prestigious as the Olympics.

Speed of response to issue and crisis

Throughout the Olympics, I thought there was a sense of authenticity to all communications when responding to mistakes or issues that needed addressing.

It is worth remembering that the Olympics got off to an incredibly shaky start when the women’s North Korean football team were being introduced in a video package with South Korean flags next to their names. This mistake made by the Olympic organisers was amplified given that relations between the two Koreas are extremely tense. Despite this, Paul Deighton, the Chief Executive of the London organising Committee for the Olympics addressed the media with an unreserved apology highlighting a simple mistake that was made. He said: "It was a mistake. It is as simple as that. We have apologised and taken steps to make sure that it cannot happen again. It was simple human error."

Similarly, when there were hundreds of empty seats at many of the Olympic venues but none on sale to the general public, it was crucial that LOCOG responded quickly to the public outcry. The director of communications, Jackie Brock-Doyle, immediately identified the issue and explained that it was sporting representatives and members of international sporting federations abroad that had not turned up. He then outlined that they were solving the problem by negotiating the release of further tickets to the general public and by July 29th, there were 3,000 more tickets available. Lord Coe was also consistently on the front line, delivering important messages and demonstrating strong leadership to the many thousands of staff and volunteers who worked tirelessly to make the event a success.

As we tell all of our clients - a crisis will not simply go away, and when an issue does arise, stakeholders want answers immediately. When a mistake can be rectified, stakeholders want a solution immediately but when an error is made that can’t be undone; an honest, timely apology can go a long way to restoring trust.

A social media explosion

In the digital age, social media has become a true and accurate reflection of the consciousness of the general public. During the Olympics, a stunt by EDF Energy saw legendary athlete Daley Thompson launch a lightshow on the London Eye which was driven by Twitter users' enthusiasm of the event. The light show started every evening during the Olympics at 21:00 BST and the positivity of that specific day was reflected by the number of lights on display. If, for example, the tweets were 75% positive, three-quarters of the wheel would light up. Moreover, each night, the top sporting moments of the day were projected using different coloured lights. Personally, I’ve never seen social media data displayed in such a striking, powerful and original way.

Successful athletes at London 2012 have not only achieved permanent sporting greatness, but have also grown their profile enormously on social media. The social media marketing company Wildfire, has been tracking athletes and the effect that winning medals has had on their online profile. Bradley Wiggins saw his Twitter followers soar on Wednesday 1st August by 28% to more than 381,000 and US swimmer Michael Phelps saw his Facebook ‘Likes’ grew by 150,000 in the past week.

If London was ever in danger of being side lined, it has certainly forced its way back into the spotlight. As a city, it has shown its capabilities in being able to defy expectations and put on a fantastic show across the world. From a business perspective, London must continue to promote itself as a multicultural, well-organised and friendly place that is a global hub for businesses, operating at the forefront of the digital age. However, the Olympics should represent only the tip of the iceberg – London must continue proactively managing its social media presence, face crises head on and continue exceeding the expectations of its stakeholders. If everyone in our capital – from its millions of residents and workers, to the Mayor, can continue embodying the attitudes shown at The Olympics, the future looks very bright indeed for Team London.




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