The London 2012 Olympics are in full swing but, despite the vast number of tourists who have traveled to the city especially for the games, local businesses are suffering adverse effects as a results of over-zealous government warnings.
Prior to the opening of the games, Olympic organizers and politicians made various predictions about the supposed £13 million (just over $20 million) economic boost the Olympics would bring to the UK’s capital. The reality, however, is shaping up to be quite different.
Various reports have described London as a “ghost town”, with locals and would-be visitors staying at home, or opting to escape to less hectic destinations. The result is that the expected fluctuation in visitor numbers has not materialized: as Olympics tourists have arrived, Londoners have left, and the usual summer visitors have stayed away.
Olympics, publicity and making money in London
Any publicity is good publicity? So why has this happened? Why, with all the hype surrounding the UK’s moment of pride and glory, is London quieter than ever? The problem lies in the publicity. Olympics fans around the world have been hearing about the momentous occasion, the atmosphere, the sense of triumph, and the dazzling, ceremonial ambiance.
Londoners, on the other hand, have received quite a different message in the lead up to the event. Before the games started, arrivals at London Bridge station, one of London’s main railway terminals, were greeted by a recorded message from London’s mayor, Boris Johnson. In a friendly but firm tone, he advised commuters to avoid public transport during the Olympics. Customized roadside warnings conveyed the same message: avoid Central London and key routes into the city. Transport for London have sent daily emails since the games began, alerting locals to areas they should avoid due to overcrowding and delays. Given the experience that most Londoners endure on a daily basis with the city’s transport system anyway, it’s no wonder people have heeded all this advice, and stayed away.
The worldwide Olympic impact on business
The Olympics phenomenon hasn’t just affected London areas; other localities hosting Olympic events have also been affected. Speaking to the BBC, Dennis Spurr, a business-owner in coastal town Weymouth, said that the the way in which the government promoted the games in the UK has severely impacted his business:
“The Olympics have damaged my business. It’s the negative advertising – beat the delays, plan your journey now, come by train – people have been put off, they’re not coming. Normally this time of year you can’t move. The town is dead and businesses are really worried,” he said, also revealing that he had purchased extra equipment to accommodate the expected influx of people for the sailing events in his town.
James Parsons, another business owner in the area, commented that the region was significantly quieter than usual for the summer: “We’ve had busier Sundays in November. We’re taking a significant loss at the moment.”
Through attempts to lessen the impact the Olympics will have on London and the surrounding areas, the organizers and government have managed to negatively impact businesses that were hoping to experience a recession-busting boom this summer.
As it turns out, any publicity is not necessarily good publicity after all.
The Issue with the Olympics
Olympic organizers and the UK government spent a lot of time, attention and money promoting the games. Business owners, and the general public, were told many times over how profitable the games would be for the capital, and the UK as a whole. But the government’s approach to publicizing the games within London has focused on the negative impact the games are going to have on Londoners’ everyday lives.
The result? Bad publicity where it matters. As far as local businesses are concerned, promoting the Olympics to foreign countries in a positive light is meaningless when the people who matter – local shoppers and would-be tourists – are staying away.
The tragic aspect to this whole situation is that the government meant well. The scare-mongering was an attempt to lessen the impact of the games on locals, but they’ve inadvertently produced the opposite effect.
It’s a valuable lesson for businesses: be careful what you wish for. Publicity is a valuable commodity, when it’s used wisely. When it’s not, however, it can have a disastrous effect for all involved.
So how can businesses turn around bad publicity, and make right on well-intentioned but ill-executed PR campaigns?
How to Rectify a PR Mess
The Olympics organizers and UK government still have a small window to try to turn this situation around. When a business finds itself with a PR mess on its hands, it should take the following steps:
1. Accept the situation
What members of the Olympics committee had hoped and expected to happen to the UK economy no longer matters. What does matter is the reality. If a business is involved in a PR disaster, it can only change the situation by accepting what has happened, and taking pro-active steps to change it.
2. Admit the situation
Credibility goes a long way. When a business not only generates negative publicity but then bluffs its way through the situation, it loses credibility. If, however, it generates negative publicity and then comes clean about what’s happened, it stands a chance of winning some of that credibility back.
Admitting to the facts also prevents further PR damage. Explaining the situation as it really stands lessens the damaging impact of public or professional rumors. In this situation, a business needs to stick to the facts, and prove to customers, board members and whoever else is involved, that it’s trying to turn the situation around.
3. Act quickly
At the time of writing, the UK government haven’t yet encouraged Londoners to emerge from hiding. They haven’t talked about the impact that local shoppers’ absences have had on local business. To regain credibility and turn the situation around, a business needs to take steps immediately to rectify the situation.
The best way to avoid a PR disaster is to preempt it. Whenever a business plans any kind of public even or communication, developing a contingency plan for any potential negative backlash should be a core part of the preparation. It’s much harder for a business to react to a crisis when it’s suddenly in the middle of one: preparation is the key.
Written By: Hannah Braime