With more than 1,500 customers affected by the Olympic Route Network, Menzies Distribution faced a tough job getting newspapers delivered across London during the Games before the 6am curfew.
During the past fortnight no one could have escaped Olympics fever as our national newspapers avidly reported every medal win, every Team GB commiseration, and everything in between.
For sports journalists and editors on the national newspapers, the London 2012 Games would have been a pinnacle of their careers. They would have ensured their coverage was the best and that they had the latest, ground-breaking news from the Olympics every night as they went to press for the next day’s edition. They would have pushed for the latest print deadlines possible. However, the restrictions imposed by the Olympic Route Network (ORN) dashed any plans for extended deadlines.
With more than 2,300 newspaper and magazine customers in London, Menzies Distribution set up a dedicated Games Team in January 2011 to begin planning for the disruption to deliveries that London 2012 would cause.
The team consisted of seven members of staff who worked together to assess the possible effect of the Games and make contingency plans. The team worked closely with representatives from the Press Distribution Forum, TfL and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog).
“In the early days there wasn’t much information,” says Grant Keogh, DC manager for south-east London. He says the biggest challenge was trying to understand the planned road closures and traffic restrictions. “There was a lot of information on TfL’s website but it wasn’t always easy to find, and the local area maps around venues weren’t all published by Locog until March [they had been promised by the end of last year],” explains Keogh.
“We met the Metropolitan Police to get its verdict on things and went to a lot of meetings with TfL, so gradually the information started to come in and we could piece it all together.”
Grant Keogh, right, and his team plan alternative routes and delivery times in Menzies' Olympic war room
Using the ORN maps and other information from TfL, Keogh and his team created a Games planning room at Menzies’ Bow depot.
“We called it our war room. We put up a giant map of the areas we cover from our Bow and Greenwich depots and I set about plotting the ORN onto the maps. I then plotted all our runs onto the map and cross-checked the ORN post codes with our customer accounts. This gave us a visual overview of every run that was affected by the ORN.”
Keogh admits he was surprised by the scale of the impact. About two-thirds of Menzies 2,300 London customers were potentially facing disruption to deliveries either because their stores were on or near the ORN, or because their delivery vehicle was visiting another store which was. Armed with this information, Menzies faced the job of convincing publishers to go to press earlier than normal to enable deliveries to be made before the ORN came into force at 6am each day of the Games.
“We held three customer briefing sessions for publishers and when we went through it on the maps and showed them the scale of the disruption, they started to realise how much deliveries could be affected,” says Keogh.
“Everybody knew the Olympics was coming and knew it was going to cause disruption, but it wasn’t until they looked at it in our war room, that the penny dropped.”
With Menzies Bow depot just a stone’s throw from the Olympic Park, and its main site at Greenwich close to the O2, the venue for the gymnastics and basketball, it was imperative publishers agreed to earlier deadlines. Menzies negotiated a 90-minute earlier drop-off time with publishers, meaning that Menzies’ drivers could leave the depots earlier than usual.
“We usually have a cut-off time of 4am for publishers; during the Olympics this was brought forward to 2.30am,” says Keogh. “We normally have set departure times for all our vehicles so we can get to customers by their agreed delivery time. For the Olympics period, we calculated 52 runs would be affected by the ORN, so we rejigged all our runs to ensure we got those out first to give them a chance to make their drops and get back before 6am.”
Menzies handles 38 runs out of its Bow depot every night and 104 runs from its Greenwich depot. “Our drivers take the papers to retailers. On a normal day, vehicles leave Greenwich or Bow about 4.10am and are back anywhere between 7am or 8am.”
Four days before the end of the Games (when this interview took place), Keogh reported a 100% success rate with deliveries. “Even right up until the start of the Olympics we didn’t know what was going to happen to traffic in London until it all kicked off. We didn’t know if 2am was going to be like it normally is at 6am; nobody could tell,” says Keogh. “Thankfully, the planning that we’ve done seems to have come together and is working.”
Menzies started the earlier deliveries on the day the ORN went live, 25 July. “It’s worked perfectly. We’ve not failed to deliver to any customers up to now. The publishers and customers are delighted. But if the publishers didn’t play ball with us, there’s no way we could have done it.”
Asked if there were any problems, Keogh refers to two minor hiccups. The first was with a delivery by one of Menzies’ third-party contractors to a convenience store at the O2. “It was down to the customer to organise passes for all deliveries, so we sent the drivers’ details for identification and he got the Olympic passes. On the first day of delivery, our driver was stopped by soldiers at security and told that he couldn’t get in. He showed his pass but they said he needed not only a pass for himself but also the vehicle and its contents. We didn’t know this. Luckily our branch is so close to the O2 that the customer came to our branch and picked up the papers on the first day.
“We then got the necessary passes for day two and the driver was allowed through but was told that the next time he came he wasn’t allowed to have anyone else’s supplies in the vehicle. We complied, and then on the third day our contractor was told he should be in a Menzies-liveried vehicle. So by day four we had the vehicle pass, the goods just for that store, and a Menzies vehicle.
“These things happen and it’s how we react to them,” says Keogh.
The other minor hiccup was on the first Saturday of the Games, when a Menzies vehicle was stopped from delivering to the WH Smith store at North Greenwich station because it didn’t have a pass.
“It’s not an Olympic venue and we’d been going there all week since the ORN was in place,” says Keogh. He thinks it was the station’s close proximity to an Olympic venue, the O2, that caused the security to suddenly be stepped up. “As it’s so close to our depot I went there myself and spoke to the soldiers on security and got it sorted out.”
The cycle road race during the first weekend of the Games added to Menzies’ tight delivery window. “All the roads that were forming part of the road race were being closed at 4am on the Saturday and Sunday and we had a few vehicles that delivered near the start of the race. We had to ensure those runs were out the door first that night. It was a bit concerning and we had a contingency in place: we could have parked the vehicles in side streets and put the supplies onto barrels and barrelled them to the stores. Thankfully, we managed to deliver to every shop without incident and all our drivers were back by 4am.”
Throughout the Games, Menzies Distribution employed extra security guards at its London depots and issued all drivers with photo identity cards and a security pack, which included a 24-hour hotline number that staff could ring if they had any issues, and which police or security services could call to verify a driver’s identity. Keogh tells MT this is something Menzies will keep in place. “The drivers’ security pack includes a copy of documents such as insurance and MoT certificates that will speed things up if drivers are stopped by Vosa or the police.
“We will review everything we’ve done and see if we can keep some things in place. We will look at the routes and there may be some gains there.
“I’d love to say we’d keep the 2.30am deadlines but I don’t think the publishers would agree to it,” he laughs. Knowing the way publishing works, MT can’t see the newspapers agreeing to this either.