Golden Games: The story behind Royal Mail's gold medal stamps and painted postboxes

Royal Mail's Gold Medal Winner stamps
Royal Mail's Gold Medal Winner stamps

Turning a 24-month production process into an 11-hour turnaround is no mean feat. Nicola Clark talks to Tim Cowen about how Royal Mail achieved marketing gold.

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'We’ve won the Olympics; we’re going to be on a stamp,’ said Team GB rower Katherine Copeland to her partner Sophie Hosking. It was an unaffected moment of pure joy. And it was marketing gold for Royal Mail, who has captured the mood of jubilation across the nation with its gold medallist stamps and golden postbox tributes to the nation’s greatest athletes.

‘Endorsement from the Prime Minister and the BBC’s Gary Lineker for the same campaign doesn’t happen every day in PR,’ jokes Tim Cowen, director of business and consumer media relations at Royal Mail and the man spearheading the Royal Mail’s Olympic stamp campaign.

For Cowen it has been 17 long days stretching into the early hours of the morning. ‘Previously we had a 24-month turnaround with a new set of stamps and we are already working on designs for 2014. With the Olympics the fastest turnaround we did was just 11 hours.’

When Welsh taekwondo gold winner Jade Jones picked up her medal, within an hour a press release with her stamp was sent to all the major news outlets. The stamp hit the shelves just 11 hours later.

‘It has been phenomenally busy, we are running on adrenaline, we have been in the office at 2am when most journalists have already knocked off,’ adds Cowen. With the majority of the campaign run in house, with support from, digital agency Blonde,  Eulogy and their online division Onlinefire, the Olympics has taught Royal Mail about the benefits of moving fast and investing in social media.

‘We have really upped our game on social media with @RoyalMailNews, as well as launching new apps on our Facebook page,’ says Cowen.

Golden moments

The decision to paint postboxes gold in the hometowns of Team GB’s gold-winning athletes was made at the last minute and sparked a flurry of complaints that the postboxes were in the wrong place. A measure of the success of the campaign was the fact that everyone wanted to take ownership of the postboxes, a local reminder of Britain’s sporting success.

The gold postboxes became a focal point for local celebrations, and, Cowen says, revealing Equestrian gold medallist Ben Maher’s box turned into a spontaneous street party. ‘It’s such a simple idea but it really captured the mood of the nation,’ says Cowen.

But for Cowen, the crowning moment of the Games was watching cycling legend Bradley Wiggins’ face light up as Gary Lineker handed him his stamp live on air on the BBC.

With the Paralympic Games around the corner, no respite is on the cards for Cowen. The phenomenal success of the Paralympic team (in Beijing ParalympicsGB won 42 gold medals over 10 days of competing, including nine in one day) means that Royal Mail cannot produce individual stamps. However, a series of six stamps will feature all Paralympic winners, while a £200,000 prize fund will be distributed among all winners.

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