Preparing like an Olympian

By Ewan Pearson

This will be our last edition before you and I go off to watch the greatest show on Earth, the London Olympics. So as it is topical, I want to share with you some tips for pitch preparation that I trust would be worthy even of an Olympian.

What are you up to for the “Games? I am doing volunteer driving. I”ll be taking round some senior members from the Olympic committees from among the 205 countries attending, also those from some of the Sports Federation officials from the 26 sports, and perhaps even a few junior IoC members around as a “T3” driver. I am sure many of you readers are also either volunteers (there are over 70,000 of us) or spectators. I was one of the many here who missed out badly on the first two rounds of ticket sales, but then got them really quite easily in the third round for my own sport, rowing.

As “Jubilympic” Fever is in town, I thought that this article should be about how to pitch and prepare for winning such major pitches. And to make it more useful, I‟ll put my tips in a business context.

The staggering thing about these Games is that London has been preparing to host them since 2003. That‟s NINE years. It started in 2002 when, after a key govt. debate, the British Olympic Association (BoA) decided that as Manchester had set the path with a sighting shot bid for 2008, London might bid in July 2005 for the 2012 Games. In 2003 the decision to bid was debated and ratified.

I heard about the intention to bid soon afterwards in the press, and immediately wrote to Tessa Jowell (now Dame), then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, to offer our services. We won that work without a contest; I think our competitors had not even started to think about pitching for the work. We worked for nearly a year on the presentations for that campaign, as well as sponsoring the bid in the only way we could, through heavily discounted fees.

First tip : start early and aim to win the pitch before your competition notices.

Of course, whilst we could do that, London could not win without a fair, tough and open competition, which is much more likely to be the case for you. London had to follow due IoC process and win at the end of a selection/elimination process. Occasionally the bid deviated from the centre of the road and the team got ticked off, but thankfully London was not eliminated.

The Olympic selection process is very lengthy and expensive (the original bid budget was £15m), with counterparties and constituencies needing to be aligned, approvals obtained, tenders submitted, and presentations given. It is a massive endurance event and not a task for the faint hearted, so…

Second tip: Only bid for work where you have a great chance of winning, AND where your team have the motivation to endure the long hard slog that tendering will be.

Many here thought London was not up to it, and that even included Ken Livingstone, the then Mayor of London.

Once the decision to bid had been taken (it was not initially popular), the GB team had to go into the preparation stages. But there was no “team”, so the first hire was of a bid CEO. This was Barbara Cassani, who was previously CEO of BA‟s Go subsidiary, and very able as a team builder and fund raiser. She got London off to a great start, hiring good people who would ultimately prove be vital in the campaign. People such as David Magliano, Michael Dalziel and Mike Lee.

Mid-term though it became clear that whilst Barbara was great thus far, she was not the best person to deliver the pitch, and so Seb Coe came in. That change was a key decision in winning the bid.

Third tip: Have the best team and team leader, be prepared to change the team members and even leaders mid way as roles change.

Once you have a team, you can brainstorm why you think your team should win.

This is hard to do when you don‟t know what your competition is going to say, and even harder when you don‟t know who the competition is! But at least you are all probably in the same position.

We suggest focussing on this „why‟ question to begin with by identifying what is special and unique about you, your team, your firm, your bid. It does not rely on what the others might say. It has to be true and it has to be a reason, or better still a set of reasons, why the buyer would choose you. Best of these are USPs, but they have to be truly USPs – unique to you among the competition, and selling points when seen from the buyer‟s perspective.

I still find it remarkable that‟s London‟s powerful message for being chosen was „to bring children back in to sport‟. Who‟d have thought of that?! It‟s not unique and it‟s not about London. Any of the 5 finalist cities could have said it, only London did.

Why did London go with that message? Because they knew their client. The IoC was (and still is) passionate about health. It‟s charter even says so: “Olympism is a philosophy of life, which places sport at the service of humankind”.

Fourth Tip: Brainstorm your reasons for winning in isolation. Do not get distracted by second-guessing the competition.

Whether or not you know about your competition, you need to know what makes you different and better-suited to win the work. So work on Points of Parity (PoPs), Points of Difference (PoDs) and doing a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis. Now you‟re ready to build the pitch that goes into the tender document and/or presentation. It‟s vital they align; you can‟t change the reasons why you should win after you have sent them off to the client, yet many teams we work with wish they could.

Fifth Tip: Get the messaging right early on, before telling the client, so you don”t risk having to squirm around inadequate messages later on.

Most pitches and tenders involve rounds before the final. If I‟m candid, London scraped through these earlier rounds, in much the same way that the England football team does (it‟s too early to know their result for Euro 2012). London were a bit hesitant, made a few mistakes, lacked broad support and got negative feedback. But this process is a stamina event, and they kept on hanging in there.

Sixth Tip: You don‟t have to win the heats and semi finals, but it helps if you”re there or close to it, so aim to do everything you can to properly clear each high jump bar the client sets.

My final tip is that the only race you have to win is the final, so this is where you have to peak. Rehearse, change, rehearse, change again, and rehearse. London‟s bid team rehearsed three weeks non-stop at a special “pitch camp”.

How much are YOU prepared to do to have someone like Jacques Rogge and the IoC pick you?

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