Britain Finds Novel Ways to Bond with Global Audience

London’s 2012 Olympic Games may have inspired love at first sight among the viewing public and attendees, but from a marketing communications standpoint it’s been a long, drawn-out courtship.

“We’ve been preparing for the Olympics since 2005. To inspire visitation, our strategy has been to socialize the travel experience and centralize content to support marketing and PR,” says Karen Clarkson, VP North America for VisitBritain. She spoke at the Association for Travel Marketing Executives’ Marketing Issues Forum on Thursday in New York, discussing her company’s Olympics efforts and plans for the next James Bond movie, Skyfall.

Britain has enjoyed extended time in the public spotlight this year, from the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebration in June to the Olympic Games in July, the Paralympics in August and London’s Fashion Week in September. As Clarkson noted, “It’s been an opportunity to influence information about London and beyond, and not limited to sports related content. For the Olympics, we established digital content partnerships with NBC, Yahoo, The Travel Channel, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Travel & Leisure magazine.” She said that these partnerships helped the company generated $600 million worth of earned media impressions.

While partnership marketing plays a key role in VisitBritain’s operations, “social is at the heart of everything we do,” Clarkson explained. She described a unique pre-Olympics project in which Britain worked with the U.S. Olympic Committee to “engage athletes and have them experience Britain firsthand before the Games.” They selected and sent seven American Olympics athletes to Britain in the fall of 2011 “to showcase the destination from a U.S. perspective and to appeal to a younger demographic.” The athletes generated visual content as they interacted with their fan bases on Facebook and Twitter.

“Facebook is a key daily engagement tool for us, and our ‘Love UK’ page on Facebook is now among the top ten UK brands on this measure,” Clarkson said. Americans now comprise a sizable proportion of Britain’s 800,000+ Facebook fans. The love doesn’t stop there–Britain recently launched the LoveWall, an API that links to other key travel information sources such as Google maps. “We used this tool to get people excited as the Olympic torch toured Britain,” Clarkson said. (artist Dale Chihuly’s Torchlight Chandelier, right)

Celebrities have also contributed greatly to Britain’s lure. The Visit channel features special interest films and endorsements from celebrities like Dame Judi Dench and chef Jamie Oliver. And then, of course, there’s James Bond, whose latest film will also commemorate the character’s 50th anniversary.

According to Clarkson, VisitBritain will partner with Sony Pictures to create a Skyfall hub designed to consolidate the movie’s social media presence and highlight various Bond movie locations around Britain. It’s hard to imagine topping the Queen’s Bond-like aerial entrance at the Olympics’ opening ceremony, so stay tuned for “Global James Bond Day” on October 5.