By Jeremy Griffith, Commtractor and Founder of Griffith Advisory
A few months ago, an email popped up in my inbox regarding a contract as a Media Lead for the upcoming Commonwealth Games. The idea of being on the Gold Coast and working on the Games was really appealing. After a quick application process, I was stoked to have got the job.
As background, the just completed Games was the biggest sporting event in Australia in over a decade. From a media point of view, with 71 nations, 6,600 athletes, a highly expectant nation, and a bucket load of international journalists, it was always going to get busy.
A team of us arrived two weeks prior to the start of the Games to get trained. We visited venues, got briefed, did scenario planning, met key people, and shadowed the ‘A’ team. It cannot be underestimated how extraordinarily complex running a major international event is.
My role was to work in the Central Operations room (aka the War Room) on the communications desk. All major issues came through this room and it was staffed with key people from all the core functions – transport, police, security, venues, all levels of govt, Home Affairs, even the Bureau of Meteorology (who were surprisingly accurate) and lots more. We were linked with close circuit TVs, key issue monitors, and TVs in every corner – think of the Houston mission control for the space launch.
Outside of the ops room were a myriad of other offices – ticketing, medical, marketing etc.., which we could access around the clock. We even had a snake catcher on call.
As issues were funnelled through, we would assess them, verify the facts (no fake news for us) and develop responses. We had strict response timelines, with detailed communication and reputational issues then managed by a separate centralised communications room.
Having the right people in the right place was extremely powerful. Facts could be checked, and decisions aligned in a very short period of time. (Many large corporates could take a look at this system as opposed to hiding people away in siloed business units.)
The key mantra was ‘know your role, trust the process and the people beside you’. Given it was a hive of activity, there was a constant source of visitors, including numerous Ministers and even Prince Edward (who I happily ribbed about the medal count and the English team possibly wanting to seek asylum).
One on my early roles was to help with the daily media briefings in the main press centre. Each day at 10.30am a press conference was held, where the key issues were discussed (drug cheats, asylum seekers, transport woes, protests, closing ceremony gaffes etc..). These were always entertaining and Mark Peters, the CEO of the Comm Games Organising Committee, deserves a Knighthood, or at least a very large beer. I also got the short straw of working two-night shifts on the ‘international desk’ (aka the grave-yard).
One of the great take-outs was the goodwill of everybody there. Having a room full of people who are committed to the success of the Games really drives good outcomes – things simply got done. A shout out to Lara McKay and Marcus Taylor and their teams. At such big events the sh_t is always going to hit the fan, and it was corporate affairs (as always) who were front and centre and rode the roller coaster. These guys did a phenomenal job.
Overall, I describe my month as an intensive short-course MBA in corporate affairs, surrounded by great people at an outstanding event. (And yes, I even got to keep the uniform.)
Article is written by Jeremy Griffith, one of our Commtract community experts with 25 years experience in media, government & stakeholder engagement.