The United Kingdom sees the London 2012 Olympics as a chance to reassert the country as a friendly destination for business, but that’s old news for an international law firm based in Atlanta.
McKenna, Long & Aldridge LLP is using the world’s largest sporting event to highlight what it’s already doing in the country.
Among other projects, the firm has worked with large retailers and is helping a consortium of designers and investors search a site in Atlanta on which to build a sightseeing wheel modeled after the famous London Eye.
Mark Burkhalter, a former speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives and head of the firm’s British public-affairs practice, splits time between Atlanta and London. GlobalAtlanta spoke with him by email from the U.K. to get a feel for the Olympic atmosphere and how the firm is using the marketing platform provided by the Games.
GlobalAtlanta: Give us a feel for London in the run-up to hosting the world’s largest sporting event. How does it compare to Atlanta in 1996?
Mr. Burkhalter: The atmosphere is simply electric. Winning the bid to win the Games and the eve of the opening ceremonies are probably the two most anticipated moments of being a host city to the world’s single greatest international event.
Atlanta was no different. The public sentiment and expectations leading up to the games are one thing, but when you see millions of people arrive from every corner the world to your home city (almost at once) it’s hard to not believe you’ve done something very special by becoming a host city.
GlobalAtlanta: How are you and the firm using the Olympics as marketing opportunity?
The Olympics are no doubt a great opportunity to entertain and network with clients who attend the Games. This gives us chance to demonstrate that we clearly are an international law firm and we have the connections which can help them start or grow their business abroad. For me, I’ve also been waiting for over two years to get all of our clients that I service in the U.K. together so they can meet each and network amongst themselves.
GlobalAtlanta: Tell us about McKenna Long & Aldridge’s British practice. What kinds of work have you done, and which business sectors are the most promising for collaboration between the United Kingdom and Atlanta?
McKenna has a long history of handling big international business- and government-related transactions. Specifically in the U.K., the firm has done work for some of the largest businesses like Tesco (large grocery/retail store) andBalfour Beatty, a large construction firm which did a lot of work around the Olympic games.
Since I have been assigned to lead our efforts in the U.K. we’ve expanded into representing retail development companies, the financial sector, public affairs, government affairs and regulatory work for a number of U.S. firms who do business in the U.K.
Also, our representation is not just West to East but has started to grow East to West. In addition, I’ve really seen a growth in American (and Georgia universities) seeking to grow their study abroad and student exchange programs with U.K. universities. I do believe this is a direct product of actually having a real presence in London.
GlobalAtlanta: Now that London and Atlanta share the bond of hosting recent Olympics, do you believe business ties between the cities will be enhanced? Has Atlanta’s profile been raised in London as a result of city-to-city collaborations in the run-up to the Games?
In all the coverage of the Games here in London, the conversations always seem to gravitate back to previous Games, host cities and their performance. To have Atlanta be the only recent example of a U.S. city brought into these conversations should make us all proud. The British have been very keen on the cost of the Olympics to the public and try to evaluate what the legacy of the games will be. Strangely enough, while some take the position that Atlanta “commercialized” the games, the British talk of Atlanta with envy and hope they can turn a profit and utilize as many Olympic venues in the future as Atlanta has done.
Also, when you have Atlanta-headquartered Coca-Cola with the longest partnership history with the Olympic Games since 1928, plus UPS as an official sponsor, along with the outstanding marketing job that Delta has done to bring further bring U.K. connectivity to Atlanta, we have a strong infrastructure to grow business and tourism.
GlobalAtlanta: What do American economic development officials fail to understand about the way business is done in the U.K. and what do British companies fail to understand about about the way business is done in the U.S.?
I believe doing business in the U.K. is very straightforward and economic development officials in the U.S. understand this. However, many have been enamored with the vogue idea of the emerging markets around the world. While these markets have much potential and deserve exploring, some of these countries have risks in this rapidly changing world. The U.K. remains our most dependable and politically stable ally. With no language barrier, it’s a great entry point for breaking into an international market, be it the EU or elsewhere.
British companies understand and have a substantial history investing in the U.S. and Georgia. Keep in mind, U.K./EU owned businesses employ more Georgians than investments from other regions of the world. It’s a competitive world and we must market ourselves. We have so much to offer compared to other states; we just need to be more strategic in telling our story.
What’s your verdict on how organizers have handled preparations for London Olympics?
The organizing officials of these Games have done a great job in my estimation. The British media is notoriously cynical and much of their reporting has been unfair. The Olympics is probably the single largest international event to execute and my guess is that every host has hit unexpected speed bumps.Now that the games have commenced, everyone is starting to appreciate the planning, the venues and mostly the competitive spirit of these amazing athletes.
Mark Burkhalter is a senior strategic advisor and independent consultant in the National Government Affairs practice of McKenna Long & Aldridge. He also leads the firm’s public affairs and economic development initiatives in the United Kingdom.
Mr. Burkhalter spent 18 years in the Georgia General Assembly, where he served as speaker of the State House of Representatives and speaker pro tem before leaving the Legislature in 2009.
The firm has 18 offices across the U.S. and around the world, including one in Brussels and another in the works in Seoul, South Korea.