Suzi Williams: 100 days to go. Swap hats and get planning

17 April marked 100 days until the opening ceremony of the Paris Olympic Games on 26 July.  

Its a critical date. Suddenly, the countdown really is on. 

I remember it well. As chief marketing officer at BT, sponsor of the London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games, the final 100-day stretch was exhausting, inspiring, humbling and exciting in equal measure. In the spirit of passing on the Olympic torch I’d like to share a few recollections that might be usefulinformative and hopefully reassuring to CMOs at the 100-day start line for Paris.  

Doom and gloom 

Of course, the London 2012 Games were a huge successWhats harder to remember now is how things looked 100 days before they kicked off. Back then, the entire nation was in a state of angst and dread. Headlines at the time predicted doom and gloom. Traffic gridlock, security issues, spiralling costs were just three of the big worries. We were all told to flee  LondonI remember weekly disaster scenario planning and I even remember how weeks of rain leading up to the Games made us fear the whole thing would, quite literally, be a washout. 

Headlines in the run-up to London 2012
Headlines in the run-up to London 2012

Plus ça change  

In Paris, its the same story. French media is full of every way in which the Jeux olympiques, or JO for short, will be a disaster. There are understandable concerns about security given all thats going on in the world. Transport unions have threatened strike action and a commitment to hold the open water swimming events in the river Seine (and a promise by President Macron to take a dip himself) now looks shaky over fears it will just be too dirty. Then, to cap it all, French diver Alexis Jandard managed to slip from the board in front of cameras and the president at the grand opening of the Aquatics Centre last week. Even if your French isnt fluent, youll get the idea of the current state of play from this selection of recent French headlines: strikes, fiasco and fears abound.  

Headlines in the run-up to Paris 2024
Headlines in the run-up to Paris 2024

As a marketing chief, it could be easy to see all this and start to panic. So to CMOs at sponsors like Orange, Carrefour and Air France, I say ignore the doom and gloom. Stay focused on making your brands activation the best it can be and hold tight to your friends and partners - especially the OCOG responsible for organising the Games themselves. They are likely even more stressed than you are. Back in 2012, I remember how staying in touch and showing support to my contacts at the London 2012 organising committee at this time  meant a lot to them. Those strong connections will also help when you have an urgent need during the Games themselves (and you will!).  

Corporate Blues 

Like everyone else, the top executives in your company will be reading the negative headlines. Like everyone else, they are out and about and hear the chatter. Having invested millions in sponsorship, company boards and CEOs often get anxious around this point. Have they wasted their money? What plans are in place? Is the brand about to be tarnished through association with a huge disaster? I remember many anxious calls and emails around this time. In fact, its not an understatement to say I felt my job was on the line all day every day. As the CMO, its your job to present a positive and confident face in your organisation. You have all the information and all the responsibility, so you need to fake it until you make it. That means upwards to your senior management, sideways to your peers and most importantly, and often most challenging of alldown through the teams who are supporting you.  

Plan for the worst 

While doing your very best impression of inner calm and outer confidence, youd be a fool not to prepare for the worst too. By now, any CMO sponsoring the Games should have a tight troop of loyal evangelists and lieutenants who they can take into their confidence. I remember my own team who were there right from the start and who I regard as the best colleagues Ive ever had (Lee, Suzy, Dennis, Ian, Alex and many more, you know who you are). You need to work together so you have plans in place for anything that might go wrong. What if it rains constantly and youve got all your events outside? What if there is a cyber-attack that takes down your online activation or, worse still, the entire communications network? What if youre suddenly ambushed by competitors who arent official partners but want a slice of the action? If you havent planned for this and more, then there’s still time at the 100 day point to take action. Behind closed doors, swap hats and get planning. Be ruthlessly negative and entertain every possible outcomehowever hideous or outlandish.   

This entire period was a time when I relied immensely on what is called ‘the Olympic family. That includes those with the wisdom from having trodden the path before as well as my fellow sponsors and agencies. Together we would co-create solutions to the many challenges the world (and especially the weather) threw at us. @michael Payne @xxx @xxx and @xxxx and most especially you, Mr @Loring piney, you were generous beyond any reasonable hope or expectations. 

And finally, breathe 

100 days away from the action, the challenges seem daunting. Its true that the Paris Games are taking place in a global context of heightened tensions. Yet theres every likelihood that Paris 2024 will be a huge success. The infrastructure will work, the sport will captivate and even when things don’t go to plan, unexpected moments of humanity can inspire and uplift us all. Take Alexis Jandard, the poor diver who slipped up. He took to the airwaves after his fall to show his scars and confess his embarrassment while laughing at himself and promising to do his best in the Games themselves. His attitude reminds us that it is not the infrastructure nor the politics but the endless and brilliant human spirit that makes the Games unbeatable.  

To all my fellow CMOs in Paris and around the world, bon courage! Lets look forward to headlines like these below. 

Headlines following the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games
Headlines following the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games 

Suzi Williams is the Former chief brand & marketing officer of BT Group. BT Group was the official communications services partner for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games