London 2012 Olympics: Get involved or look but don’t touch?

The London 2012 Olympics are fast approaching and conversations are ramping up in various organisations as to how or if to celebrate and what is appropriate to mark and prepare for the occasion.

This lunchtime I participated in a free webcast hosted by Andrew Thomas of Communicate Magazine and featured guest speakers Steve Dowsell, Chief Executive of the Institute of Internal Comms (IoIC) and Rowland Jack, International Sports Consultant, Hill + Knowlton Strategies.

It looked at London 2012 Olympics and the Communications Flow. Steve was up first and gave an overview of the role internal communications professionals can play within companies at this time and what to be aware of.

The IoIC conference from 23-25 May has its own Olympics connection, as champion rower Steve Williams will be speaking as part of the ‘Preparing for peak performance’ theme. Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend as mini Miller is due to have made her appearance by then, so if you are planning to attend and would like to write for my blog, please do contact me ( as I’d love to know your views on the conference and information that would be good to share with other comms pros.

Get involved or look but don’t touch?
During today’s webcast Steve Dowsell spoke about how he views the Olympics positively but how it is important for comms pros to be aware of the potential downsides. I captured the following top tips for internal comms pros from Steve’s presentation today:

Top tip #1: Be cautiously celebratory (how deliciously British! – Rachel)
Being aware of how much money is being spent celebrating is a smart thing to do. If you’ve just gone through a huge change programme or are in the middle of it, act with caution if there is a desire to spend money on celebrating, to ensure plans are appropriate and fit with your culture.

Top tip #2: Avoid tenuous connections to the Olympics
Steve advised knowing your audience and making/influencing decisions based on your understanding of what they will embrace and what they will be adverse to (e.g. not handing out lots of colourful tops and ‘forcing employees to take part in the fun’).

Top tip #3: Keep it in perspective
It’s important to think wisely about what is appropriate to mark the occasion and ensure you can still operate your business. Steve shared feedback from members of the IoIC LinkedIn group on all things Olympics related. Specifically, I thought this was a key takeaway: As well as employees travelling to and from work, think about business travel to London and plan accordingly.

Top tip #4: Avoid clichés
This includes too many headlines/strapline clichés like ‘Passing the baton’, ‘Going for Gold’ etc (cringe, I used the gold one on a previous article!). I thought this was smart thinking, particularly bearing in mind how bombarded employees will be with Olympics messaging externally. Steve’s advice was to communicate well about the Games, but avoid overkill.

Is it legal?
Legislation was passed in 1990 and has been updated for 2012, outlining what can and can’t be done with regards to linking to the Olympics, either through language or imagery. Lots of brands pay a lot of money to be official sponsors and the legislation is worth comms pros, particularly external comms, being aware of to ensure you’re compliant. You can read about the branding and the rules online.

Next up was Rowland Jack, International Sports Consultant, Hill + Knowlton Strategies. Rowland highlighted some feedback, which I imagine resonates with a fair number of IC pros…

‘The IC team was not consulted before we signed the sponsorship deal, but now it’s in place, we have been asked to make the most of it’

Rowland said: “The internal communications opportunity is often cited as one of the major reasons for taking on a sponsorship, but usually only after the contract has been signed.”

I was struck by a quote he shared from Michael Payne, former Marketing and Broadcast Rights Director, International Olympic Committee: “The value and benefit of internal communication and employee pride is often underestimated.”

So what can you do as an internal comms pro to mark the occasion and make the most of the benefits? There are two categories; obvious and less obvious:


  • tickets
  • athlete/celebrity appearances
  • giveaways
  • workplace promotions
  • sports participation
  • short-term secondments

Perhaps less obvious:

  • featuring employees in marketing
  • pride in visibility – branding and PR
  • family involvement

Other ideas could include asking retired Olympians to speak with your employees, particularly as many are now motivational speakers and could share their success stories with your workforce.

Rowland said: “There are a number of organisations I’m aware of who have successfully embraced sporting events in the past and run competitions including Holiday Inn. They encouraged employees to nominate colleagues to run with the torch and invited former athletes to talk. All sponsorship involves some risk, but some are riskier than others. The key thing to do is to ensure relevance to employees, both in terms of geographic fit and sports/arts ethos of the company.”

When thinking through how to communicate the Olympics, Rowland’s tips of ‘What to look for’ were:

  • relevance to employees
  • appropriate level of expenditure
  • opportunity to integrate across all marketing and comms activity
  • timing – sessions often work better than a one-off event
  • large number of affordable tickets
  • access to athletes/’legends’ for appearances
  • potential for regular news updates and competitions
  • limited risk of offence or controversy
  • rights-holder that is flexible (know the legal boundaries and requirements)

Pulling in the same direction?
After the presentations, questions were submitted from participants. I asked Steve: ‘Following on from the rowing analogy of the IoIC conference, what is your top tip for internal comms pros to ensure employees are all pulling in the same direction – should this direction come from the top or bottom up?’

He said: “There is a need for high level endorsement of whatever is pursued. I know that Lloyds TSB held discussion groups when thinking about their Olympics involvement and this generated a suggestion that management and employees devise their own activities based on local needs. This led to people co-creating their involvement, which in turn helps employees adopt whatever is decided, and should aid employee engagement.”

A second webcast will be happening on 17 April, looking at the Olympics from an external comms perspective. To sign up and find out more, keep an eye on the Communicate Magazine Twitter feed.

Being on maternity leave at the moment, I find webcasts a great way of keeping up to date with what is happening in the comms world as I’m able to contribute online, (particularly if they are free!). Are there any events you’re aware of that you think other comms pros would benefit from knowing about? Feel free to comment below or contact me: Don’t forget, if you are attending the IoIC conference and would like to write for Diary of an internal communicator, please let me know. Thank you, Rachel.

Post author: Rachel Miller

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