Frank van der Post is the man making sure that British Airways gets a flying start as 2012’s airline partner
Q. What was your brand’s primary reason for being involved with the Games?
A. We’re a tier one sponsor for London 2012, and although we’ve sponsored British athletes before, it’s the first time we’ve been an official Olympic partner.
This summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games are the opportunity of a lifetime, a unique opportunity to get behind Britain and support our teams. The Olympic and Paralympic Games are amazing because they offer association not just with one sport but the full range. And as the Games are a chance to show the world what Britain is all about, that’s a natural connection for us as our identity is an extension of Britain in some ways.
We’re very proud as part of our partnership to be transporting the Olympic flame from Athens to Culdrose in Cornwall and then on to different destinations in the relay across the country and its islands. The safety guys have done a lot of work with the CAA to get it approved – obviously it’s fairly unusual these days to transport a flame. Although only 15 years ago we used to smoke on planes. Our number one priority is safety and we wouldn’t compromise on that.
Q. How did you structure the case for involvement to the Board?
A. I think it was the same arguments then as it is today. There were four pillars. First we wanted to reinforce our leadership in aviation in Britain. Second, we wanted at the same time to create an emotional connection, a passion for the brand. Internal engagement was important for us too. This gave us a way to rally all our colleagues around a common cause and to build pride within the organisation. And finally we wanted to maximise the commercial opportunities that come with Olympic partnership.
The airline industry has had a hard last 10 years, and this is a large financial commitment. You need to make sure you spend the money wisely and get a good return. For us, we needed to realise all four of our pillars to make it work. It wasn’t a case of sign and then hang back. It is a lot of work to really activate a partnership like this.
Q. How have you structured your business to maximise Olympic opportunities?
A. We were trying to think not just about how to be a sponsor but to think about the longer-term impact over multiple years.
We’ve been sponsoring British athletes working up to the Games, with discounted tickets and baggage allowances. That’s very targeted but it’s an initiative we’re quite proud of.
Our Great Britons awards of travel for highly creative individuals tried to capture British talent at more than sport, and helped us to build up an Olympic focus very early. And we’re currently planning for the post-Olympics period.
Q. How did the announcement that you were involved affect your business?
A. I think people generally recognise that BA is an Olympic sponsor, so whatever we are doing is working. We had two key criteria: we wanted people to know that we were a partner and then we wanted to make an emotional engagement, to share the pride of being part of a British success. Ultimately, creating that excitement, being part of the winning spirit will help us sell more tickets, which is what it is all about. And so we’ve recently launched a new “2012. We’re ready. To fly. To serve.” campaign.
Q. What has surprised you most about your involvement to date?
A. It is my first Olympics – I’d worked on two Super Bowls in America, which are quite large, a good warm-up, but nowhere near this. I think the opportunity and the excitement are remarkable, and the sheer magnitude of what needs to happen. We’re immensely proud to play a small role in that.
There’s also a tremendous impact in terms of internal engagement. We’re finding colleagues working together as they usually wouldn’t. Paint bay engineers spending weeks working out how to get the designers’ artwork to come out perfectly. In a big organisation like BA, it can easily go the other way and it’s good to see.
Q. What advice can you give non-Official Partners to help them make the most of the commercial opportunities presented by the Olympics?
A. A lot of people are coming to Britain for the Games and it will be watched by millions more. People should sign up as a partner with the London organising committee and be part of the biggest Games on earth in the best city on earth.
Frank van der Post is managing director, brands and customer experience for British Airways.