Like it or loathe it, it will be nigh impossible for anyone to get through this month without watching, reading or hearing about the 2008 Beijing Olympics. For the Chinese, the wait is over; the Games are about to begin. For others closer to home - not least Gordon Lott, head of London 2012 Partnership and Group Sponsorship, Lloyds TSB - Beijing is symbolic for one reason only: the countdown to the London Games is now well and truly on.
Lott and Lloyds TSB have greater reason than most to welcome the attention that Beijing will bring to the London Games. In March 2007 - shortly after the arrival of new marketing director Nigel Gilbert - the bank became the first sponsor (or official banking and insurance partner) of London 2012, a package that reportedly cost £50-£80 million. As an organisation that already donates 1% of its profits to charity, Lloyds TSB announced the deal as something that would complement its existing CSR programmes. Yet, as Lott reveals speaking exclusively to HR magazine, it is not Lloyds TSB customers the bank is currently seeking to make aware of its involvement in 2012, it is its 68,000 staff.
"It is employees who interact with customers. Very early on we recognised that these were the people that needed to be inspired by the Games," says Lott. "They needed to see the rationale behind the sponsorship - why this represented an investment for the business."
According to Lott, earlier approaches by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) for the bank to be a sponsor were actually turned down. But because Lloyds had just launched its own 'For the journey' advertising strap, and the fact that the Olympic Games was a unique manifestation of the new brand position, it was an opportunity it could not miss.
"Our three business objectives are to achieve brand consideration, to deliver the highest number of sales, and deliver the highest staff engagement as a route to the first two," says Lott. "We felt that being associated with 2012 would be a tangible way of achieving higher engagement. Yet, we knew we couldn't expect staff to become excited about the Olympics without telling them why we believe it to be so important across all our businesses. This is where our huge internal communications project has swung into action."
In tight partnership with the bank's HR team, Lott says the internal comms plan is focused around three pillars: 'inspiration' (bringing alive the values of the Olympics and how they relate to the values of the company); 'participation' (event opportunities around the Olympics staff can take part in); and 'support'. All three have balanced scorecard measures, reviewed quarterly, and 22 separate London 2012 business unit representatives from across the group have been charged with making the partnership a success in their teams.
"The first work has been delivering the inspiration phase, explaining the rationale to staff," says Lott. "We were nervous to see if we had dissidents - those with no interest or who were even anti-Olympics - in the company. In fact we found more than two thirds of our staff were very proud of our partnership with London 2012 and we immediately launched an online 2012 E-zine [online magazine] as well as an intranet site explaining how staff can use 2012 in their business."
Part of this phase, started last year, included a mass Olympic pin giveaway to all staff, which arrived on a cardboard medal complete with a personal message from the CEO, Eric Daniels. Lott and members from HR have also personally talked at all inter-divisional staff conferences, showing video montages of the Games. "We've probably done more than 100 presentations to staff in the past year," says Lott.
"Probably the most important component has been a deliberate policy to involve staff by hearing their feedback about how the sponsorship should relate to them," he continues. More than 50 of these sessions have already taken place. One of the most popular responses was that individual bank managers and staff should be allowed to devise their own activity, based on local needs. This feedback informed Lloyds TSB what it should do in its participation and support phase. It brought about the launch of its 'local heroes' campaign in May this year, a partnership with SportAid that will give £1 million over five years to help fund 250 young British sporting hopefuls each year up to 2012, and which individual branches can also piggy-back on if these youngsters are local to that particular branch. "We will be encouraging parts of the bank to 'buddy-up' with some of these local heroes so that these individuals do local media events with banks rather than the usual mayor or MP," says Lott. For example, branches in the Derbyshire can 'adopt' 17 year-old Halfpipe snow boarder James Machon, who dreams of competing for Britain in the 2014 Winter Olympics, and branches in Wrexham are supporting 13-year-old Tom Piggot, who finished fifth at the under-14 World Championships last year.
Other elements of the internal comms project have involved a tour of one of the original 1948 Olympic torches (the last time London staged the Games) - which Lloyds-TSB actually owns - with competitions to win a trip to Lausanne, the home of the International Olympic Committee Museum. "We believe we have done more to promote our sponsorship to staff in one year than previous partners to Olympic Games have done in three," says Lott.
He is not resting on his laurels though. "We've learned a lot from Australian bank Westpac - sponsor of Sydney 2000. For example, it developed a staff values project, where staff could nominate colleagues who demonstrate behaviours reflecting the Olympic values - including respect, fair play, determination and drive. Westpac rewarded them with tickets to the 2000 Olympics," Lott adds. "We have an allocation of tickets to London 2012 and we may introduce something similar that promotes the values of the Olympic Games we want to bring alive in Lloyds TSB."
One of the reasons why Lott is working with HR to communicate the value of the sponsorship deal is because they also know many members of staff have other part-time responsibilities in their local community, and if these employees can be excited by the Olympics, it will rub off on more people. "We believe we have nearly 3,000 of our workforce who are school governors," he remarks. "These people are our networks into the community."
The seriousness with which Lloyds TSB treats making staff aware of its Olympic credentials is illustrated by a regional MD of the bank who recently commented that he would spend the sponsorship money on the employee engagement it is producing alone. This is set to rise even more this month, when the bank will launch its Olympic 2012 debit card. For the first time ever, the new card is being offered to staff first, before customers. "These are the opportunities that being part of London 2012 gives us," sums up Lott. "Before we agreed to sponsor the Games, we worked out that we only needed a small amount of difference for it to be worth our while. We're now pretty sure that we will get more than just a small amount of difference."