a sign advertising the 2016 Olympicsimage sourceAndrade, Jorge. "Niterói, Brazil." 19 March 2011. Flickr.

5 Things London’s Games can Teach Rio and Your Business

August 15, 2012

While the Paralympic Games are still to come in London, much of the world has moved on since Sunday’s closing ceremonies. If you were one of the 1,000s of people who tuned in for that giant celebration, you witnessed just a taste of what the next Summer Olympic Games will be like in Rio de Janeiro.

Here are five lessons for the future Olympic host city that can also help your business.

1. Don’t Fight Perception: Use It

There are plenty of stereotypes about the British. Rather than fight those ideas, the Opening Ceremonies embraced every British trope imaginable: the Queen, James Bond, Mary Poppins, fairy tales, industrial mills, even Harry Potter. The Closing Ceremonies embrace nearly all of the musical acts the island’s ever produced. The world loved it.

Rio’s organizers don’t have quite the same weight of history tied to them that London’s did (literally, centuries worth). Chances are your business doesn’t either. But even fairly young or unknown countries and companies have to face the weight of perceptions.

Instead of jumping on the defensive, meet those perceptions exactly where they are and use that image to form a relationship. If your business is a young start-up, emphasize why that makes you great. If you’re been around the block, acknowledge your age and talk about your experience. Turn your supposed weaknesses into strengths and use perception to buoy your business to success.

2. Get Management on Board

This one’s closely related to the first point. London organizers needed to get their very old city to match or top Beijing’s wow-factor party of four years ago. They looked at their assets, and went straight to the top. Asking the Queen to agree to a scripted television performance (not to mention filming James Bond inside Buckingham) was a risky move, but one that paid off big time for the Opening Ceremonies.

When it comes to Rio, there’s plenty of unfamiliar history and culture to share with a new audience. It’ll go a lot smoother with buy-in from Brazilian leaders in all areas and from all backgrounds.

Your business has a unique story to tell, too. Who’s the founder, and why did that person start the business? What were the first years like? How can your business experiences teach others? Getting the top people to agree on a narrative may sound like a daunting task, but it’ll pay off when everyone supports and promotes that message to your potential clients.

3. Be Personable, Be Professional

Sounds like an impossible combination, right? But it’s something every Olympic city (and every business) struggles with.

The Brits created a fun party atmosphere with the opening and closing ceremonies, so that’s the personable part down. But they also did a good job planning for the before and in-between times: improving the transit system, modernizing the city’s infrastructure, integrating security teams.

Rio’s challenge will be to dazzle us with a great show and a smooth delivery of the Games. That’s the crux of successful business marketing as well: let your fun side shine through will keeping a firm grip on the practicalities. Businesses meet that challenge in different ways: some add positions to handle digital marketing, while others outsource that role to a specialty firm. Find the strategy that works for your business, and commit to it in a big way.

4. Don’t Delay, Start Today

Olympic Organizers get years to craft a winning Game strategy, but that time can can sure go by fast. Laying a whole new track for a subway system doesn’t happen overnight, and building Olympic stadiums is a major undertaking even for a major world economy.

The work in Rio’s already started, and will need to continue at a steady clip to keep on schedule. But while Brazil has four years left, your business faces similar challenge right now. Every. Single. Day. Putting a major change in place can feel impossible, and planned improvements can easily be pushed aside to settle more immediate concerns.

That’s a mistake. Improvement isn’t easy, for the new or the old. Rio and London are worlds apart but both have to overcome the same obstacles to reach their goal. Your business is no different: if you want change, real change, you have to actually begin the work it takes to get it done. Carve out time, get help, or simply contract it out, but do what it takes to make that change happen.

5. Look Past the Endgame

Wait, isn’t the endgame the, well, end? London’s Games will soon be just a recording and a memory, but the stadiums built to house them will remain. Will the city abandon them to collect debris or find a way to utilize them for the public’s benefit? There is a plan, but only time will tell how will it serves the people who paid so much for one of the biggest parties in the world.

The legacy of other countries can teach the Rio organizers a lot about how to successfully move on from an Olympic event. Likewise, when starting any project, your business should always look to what happens after it’s complete. Is there any investment you’ll make as part of your current work that can be continued afterwards? How will this work help you get (and keep) more? What kind of legacy do you want this project to create, both for you and and your customer?

Successful countries plan for after the tourists leave, and your business should always ask itself “What’s next?”