Eddie May, Threepipe: Why sponsor the Olympics?

On the face of it, there is little sense in becoming a sponsor of the Games - but PR can help.

After handing over tens of millions of precious marketing pounds, what do sponsors of the Olympics get in return? Well, not very much. No arena branding, no athlete branding and no direct access to the talent. This lack of overt commercialism sets the Olympics apart from other events, but at the same time presents a huge challenge for sponsors.

Crucially, what you do get is access to those five little rings - one of the most powerful and recognised logos on the planet - and the right to officially link your brand to an event that unites the world and engages all sections of society like no other. Where else will you find more than 200 nations from all corners of the world competing in 26 completely different sports? Where else will you find the finest specimens of humanity that ever existed performing incredible feats of athleticism and skill? That's a pretty attractive wagon for any organisation to hitch itself to.

But once the ink has dried on the deal and the CEO has proudly shaken hands with Lord Coe, what next? The brand-free nature of the Olympics as an event makes PR an even more critical part of the sponsorship mix than it usually is when it comes to connecting with consumers. Numerous studies have shown awareness of official sponsors can be painfully low, with non-sponsors by necessity taking a more creative, imaginative approach and having more success in engaging with their audiences as a result.

For Olympic sponsors, advertising can solve that awareness issue in the short term but, set against the rest of the Olympic 'family' - and a vast array of non-sponsors - using similar imagery and pushing similar messages, there's a serious danger of that big ad campaign becoming extremely expensive wallpaper.

For me, any major sponsorship deal needs a long-term approach to make it genuinely successful. It also needs to be rooted in something meaningful and true to the values of the brand and the sponsorship property, going well beyond the simple challenge of associating a brand with the glitz and glamour of the event itself.

Over the past few years, sport sponsorship has become entwined with corporate responsibility and social marketing programmes as brands realise they need to go much deeper than surface-level brand building. Sport is the perfect vehicle to connect with consumers and other stakeholders at all levels - from the park to the podium. This is especially true of the Olympics and 'legacy' has been the buzz word of 2012 right from the start. From regeneration projects such as the new Westfield Stratford City to the creation of new community sports facilities, 2012 will leave a lasting legacy, and this is where intelligent sponsors must focus their PR strategies.

As Lloyds TSB has done through the 'Local Heroes' campaign, it's about playing to your strengths and carving out a campaign that differentiates your brand and allows you to tell a story that works at many levels, from the local paper to the national news. Grassroots initiatives such as these also create consistent and compelling content - for traditional media and for social media and internal comms - helping to inspire and excite consumers and staff without relying on Olympic athletes doing endless interviews.

By creating an 'ownable' long-term initiative that's based on grassroots and community, brands such as Lloyds TSB are also able to start activating their sponsorship well before the Games begin, continue it long after they've finished and avoid being dependent on the success of any individual athletes next summer.

VIEWS IN BRIEF

What is the key to great sponsorship activation?

Sponsor a property with natural synergy with your brand. Create initiatives that demonstrate commitment to the sport. Be creative in their execution.

What style of comms will most successfully link a brand to London 2012?

Legacy. How is this brand helping to make 2012 a success? How is it supporting our young athletes? How is it going to continue doing that?

Which Olympic sport most closely resembles your business philosophy?

Greco-Roman wrestling. It may look like two blokes in spandex rolling around the floor, but it's a highly technical and strategic discipline.

Eddie May is co-founder at Threepipe.

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