Hugh Chambers, Chief Commercial Officer, British Olympic Association (BOA)

Hugh has overall responsibility for all commercial aspects of the BOA, including brand, marketing, communications, and business partner development.

Tom Holmes

Founder & Chairman



Tom Holmes talks to Hugh Chambers, Chief Commercial Officer at the British Olympic Association (BOA).

Hugh has overall responsibility for all commercial aspects of the BOA, including brand, marketing, communications, and business partner development.

The BOA is responsible for representing the Olympic Movement in Great Britain and for fielding the strongest team of athletes at every summer and winter Olympics, which it does under the banner of TEAM GB.


Creativebrief: Hugh, as Chief Commercial Officer of the BOA what were your particular highlights before, during and after the London 2012 Olympic Games?

Hugh Chambers: It was back in 2004 that the BOA met with the London mayor’s office (then Ken Livingstone) and began to formulate a plan that eight years later culminated in the biggest sporting event the world has ever seen. From those initial dreams the relationship between the Olympics and the people of Great Britain has changed forever.

My role of Chief Commercial Officer at the BOA is to manage the commercial health of the organisation – which is principally achieved through maximising the value of our core intellectual properties and in particular the national Olympic Team, otherwise known as Team GB.

The BOA was founded in 1905 and was one of the first National Olympic Committee’s that created the network of what are now 204 NOC’s worldwide; all of which are effectively licensees for the IOC movement in their exclusive territory. The BOA is a membership organisation made up of the 33 summer and winter Olympic sports, and is bound by the Olympic charter in terms of its remit and its mission. The two principle objectives for all NOCs, is the fielding of teams of elite athletes at the official summer and winter Olympic Games, and the promulgation of the Olympic values to help better people’s lives.

When I joined four years ago I think it is fair to say that the BOA was in the more traditional mould of sports organisations and had not fully embraced the changing commercial sporting landscape over the last twenty five years. In large part I think that was a reflection of the Olympic movement itself, which although it is a phenomenal commercial enterprise at IOC level, the actual field of play remains to this day free of commercial messaging. So it was perhaps no surprise that the organisation was almost entirely focused, to the exclusion of all else, on doing an outstanding job of logistical support to all of the athletes, and ensuring that all of the individual Olympic sports were fantastically well served at the Games itself. The organisation really hadn’t grasped the opportunities for commercialisation of the properties which it owned, and the virtuous circle that most other sports rights holders have created in generating revenues that are in turn invested in greater sporting success and fan engagement. And yet there were less than 48 months until the greatest show on earth was to land on the BOA’s doorstep.

At that point the 65 employees of the BOA were based in a series of pretty decrepit Georgian buildings on the Wandsworth one way system, and it seemed that very little had been done to those buildings for several hundred years. We were fortunate that the BOA board had already embraced the need for change, and I suppose that was the reason that Andy Hunt (CEO) and I were bought into the organisation shortly after the Beijing Games, and we therefore had a wide mandate to make sweeping changes. Perhaps the most visible and physical change that signalled our intent was the move from those rundown buildings in Wandsworth to our present location at 60 Charlotte Street in pristine new offices. They were designed specifically for us and intended to fully embody all of the aspiration and excitement of the Olympic movement. In the heart of adland the tempo of the organisation moved up a gear.

For London 2012, and our home Games, it was obvious that there was an extraordinary opportunity to engage with the nation and connect them to the athletes in a way which was both going to inspire them and leave a lasting legacy. Our objective for the London Games for Team GB was “to create the best support for a British sports team ever” and this was made up of three elements:

  • Inform: to build awareness of Team GB and build a sports super brand
  • Engage: to create dialogue, interaction and engagement with fans
  • Inspire: to help motivate the athletes of Team GB

So early in 2010 we set about creating a campaign to form that connection and make the nation feel an integral part of the sporting performance. Idea generation came from many sources, including internal brainstorms and sessions with various creative contacts who added to the general debate – out of which emerged eight candidate positionings. We were fortunate to be offered the opportunity to test these routes by engaging with a series of qualitative groups that Lloyds TSB were running and from this emerged a favourite which was phrased “The Ultimate Team”. More debate and navel gazing led to the adoption of “our” and the less ambiguous “greatest” instead of “ultimate”.

The resulting over-arching idea was ‘Our Greatest Team’ with the strap-line of ‘Our Greatest Team: 900 athletes 60 million strong’. Why 900? In a ground breaking move – that seems obvious now – we invited the British Paralympic Association to join us in the campaign with one team under a combined proposition.

The BOA is a small organisation (unlike the IOC or LOCOG) with very limited resources so we had to be extremely creative to get this message out to the nation. I like to think of it as akin to “open source software” with our version being “open source creative-ware.” We made an invitation to all the stakeholders in the landscape to adopt the IPR and the DNA of the ‘Our Greatest Team’ campaign and adapt it and mould it and grow it organically into a shape that would work for their own individual brand objectives.

This idea was embraced by many of the Olympic Partners such as Cadbury, BA and MINI, as well as other stakeholders such as LOCOGs “local leaders” and “journey to the games” programmes, the GLA and even the media which all adopted the same theme in regard to the team. A high point for me was seeing both The Telegraph and The Times using “OUR GREATEST TEAM” in bold as the headlines of their special editions the day after the athletes parade.

We also had the great benefit of Olympic Partners with substantial footprints in retail and merchandising, and we were fortunate to have formed partnerships with NEXT and BP to produce items of fan support to engage the public in their direct support of the team, but also equally important give them some physical connection and way of showing their membership of ‘Our Greatest Team’ and being part of a lasting legacy.

Perhaps the most important element of the journey to the games was the Torch Relay which started on the 18th May, and we saw the opportunity to use the torch as a way of connecting with the nation on this journey. We held the launch of ‘Our Greatest Team’ a week earlier with an event at the Royal Albert Hall (attended by Prince William and The Duchess of Cambridge and an array of stars), and used by BP and NEXT as well as sponsors of the event itself British Airways, BT and Cabury all of whom had activation programmes with consumers that used the event as a major touch point. The torch relay kicked off seven days later in the south west of England, and over the following seventy days and nights it gave the opportunity for tens of millions of people, who perhaps were not going to be able to go to an Olympic event itself, to feel part of the entire occasion. With BP and Next having over 1400 retail points along the route we were able to further amplify the messaging with their help.

I think that brilliant visual identity is absolutely crucial in any type of campaign such as this, and we were very lucky to be working with adidas and Stella McCartney on the design of the team kit. Over the last three years we have had a complete blank sheet of paper relook at the way that the team should be presented at games time. Stella and adidas’s top designers really did an amazing job and I think the whole nation was stunned by the team kit. Just on that, it is staggering how much kit is needed, with over 175,000 individual items distributed in the six weeks leading up to the games. Although the “Stella graphic” it has its roots in British Union Flag iconography, it is most firmly at the forefront of contemporary graphic design and feels fresh and relevant. Off the back of that design we saw an ever increasing level of merchandise and license product centred around the team and in particular the proposition of ‘Our Greatest Team’. With over 10,000 individual product lines and close to £1 billion of sales, including 4.5 million Team GB T-shirts, the nation not only read about and viewed Team GB but brought it into their homes and wardrobes.

As already stated, one important aspect was bringing both Olympic and Paralympic teams under one umbrella. Although the organising bodies of the two movements are quite separate and individual organisations our belief was that for the general public they view the British team as one. We therefore have firmly embraced the Paralympic GB athletes alongside and as one with the Olympic Team GB athletes. So our games time period was not just the seventeen days of the Olympic Games finishing on the 12th August but really ran right the way through until the 9th September. We were very mindful of the need for mass participation and large crowd events both for the experience of people there but also for the televisual effects and the impact it has on social media and engagement. We only have to look at the royal wedding to have some idea of how a mass spectacle can act as a catalyst for a nationwide series of parties and festivals and excitement. So our finale was focused on the athlete’s parade which took place on Monday 10th September the day after the Paralympic closing ceremony with 2 million on the route and over 4.5m TV viewers on a Monday afternoon! Just that event alone started its planning cycle two years earlier with a joint venture being created with the GLA and commercial partners engaged – the logistics of six hours of celebration took literally thousands of hours of planning with over 30 different government and private enterprises involved, from the city councils, through NHS, Met Police, TFL, and the Royal Parks – not an easy exercise, but one that events company Innovision managed with superb skill and expertise.

But the real success was online, and as with so many aspects of London 2012, it was the way in which the nation engaged with both London 2012 and Team GB. Our journey was one that had a number of physical activation points but those physical activation points were very much designed to act and fuel social media and inter-action online with millions and millions of people who perhaps are not able to experience them first hand. Going back 12 months Team GB had a paltry 34,000 members on Facebook and Twitter – post Games this had swelled to over two million, with another million engaged in various other forms of direct and indirect contact. We are working very closely with a number of partners in this digital space in particular an agency called Pirata have been at the heart of the development of our new website which was launched in February, and all of the social media platforms upon which the ‘Our Greatest Team’ campaign is based. But in addition there are many other satellite digital providers, such as Rockpool who work with BP, who have worked seamlessly with Pirata to form this extension of the core creative idea into their partners own creative campaigns.

The heart of the social media strategy was a simple strategy to keep the content fresh and unique. With media juggernauts such as the BBC and Yahoo sport unleashing their resources like never before it was not straightforward to see how the BOA with extremely limited resources could ever hope to compete – but in the end the remarkable insights and minute by minute updates made www.teamgb.comone of the must go to websites of the games. But it was the impact of social media channels that defined the landscape, with #teamgb and #ourgreatestteam engaged by over 35 million people, and #teamgb averaging 1.8m views per day with peaks of 2.8m on the 4th and 12th of August.

All of this has been achieved with minimal budgets and minimal resources, we have a couple of people who have come from marketing communications agencies and have joined the team here but pre-games we had three people working on brand, plus a total of four people working in the communications team. That team is led by a very experienced Olympic expert in the form of Darryl Seibel who has been to a total of fifteen Olympic Games and most recently has worked for the US Olympic Committee and had responsibility for all their communications.

As we entered games time mode the teams grew with press officers drafted in from the individual sports and volunteers manning the computers to engage and populate the vast social media landscape. In addition to Pirata on the digital front we also had enormous help from PR agency Pitch which has lots of relevant experience in sports orientated activation.

I think the key thing with all of this is that it demonstrates that if you have a powerful brand and you have the creative ideas you can corral other people into joining forces with you to amplify the effects and the impact of your ideas. There is no question that the Olympic movement does galvanise stakeholders from completely different environments to join together with the common purpose. The Olympic Partners, of which there are some fifty two, are all contracted via LOCOG and London 2012 through to the end of December this year. We are working very hard with partners to formulate plans for their continuation and capitalisation on the investment that they have already made. The global partners, or as they are referred to the TOPS partners, of which there are eleven are signed through until 2020 demonstrates how the IOC has done a fantastic job on getting that continuity and thread of major brands which not only understand the Olympic movement but also recognise the role that they need to play in engaging consumers and businesses.

In terms of our relationship with the creative services industry we have been constrained by the limits on the BOA but as necessity is the mother of all invention and we have been fortunate in finding small agencies that contributed to our programme and supplemented the major Olympic support provided by London 2012 partner McCann. Agencies such as Antidote lead by Tim Ashton were behind the creation of our core proposition, ‘Better Never Stops’, which was re-produced on literally thousands of merchandising lines.

If you went into stores such as John Lewis you saw this on everything from key rings to bags to banners taking that simple thought into the hearts and minds and homes of millions of consumers. We recognised that the look and feel of the team apart from the kit itself was absolutely crucial and we worked with a small agency lead by Rebecca Battman of Rebecca Battman Design who helped us to develop the visualisation and creative treatment around the ‘Our Greatest Team’ campaign.

Also it was fascinating to work with so many marketing communications agencies through our Olympic Partners, and I think pretty much every agency in London had some involvement in some way with one of the stakeholders, so over the last four years I have been privileged to sit in creative presentations from a vast array of different organisations. I think there are common themes and common issues which everyone faced, not least of which the transition from communications around the games and the infrastructure to a focal point on the athletes. I think it’s widely recognised by people that as we got closer to the games the focal point for the nation switched from the infrastructure to the individuals and the athletes, and all of the back stories and the emotions that they brought to the mix. Most of the Olympic Partners had created individual relationships with athletes, or ambassadors, and this gave them extended rights to create advertising and other marketing communication campaigns around those individuals, but we collectively as Team GB had the ability to provide some of those assets to partners to activate in their marketing communication campaigns, but the emphasis was very much on the collective.

Overall it has been a fantastic journey – and without unique properties of social media it would have had a very different outcome. From the point of view of our relationship with the creative services agencies I reflect on the enormous talent that has been brought to all elements of the London 2012 arena. As has always been the case, the size of campaigns and budgets are perhaps less important than the value of a simple compelling idea and a brave execution. And long may that continue.d to be more relevant to a variety of audiences.