The Chartered Institute of Marketing has aired concerns over Olympic marketing rights.

As a recruitment advert to promote a construction firm involved in the Olympics, our mock-up lacks a little something. A direct reference to the 2012 games, for instance.

But according to a paper produced last month by the Chartered Institute of Marketing, The Event That Dare Not Speak Its Name: Marketing the Olympics, advertising that makes oblique references to athleticism and sport is one way for 2012 construction companies to tell potential staff or future clients about their Olympic involvement.

The report touches on an issue frustrating many marketing staff at 2012 construction companies. Due to rules laid down by the International Olympic Committee, and driven by the need to protect commercial sponsors from ‘ambush’ marketing, the Olympic Delivery Authority and the London Olympic Games Organising Committee are enforcing a strict ‘no marketing’ policy on construction suppliers.

All companies, whether suppliers or not, are banned from making ‘associations’ with 2012 and Olympic terminology under a 2006 Act of Parliament. Plus, contracted ODA suppliers must abide by a No Marketing Rights Protocol. For instance, this bans references to the Olympics on corporate newsletters and requires the written permission of the ODA to include statements of no more than 150 words on websites or brochures, provided at least five other projects are given equal billing.

A spokesman at one firm is counting the cost of lost marketing opportunities. ‘I’ve got my hands tied behind my back. Because of the interests of big business, those of us lower down the food chain are restricted in what we can do.

‘We also have to be careful about recruitment advertising,’ he added. ‘We want to recruit locally, through the local papers. But it feels like we’re missing the point in our communications and we’re less likely to interest people.’

Another firm is concerned about PR restrictions. ‘It’s a lost opportunity to talk about the whole process, particularly after the image we all had of Beijing was just the finished product. We’d like to be able to tell the story of what’s going on.’

The CIM report picks up on the first commentator’s view that the activities of commercial sponsors, such as Samsung, Coca-Cola and Cadbury’s, are essentially on a different level to those of 2012 construction firms or other suppliers. It says: ‘Major corporate sponsors do not need such draconian legislation from a body that seems keener to protect large international companies than support its own grass roots businesses and entrepreneurs.’

CIM head of research Mark Stuart added: ‘We accept the need to prevent ambush marketing of the scale witnessed at the Barcelona or Atlanta Games. But as things stand, honest, hard-working companies who want to make reasonable associations with what should be a cultural event and not a protected brand are being deprived of the once-in-lifetime opportunity to create mutual benefit during the Games.’

LOCOG and the ODA argue that the CIM report is an over-reaction. After all, they say, construction marketing professionals often deal with ‘no publicity’ clauses in contracts with major clients, and any organisation enjoys trademark protection (albeit not by Act of Parliament.) And responding to the issue of sponsors, they say that as the success of the Olympics partly hinges on attracting £2bn in commercial sponsorship, it is in everyone’s interests if sponsors are protected.

LOCOG and the ODA also point out that companies planning limited marketing or PR are free to discuss it with them, and permission may be granted. An ODA spokesperson said: ‘Contractors enjoy significant opportunities for practical business communications. Delivering the project on time and to budget will be a global advert for the UK construction industry and we work closely with our contractors to ensure our successes along the path to 2012 are recognised and celebrated.’

A LOCOG spokesperson added: ‘We are also keen to open dialogue with the CIM to discuss how we can help their members understand the guidance.’

Perhaps the gulf between the CIM and the official view is there because the Games is a hybrid – a publicly-funded sporting and cultural event, and a protected commercial brand. Suppliers and CIM members naturally want to celebrate their involvement in the first, but are bound by restrictions driven by the second.

Oliver Bray, partner with City solicitor Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, warns that the exclusive sponsorship rights enjoyed by Olympic sponsors are likely to take hold in other sporting events in the future. ‘I expect we’ll see greater steps to protect the 2014 Commonwealth Games as well. They can load the contract with similar clauses.’

Yet there is one other possibility for suppliers. Atkins, already a consultant to the Games, is reported to be in talks with LOCOG about becoming an official sponsor.

If a deal is signed, it could be the only construction firm with the right to put its logo on the site hoardings.

Brand or bland?

Fictional recruitment advert for a construction company working at London 2012
In the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s view, this fictional recruitment advert for a construction company working at London 2012 would be compatible with both the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 and the No Marketing Rights Protocol for suppliers. It has none of the outlawed ‘listed expressions’, no logos or trademarks and nothing else that could be deemed ‘to be making an association’ with the Games.

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