With the first of, hopefully many, freshly minted Gold Medals dangling around the neck of a young man from Uttoxeter, Adam Peaty, I thought it would be interesting to explore the similarities between the worlds of competitive sport and business. 

The parallels between an Olympic athlete’s campaign and the budding Brand Communicator are striking. Both need to put in huge amounts of groundwork to ensure a successful result. They must plan well, understand their customers/competition, have clearly defined goals, and communicate a clear and well thought out message that highlights benefits over features, as well as show a desire to be better than their competition.

Above all they must know who they can and cannot trust. For coach and confidante, read “brand communication partner.” This relationship can make or break the whole enterprise. So let us dig further and examine how, in an Olympic sense, the ‘Great’ was put back into ‘Great Britain’ and also what can go wrong when things turn sour. 

The potted history of Britain and the Olympics

The bible tells us that the average lifespan is three score year and ten. The government tells us that we can expect to tick over until 81 if we live in the South East, or 79 if we live in Scotland and don’t drink Irn Bru or eat deep fried pizza (no offence intended!).

However, the sports fans amongst us tend to measure their lives in the quadrennial jamborees of Lycra and other man made fabrics that are the Olympics and the Football, or more latterly, the Rugby World Cup.

As someone who only just about has more hair on his head than his back, some of my earliest recollections are of Mexico ’70 and Munich ’72.  We went on our first overseas family holiday in 1970 and got on the Dan Air flight, with England winning 2-0 against Germany in the quarter final only to arrive in Spain to find we had lost 3-2 and were on the plane home. Plus ca change.

At this time, with no global television access to the International game such as we enjoy today, watching the eye poppingly brilliant Brazilian team of Pele, Rivelinho, Carlos Alberto and Jairzinho trounce Italy in the Final 4-1, whilst sat drinking ice cold Coca Cola beside a swimming pool in Spain, seemed unbelievably exotic at the time.  

Munich ‘72 gave us Mark Spitz moustache, the grace, skill and dexterity of Olga Korbut and the unprecedented tragedy of athletes being taken hostage and then being killed in horrific circumstances. These events left a small nine year old boy on the South Coast of England confused, transfixed and hooked on both competitions for life.  

However, as the journey from child to teenager to adult unfolded through the remainder of the ’70’s and ’80’s a horrible realisation began to dawn over me. Britain was terrible at sport.

This utter rubbishness manifested itself primarily with our performances at the Olympic Games. With the honourable exceptions of Messrs Coe and Ovett, who led the world in middle distance running, we only won medals when either the Eastern Bloc or the Americans had boycotted the whole show, or in sports that only seven people in the world take part in. And no less than three of those were injured on the big day, like Heptathlon, Modern Pentathlon, Decathlon, Ice Dancing or Clay Pigeon shooting.

The USA had Carl Lewis, Ed Moses, Michael Johnson, Mary Lou Retton, Janet Evans and Flo Jo all winning ​Blue Riband events, The Russians had Sergei Bubka and various Ludmilla’s, Natasha’s, Heidi’s and Olga’s who were built like back row forwards, ran like the wind, and all of them had better facial hair than me.

We had an ex-copper and a former insurance clerk from Nottingham skating about, trying to look pouty in too much chiffon, to Ravel’s Bolero, and Malcolm Cooper who could hit a cow’s backside with a banjo and won back to back Gold Medals in something called the fifty metre three position rifle. Good, but not great.

The nadir of British performances was at Atlanta in 1996 when the only whiff of ​Gold came from the Olympic ‘Sir’s’, Redgrave and Pinsent. We couldn’t even win one of the events such as synchroni​sed swimming or speed walking. Something had to change, and fortunately it did.

When light dawned…

The Brits finally woke up and realised they were brilliant at sitting down. Just think about it, the whole renaissance in our Olympic efforts is centred round cycling, rowing, sailing and horses. Suddenly getting up early for breakfast with Clare Balding in Sydney was worth the loss of sleep. We were picking up enough Gold, Silver and Bronze to redecorate the Taj Mahal, the real one, not the takeaway on Camden High Street.    

The next instalment of my life opens this week in Rio with 366 GB athletes taking part, the largest squad ever for an ‘away’ games. However, these games, like many others that have gone before have an elephant in the room. This time, it is allegedly state sponsored cheating    

Just as a stray dog has fleas, the Olympics have a long history of being infected by determined cases of cheating. In 1904, New Yorker Fred Lorz travelled 11 of the 26 miles of the marathon by taxi and nearly got away with picking up the Gold medal. Naughty boy.

In 1976 Modern Pentathlete Boris Orischenko in a vain attempt to upgrade the Silver he earned Munich to Gold, tampered with his sword to register illegal hits in the fencing round of the competition. Very naughty boy.

Who can forget a pill pumped Ben Johnson, eyeballs out, crossing the line in Seoul in the most infamous 100m races of all time, where six of the eight finalists would fail drugs tests at some point in their careers. Extremely naughty boy.

However, before we all get too upset about the whole Rio situation and start throwing babies out with the bathwater and calling for Boots the Chemist to be the title sponsor we should perhaps reflect back on where we started by looking at our parallels from the world of business.

Olympics and print!

Ultimately it boils down to the fact that hard work and doing things the right way get you to where you want to be. While it might be more of a stretch than Trump winning the US election (maybe) it’s really not that different in the print industry. You need a great coach/brand communicator, one that can make or break your campaigns.

At Callimedia our primary concern is that our ​customers get a high quality job produced at a fair price to maximise the return on investment for ​their marketing budget.  We don’t take supplier rebates to ensure we find the right partner for your project, as opposed to the right supplier for our pocket. We hold your trust, and we cherish and respect it.

Not everybody in our sector works this way.

So what is it to be, Usain Bolt or Ben Johnson? Not really a tricky choice is it?


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