The excitement is mounting as the London 2012 Olympics draws ever nearer. For businesses, there will be the obvious winners in terms of approved sponsors and partners, but doubts continue to linger about what the Olympics really means for those who aren’t officially part of this sporting jamboree.

Commercially, there will be a vast range of companies seeking to profit directly from the Games. Ian Ryder, Deputy CEO, BCS [British Computer Society], The Chartered Institute for IT, says: “The view for the myriad companies that don’t have the huge budgets to even dream of global partner status is to see a low-cost-of-entry marketing opportunity for their look-alike or me-too products.”

As ever with the Olympics, companies need to be careful if they’re not one of the elected ‘partners’. After all, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog) is legally obliged to ensure that businesses are not able to create an unauthorised association with the Games.

David Pearson, a Criticaleye Associate, says: “The rules relating to guerrilla and ambush marketing have been written so tightly that lots of innocent activity is likely to be caught. Locog is reportedly planning legal action against The Great Exhibition 2012 [an art and culture event] because it includes '2012' in its name. One can imagine how a small restaurateur might like to amuse customers with an Olympic meal priced at £20.12, but he'll find himself in trouble with the authorities.”

If executed carefully, however, there will be a unique chance for companies to tap the benefits of London becoming a global focal point. Paul Clarke, another Criticaleye Associate, comments: “The greatest opportunities are in the ability to place one's brand in front of all these people, without infringing Olympic rights, and the ability to sell into an enthusiastic market. It will be a Royal Wedding effect on a grand scale.”

Organised chaos

The counter-point to this is the disruption caused by such grand events. Clare Springett, Head of Travel Demand Management at Transport for London (TfL), says: “There’s a risk that businesses don’t prepare for this early enough… In larger organisations, given the length of time it takes to plan and follow through decision-making, this should be debated in the boardroom. Not only must companies be aware of the additional delays and restrictions on loading and unloading in certain locations, taking steps to stockpile resources or working with their supply chain to ensure they get what they need when they need it, there are also decisions to be made around staff hours and flexible working. Ultimately, these decisions must come from the top.”

Bernard Cragg, a Criticaleye Associate, agrees: “Anyone doing business in London will be severely affected due to the difficulties of getting to work. This needs significant planning in advance in the way we work including thinking hard about the ability to work from home and interact with the customer. In fact it may well force a complete re-alignment of working practices in the capital and result in discovering more efficient ways of working using technologies which are available but underutilised.”

Flexible working is one way businesses can keep ahead of the field. Martin Balaam, MD – BT Engage IT at BT, says: “Business will need to consider how the Olympics will impact upon its operations, its ability to meet its customer needs and also to project and understand the impacts on demands for its products and services during the period.”

Phil Smith, Vice President and Chief Executive, UK and Ireland, at Cisco Systems, makes a similar point, observing that organisations will be forced “to think through how employees can use networked collaboration technologies and flexible working, introducing new ways of working that increase productivity”.

Future gains

Beyond the Games itself, it remains to be seen what will be the real legacy of the Olympics. According to research by the employment think-tank The Work Foundation, the Olympics is estimated to support a gross annual average of 8,700 jobs in London and 13,000 jobs in the UK between 2005 and 2020 – a total of 116,000 in London and 208,000 in the UK.

John Williams, CEO of the inward investment agency, Gateway to London, says: “We have a stream of investors looking at London in general, but they are naturally drawn to East London because of the Olympics. For the existing businesses in East London, both large and small, the Games and the other projects off the back of it are attracting very large investors for whom there’s always a need for a supply chain on a local level. Quite simply, business growth is being stimulated by the promotional opportunities provided by the Games.”

As far as the business community is concerned, it’s hard to see how any so-called legacy will extend beyond the Capital. Paul says that “East London will have been rejuvenated, with transport links vastly improved which clearly has long-term effects”.

David Gregson, Chairman of private equity concern Phoenix Equity Partners, who is also a board director of the Olympic Park Legacy Company, says: “I’ve been part of any government Olympics legacy thinking right from the start. I’m incredibly excited about it and I truly believe it will showcase Britain at its best. We will create more than 7,000 new homes and we’re confident that it will improve education in the area and generate employment. These will be hi-tech and creative jobs too, associated with the Enterprise Zone and the positive effect of Silicon Roundabout. The regeneration of the East End will be the enduring legacy.”

Questions will persist about the real wisdom of this kind of investment for such a short event given the country’s wider economic plight. Nevertheless, the sporting achievements on display during 2012 will be a source of pleasure for many and, for some, like Giles Long MBE, a former Paralympic swimming gold medallist, the battles taking place among athletes to gain that top spot on the podium will be a source of inspiration. “The Games will leave a legacy of ideas; the importance of both innovation and change,” he says.

Please get in touch if you have any comments about the issues raised here.

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