Oystercatchers Club | Sept 2012 | Abigail Comber | Head of Brand and Marketing | British Airways

Oystercatchers Club | Sept 2012 | Abigail Comber | Head of Brand and Marketing | British Airways

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Abi ComberAbigail Comber: A reflection on a couple of things that people have said. Firstly, I totally agree with Suki and I much preferred it when Oystercatchers club was only 20 people when I stood here. A reflection also on what Peter said about when you had your event and five years ago we took a big risk on actually doing that event on whether we would get the Olympics or not. I took a big risk six years ago, well actually longer than that, when we supported the bid in saying that we will be part of this because we have been through all the highs and lows, takeoffs and landings, and no more booing in between times, and I’m sure that you know that we have had massive industrial relations issues and all of the economic things that we are all suffering. All the economic situation, but as well as the industrial relations issues that we have suffered have also happened in that period of five years and we were in this deep and we were already committed millions of pounds of the company’s money. So yeah, a big risk. And then one reflection on what James said, thank you for the lovely warm up about British brands, and then British Airways gets up. It’s about women being engaged. I don’t do sport, I really honestly didn’t know who a lot of the people were and had to read up on a lot of their biogs before I got involved in the Olympics for real when it was happening. And I have become absolutely addicted. I think it’s only today that I have realised that I am not a traitor to my country by not wearing red, white and blue. I really questioned putting a purple dress on because I’ve got a capsule wardrobe that works in red, white and blue and it’s okay not to wear an Olympic pin for anybody else who has got into this whole pin trading thing. So it’s been a crazy, crazy time.

 

Abigail Comber: This whole campaign, as I say, for us, not only started over five years ago before we flew the teams out to Beijing and then Vancouver. But also it started for us last September – less than a year ago because it was the 20 something so we have managed to cram it all into 12 months by relaunching our brand with what you will probably remember as the aviator film and our promise of “to fly to serve.” That was a real demonstration of what British Airways was here for and who we are and what we do and restating that we were back. I remember saying way back then, in a presentation to a lot of people about that campaign “it really feels like we need to get our mojo back.” And, my goodness, standing here a year later, I feel like I’ve got a lot of mojo back and it’s an amazing place to be. So, in reflecting what we were trying to achieve, it was a credible way to support team GB and Paralympics GB from a company whose real role at an absolute binary level is to get people on a plane and make people leave the country. So that is a real challenge and also may appear that we are incredibly rich in both culture and depth of pocket.

Abigail Comber: But for those of you who know by working for us, we are not and a lot of big players rolling in as international sponsors who were going to out shout us ten to one in terms of what they could buy. So when you can’t sell your product and you hadn’t really got the money to do it anyway, we had to come up with an idea that would cut through an incredibly busy, busy environment. So yes, I did have a terrible, terrible meeting, I thought when I was presenting to the board the idea of “don’t fly” and the financial director was the only person who really challenge me on it. And instead of me having to justify the comments back to him in that challenge, I had the commercial director and operations director and the brand and customers director all leaping across the table saying this is the right thing for us to do. We’ve said that we are back and this is really proof of it.” I don’t think that, as a brand, and as a marketing department within a company, we can take all the credit for the success of this. I probably was one of the cynics, right at the beginning thought “can we honestly pull this off?” I was being terribly, terribly British. I didn’t moan a lot, but I was quite cynical. And I think that the weather turned around and the sun came out, hopefully on the righteous. We did have an amazing games which gave us an amazing Paralympics games and the press also came with us and turned with that mood of the nation. So I am grateful to all of those things happening and it being perfectly, perfectly timed for us as a brand to be able to get out there. Only a year after saying we are back is good to be able to deliver an amazing Olympic Games. This is the point when the advert plays beautifully and the mash up that we did with Google maps through to the genius of somebody at BBH – thank you.

 

(Film plays)

 

Abigail Comber: That was amazing for us because what that did was it not only extend our reach, but it also hit our bull’s-eye audience of a younger demographic who really engaged in the Olympics. Yesterday I think what day is it today? Yesterday that reached 6,300,000 views on future. 6 million. And the stories and the comments and the engagement that became around we set ourselves a target of 800,000s in case anybody was wondering and a colleague of mine, Richard Bowman – a good man for setting target and smashing them, he’s had to do that nearly every day of the Olympics. So really the campaign was demonstration of our passion – our passion as a British brand and a hope and good will to get behind the team in what could have been an incredibly difficult situation for us to try and sell our product. What we also did though was we integrated this with the local selling teams and we made sure that the campaign lasted for 102 days because we started it in early June and July with “go off to the games” sale and then we finished it off with what was a spectacular “thank you” earlier on in the week, when we flew our plane down the Mall. The plane that delivered the flame to us when certain other people wanted to bring it on a boat and I declined their kind offer, and we brought it on a plane. So we kept that plane and its beautiful gold delivery and we made it happen. So 102 days from the beginning to the end of that. Also one of the things that we did in setting targets and delivering our passion was we continued a little bit of the risk taking. I think when you’ve got your mojo back and you’ve got the confidence and also, for me, particularly, you’ve got the confidence of the leadership team and the board of a company behind you, you start pushing boundaries a little bit and you do things that you would probably not usually do. One of those was painting a field with a picture of Jesse Ennis for anybody who flew into London saying “welcome to my turf” and that really got behind the competitive nature of it, as well as London Calling being soundtrack to the ad. I read every single lyric of that before I decided that it was going to be the one that we did. I just closed my eyes and jumped, but it worked really well for us. The hashtag of home advantage was actually a later addition to the campaign of “don’t fly – support team GB” and that’s borne out of the insight that people who believe they can and talk it up really honestly do better if they have got people surrounding them that actually can do that for them. I truly believe that I was getting behind that has also infiltrated everything within British Airways for us to believe that we can win and us to believe that we can honestly be back after a really turmoil of the last 10 years.

Abigail Comber: I’ve talked a little bit about the passion. I want to talk a little bit about the place. Unknown to a lot of people, at the Olympic Park in any city anywhere in the world up until this date, there haven’t ever been a live site. Now, as British spectators of sport, we do like sites. Henman Hill. It’s what we do and the opportunity for us as a sponsor within the Olympics in Tier 1 is that you get something called a showcase and you can showcase your product. So what on earth where we going to do to make the most of this showcase? The best thing that we have is a flight simulator and that would have been queues and queues and queues and really disappointing the people who couldn’t get to the experience that they wanted to get to in the time they had available. So Locog put this site up, well, they instigated putting this site up and we asked them if we could take every sponsorship spot on that site and build it altogether for a value added deal of us being able to add a lot of things to it. The answer to that was “yes, we could” so we bought every advertising slot on it and then we rolled into that deal, turning it into quite frankly a bloody big logo on the completely logo-free site which was the Olympic Park – for any of you who have been there, you wouldn’t have seen any other logos. And also we had 830 of our colleagues down there who were all volunteers pushing themselves into the crowd and really adding to the customer experience. They had some cream, they had face paints, on the damp days they had union Jack mats that people could sit on and then we saw them flying those proudly in the arenas when they went to take their tickets. There is a Locog estimate of over 750,000 people who came through that site as unique visitors and I know a lot of people who have spoken to me here tonight and said that they actually went to it and that was another great opportunity for us to engage with our people. I walked the lawns on that live site nearly every single day and introduced myself to people who were there and some of them were on their 12th shift. They didn’t get paid for it, we brought them in on a bus and we gave them a pretty rubbish lunch in the canteen that was local to the site. Some of them were aunties and uncles. One guy was the granddad of somebody who worked at BA and they just wanted to be part of it. And they were so proud that a member of their family worked for British Airways, which give them the opportunity to take part. And we managed to be able to reward all those people with tickets to see the games that they came back again, and again, and again, and again. One of the 1 ½ days when it rained, it was absolutely lashing it down and we got everybody in the Hunter wellies with their union Jacks on and they were all out and we said “guys. If you want to go home, that’s fine.” And they were all cowering under trees because there wasn’t an awful lot of shelter. Then the sun came out and they’d got the opportunity to go home and they went “no we’re fine, come on – back out!” And there was that real British spirit about getting out there. And the people who visited this Park sat there come wind, come rain, come day, come night, to see the action. So if there is anything about a legacy, one thing that we hope we can leave behind is the opportunity for other games in the future to be able to do this and increase the customers’ experience who come to the park. For us as a brand that was great. They sat there for hours and hours and hours looking at our logo. Finishing off and talking about our people, as I said we had over 800 of our staff down there as volunteers and they weren’t just our own staff but we also had the opportunity to seconde people into the program. So we filled 24 roles which may not seem a lot in the bigger scheme of things, but one of the things that we did was we delivered 24 people into the department that trained volunteers.

Abigail Comber: Now I’m sure that you will all agree that the volunteers really make these games. They wanted to be there and they were happy, they were positive and they were emotionally engaged in the whole thing. One of the volunteers came over to me, he was working with me, and said “you know, it was an amazing training programme.” I asked her what she did and she was a part-time customer service director on BA and she decided to volunteer as a games maker at the same time. So I didn’t know her and she didn’t know at the time of the conversation that we both worked for BA. And then when we found out I said to her, “do you know why that might have felt really good and really familiar and really right for you? That was because somebody from British Airways training programme went and wrote that program.” So everybody had real pride in how they wore their uniform. They had real pride in what they did, they found solutions, they looked the part, and they treated every park visitor as an individual. One of the things that we weren’t able to do, because our pockets aren’t deep enough, was actually pay for the right to say that we owned the volunteers. That was McDonald’s and McDonald’s did a great job of it and should take every credit for all those people that were there. But there was one thing that we can infiltrate our organisation with and that is the knowledge that all of those people were trained by somebody from British Airways, who wrote that training programme for them. And that means an awful lot to us. Just in terms of numbers, you can read these behind me and I think that my reflection on how people feel about being part of BA, being proud of it, and understanding that our role to play there is really a reflection of just about 14 months ago, we finally came out of a position where we had been on strike twice and had the ash cloud all in one year. The graphs that year are like that – we were either not flying because of one reason or another. And in only a year’s point after that, you get these kind of numbers about people feeling really proud to work at British Airways, really incredibly engaged in the company and really feeling like we do have are mojo back and the “fly to serve” is the honest banner that we stand behind. So are people had a lot of fun, an awful lot of fun.

Abigail Comber: What I would just like to leave you with is a reflection of my time at the games and also if the video works – I really hope it does, because I love it – a great reflection of how our people felt about being involved with that. Lots of people said to me “what was your best moments?” And I’m very biased about our involvement and I’m incredibly peroquial about the fact that British Airways was part of it.  So I still to this day say that one of my proudest moments was handing the flame, the Royal Naval air Station at_in Cornwall. And I think when myself, Louisa – who is might sponsorship manager – and the chairman’s wife were all stood on the Mall in floods of tears, hugging each other on Monday that will be a moment that I will never forget. We put some boards together that a lot of you will have seen being held up in the newspapers and my board said, “I’ve never felt so proud to be British. #Home advantage,” and I was walking down the Mall and I was surrounded by thousands of sitting volunteers and games makers and somebody spotted the board and they shouted from the crowd “Hold the board up!” And I was at the very back of the crowd so I was very much stayed on my own and I held my board up high and this massive cheer went up and all the cameras came out, and I’m probably on thousands people’s status update looking a bit of a wreck because I’d already had all the blubbing and the red eyes and I was wearing flat shoes and it was awful. But other than all of those things, I have never, ever felt so proud to be British. 34,000 of our colleagues have never felt so proud to be British. And when you hear the amazing results about the nation never feeling so proud to be British I am never so proud to work for a great British brand who has British in its title, and carries the flag on its tail every single day. And I can’t believe I’ve got to the end of the presentation about it without crying so it must be over. So I really hope this video works and this just encapsulates really how I feel about being part of an amazing, amazing event. Thank you very much.

Victoria Sinclair