Connecting with employees and the public through the Olympics’ power

Marc Sidwell
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EDF’s Gareth Wynn explains the group’s commitment to the London 2012 games from the very start

Q.What was your brand’s primary reason for being involved with the Games?
A.EDF Energy was actually the first commercial sponsor of the bid, even predating Seb Coe, when there was some scepticism about whether London had a fighting chance of winning, so it was an obvious step when London won the bid to consider becoming a sponsor. But the reasons were different. EDF as a brand was only launched in the UK in the summer of 2003, so when London was bidding for the Games we were still developing our position in the UK market and seeking to reassure people that we were here for the long term and saw the UK as a strategically important market. Getting behind the bid was a great way of announcing to the establishment and the UK public that we meant it.

Sponsoring the Games themselves involved a whole different level of financial commitment and by then EDF Energy’s position in the UK had moved, we had established ourselves as a serious player with strategic scale and significant generation assets. It became obvious fairly early on that the scale of the Games meant that to do it justice it had to be the group as a whole, not just EDF Energy.

Q.How did you structure the case for involvement to the Board?

A.We had two main strategic considerations. First, climate change was a big issue, the UK government had talked about legal targets for reducing carbon emissions and there was the beginnings of the reemergence of nuclear power as part of the future energy mix in multiple countries and in particular in the UK. We knew in that context EDF with its strong background in nuclear power and in low-carbon electricity was in a very strong position and it was an area we could carve out some differentiation from our competitiors.

Second, in the UK we had just published a whole series of sustainability commitments. Now while some of those commitments were under the control of management, like improved efficiency and decarbonisation of energy production, a big piece revolved around demand-side management: how can we encourage and inspire our customers to use less energy? One of the insights we had early on was that people were saying, what real difference does it make if I insulate my house or turn down my heating? And that’s true unless you’re one of millions of people doing it. So we asked what can we do with the emotional power of the Games. The Games has this extraordinary reach; it’s an incredible communications platform so it becomes a tool for reaching out to people and capturing some of that emotional power, grabbing that interest and turning it into positive action. So we set out with our 2012 sponsorship to communicate: we are experts in low carbon electricity; we intend to use this incredible emotional power to connect with people and offer them ways to get involved.

Q.are you using the partnership internally for employee engagement?

A.EDF is using this to help bring its group together. EDF is old and well-established in France and increasingly in the UK, but at the level of the group it is quite young. EDF is on a journey from being a French company with international interests to being an international group headquartered in France, and the shared values of the Games help unite us. For instance, we launched our group intranet with a chance to be an internal Olympic ambassador. We’ve run a global Energy Games for employees. Also, we’ve committed to raise £600,000 for ParalympicsGB, half in employee fundraising, the rest matched by the group.

Q.what sort of legacy projects are you working on as part of your involvement?

A.One example is the deal to replace the lighting on Tower Bridge in association with GE, the City of London and the GLA. It will beautify the bridge and save 40 per cent of energy consumption and we’ve backed up the supply with a low carbon supply. We’ve done a similar thing for the energy supply to the EDF Energy London Eye. As London 2012’s first sustainability partner, we’ve also developed an education module called the Pod that has reached over 3m schoolchildren.

Q.what would you say to other businesses about the games as a commercial opportunity?

A.If you’re not an official partner, do something else. For one thing, there are a lot of legal constraints. But there’s a more compelling business reason. Olympic partners have paid a lot of money to use the most interesting imagery and associations and by and large we’re setting out to do so and putting significant investment behind it. If I were sitting outside and wondering how to achieve cut-through, I’d be trying to think of another way to stand out.

Gareth Wynn is EDF group director for its London 2012 Programme.