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Dinner in London with Lord Seb Coe

By Fran Brosan, Chairman

The Marketing Society is good at lots of things, and getting the very best speakers is one of them. Last night’s Annual Lecture featured Lord Coe (#lordsebcoe). Charming, fluent, funny with one of the best stories in the world to tell – the London 2012 Olympics.

He was flattering to the assembled Marketing Throng – paying tribute to sponsors and those who gave their time for free to advise them, as well as to his ‘incredible’ Head of Communications, Jackie Brock-Doyle OBE. He shrugged off criticism about the logo – ‘it’s a logo, not reinventing humankind’ but managed it so charmingly that everyone in the room laughed. Charm seems to sum up the former Sebastian Coe. So much so that you wonder how on earth he has achieved so much.

I was lucky enough to sit alongside him at the ensuing dinner and underneath the charm there is a fiercely competitive chap (by his own admission). We talked about nature vs nurture in sporting achievement and although he admitted that getting the right genes played a part he’s also a fan of the 10,000 hours theory – that if you are prepared to put in the effort that is ultimately what makes the difference between success and failure. ‘I just tried harder than the others’ he said. Ah, that explains a lot (4 Olympic medals including 2 Golds, 8 outdoor and 3 indoor world records, being an MP, running the greatest show on earth, Lifetime Achievement Award from the BBC Sports Personality of the Year etc etc).

He also paid tribute to his father’s input as coach, although admitting he could be somewhat taciturn at times. His advice in the final moments before an Olympic final? ‘Run fast, turn left.’ the advice of Lord Seb Coe’s father and coach.

In between the anecdotes (real life 2012 was much funnier than the TV satire apparently) and the obvious scars they all still bear about the July 7th bombing he said much that made sense in the context of running a business too.

First, the importance of knowing not just what you are doing, but why are you doing this. He admitted that getting the ‘why’ right for London 2012 took a long time and they had to dig deep – but once they’d agreed it guided their every step.

Second, the importance of customer service. They put athletes at the heart of every decision, believing that if they could get it right for them they’d be true to their mission.

And he believes that the redefined people’s expectations of customer service in the UK. We can be good at it – it just takes, as he said ‘granularity’. Look at every detail of the customer experience, what the standards should be, and how to exceed them.

Inclusivity was the third point I took out of it. The vision is all very well, but not if only a few people understand or experience it in the flesh. What worked so well about the London Olympics was that everyone who was involved in delivering it understood it and everyone who was exposed reaped the benefits. I don’t know a single person who attended, watched or listened to the Olympics who wasn’t struck by the feeling that it was for us all – sporting or not. The same applies to business of course – you can have the best vision on the planet but if your people don’t understand it and your customers don’t experience it has about the same value as a paperclip.

Whether the longer term legacies they are aiming for (sport for all, the removal of barriers to disability whether physical or social) can be achieved is a question to be answered over time, but in the meantime it was good to be reminded of what we are capable of as a nation.

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