NEWS ANALYSIS: Lessons to learn from sponsoring the Dome - The Dome could have a direct affect on the corporate sponsorship market as blue chip companies are more likely to demand benefits from a deal

Corporate sponsorship is all about getting your company’s name in the headlines. But research into the coverage of sponsorship at the Millennium Dome shows that the investment can backfire.

Corporate sponsorship is all about getting your company’s name in

the headlines. But research into the coverage of sponsorship at the

Millennium Dome shows that the investment can backfire.



According to a report carried out by Echo Research for the BBC’s Money

Programme, Dome sponsors have received negative press coverage which,

using AVEs, the company gave a negative value of pounds 2 million, with

positive coverage valued at only pounds 600,000.



The 27 sponsors, which include some of the biggest names in British

business, have pledged to contribute pounds 150 million of the pounds

758 million cost of the Dome and they are not all entirely happy. This

pounds 150 million is equivalent to 25 per cent of the money that the

commercial sector has invested in sponsorship in the past year.



Sponsorship consultant Bill Kallaway points out that many sponsors had

Government pressure put on them to get involved - something that would

never happen in normal market conditions.



’There was always this conservative view that we should have this

national emblem and the Government then went out and made contact with

blue chip companies, at a very senior level, saying they had to support

it,’ says Kallaway.



Sally Hancock, who runs the sponsorship consultancy Red Mandarin, says

she is surprised as to why companies such as Marconi, GEC and British

Aerospace had become involved without seeing any direct benefits.



’Their market has nothing to do with the consumer market and the members

of the public visiting the Dome. I think there was a lot of political

pressure put on them, probably at ministerial and company chairman

level,’ she says.



Unfortunately the reality of the Dome, as opposed to the sales pitches,

seems to have fallen short of sponsors’ expectations and as of today

contracts worth pounds 30 million, or 20 per cent of the sponsorship

cash, have not been signed.



But according to Colin Tweedy, the chief executive of corporate

sponsorship specialists Arts and Business: ’All the sponsors have

Government contacts and as long as they keep in with them they are

happy. The word ’sponsorship’ in this context is a misnomer. There was a

wider agenda here than just marketing.’



In fact, it is not all doom and gloom as some sponsors feel that they

have already seen benefits from their investment. BT put pounds 12

million into the Talk Zone and has been very happy with the feedback

received so far.



Spokesman Richard Dunnett says: ’Media coverage has been disappointing,

but the real test is the response from people who have been there.’



He also added that there was no proof to suggest that sponsors of an

event, which was perceived to be unsuccessful, were necessarily harmed

themselves. A fact supported by Echo’s research which shows that while

the coverage of the Dome might have been overwhelmingly bad, 83 per cent

of coverage specific to sponsors was neutral, as would be expected. The

damage by association is, of course, harder to measure.



In terms of future corporate sponsorship, BT will consider every project

on its own merits and the Dome has certainly not left it with a bad

taste in its mouth, says Dunnett.



Another pounds 12 million player is Boots the Chemist, which backed the

Body Zone - one of the highest profile themes in the Dome. Group media

relations manager, Francis Thomas, accepts that the project’s PR got off

to a shaky start, but believes this has damaged the management company,

the New Millennium Experience Company, rather than the sponsors.



’The sponsors and the vehicle are quite different and the public are

sophisticated enough to realise that. The real focus from our point of

view has to be the response of the public, not the press.’



Sandra Macleod, chief executive at Echo Research, says that while some

companies might be regretting their involvement in the Dome, the

experience is unlikely to damage the corporate sponsorship market in the

long run.



’The Dome will work for some sponsors. There is a lesson being learned.

I think all of this will make sponsors more cautious and more determined

to set the parameters of what they are getting out of a deal.’



All of the companies involved in the Dome say that they had not been put

off investing substantial sums of money in future projects - if those

projects were thought to offer excellent exposure. However, the scheme

is the largest in the United Kingdom, one of the most unique in the

world and above all, there are few, if any, similar developments that

companies can use by way of a comparison. It is a ’vertical learning

curve,’ and inevitably some of the players involved had little idea what

to expect.



Jim Latham, a director of 141 Worldwide Sponsorship, says that

investment in this field will always be on a project basis and that the

Dome was experiencing ’teething problems,’ because of its sheer size and

complexity.



’What may happen in the future if this property does not exist on the

market place, is that companies may consider the possibility of

creating, owning and executing their own bespoke events,’ he says. He

added that a recent MORI poll carried out on 1,000 visitors to the Dome

had showed that 75 per cent of them would recommend it to their friends.

Clearly there is great scope for extravagant, themed and high capacity

events that are held with corporate backing.



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