There are now under 500 days left until the birth of the new
Millennium and its arrival may herald the biggest party in our lifetime
The change of millennia is seen as a chance for corporations to make
their mark by supporting initiatives that will benefit the community.
The zeitgeist has it that while it’s okay to celebrate, it’s even better
to do something for the greater good.
The New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC), best known for the
controversial Dome under construction in Greenwich, is shortly to invite
pitches from PR agencies for a brief to publicise the Millennium-related
activities it is supporting in the regions.
This comes hot on the heels of the appointment of social marketing
agency Good Business whose role it is to secure commercial sponsorship
for what is known as the Millennium Festival. The Festival is a major
element of NMEC’s activities and involves dozens of projects at a local
level,funded to the tune of pounds 100 million.
’The Millennium is the greatest social marketing opportunity we have
ever seen,’ says Good Business partner Steve Hilton.
’Research shows people don’t just want a long party. This is being seen
as an opportunity by corporations to be part of a force for good,’ says
NMEC communications director Deborah Oliver.
The PR task for those in-house teams and agencies involved will be to
steer a subtle course that ensures corporate sponsors gain recognition
for their financial support without creating the perception that they
are cashing in on something which for many members of the public has a
Spence Allan Associates and Morrow Communications have already been
retained to handle PR in Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively, and
an appointment is also to be made in Wales. NMEC head of regional media
Terence Gibbons is still finalising the tendering process and his
communications budget, but insists that pitches for the PR accounts to
cover nine English regions will take place soon. A decision will have to
be made sooner rather than later as the announcement on which projects
will receive Festival funding is to be made in December and PR plans
will have to be drawn up in advance.
Companies with a strong regional presence are expected to support events
in their area. But what will the national sponsors get out of their
Five companies - BT, BSkyB, Tesco, Marks and Spencer and Manpower - have
paid pounds 12 million each for the right to be founding sponsors. This
secures them a branded presence in the Dome, but what has often been
overlooked by the media, as it has revelled in stories about ’Dome
Secretary’ Peter Mandelson, is that these sponsorships go much further
than Greenwich in what is known as the ’Challenge’.
BT and BSkyB have yet to announce their Challenge plans. But M&S is
launching the Children’s Promise programme with the objective of
persuading everyone to donate their last hour’s salary of the old
Millennium to children’s charities. Tesco is backing an initiative to
increase internet access for schools and Manpower is running a work
skills competition which will hold its awards ceremony at the Dome.
But there may be dangers in becoming involved in Millennium
If a large number of corporations do decide to mark the Millennium in
some way, will it prove difficult for them to stand out?
Intel corporate communications manager Europe, Gail Hall believes
’There’s so much going on in all the European countries that there’s a
danger you could get lost in it all,’ she says.
On the other hand, certain companies believe the Millennium is the ideal
turning point to differentiate their services and brands. ’For us as a
leading employment services company in the UK and the world it’s a way
to show people what the future of work will be like,’ says Manpower PR
manager Stuart Neill.
BSkyB director of corporate affairs Andrea Sullivan says it is using its
sponsorship to position itself as the ’leading architect of television
in the next Millennium.’
Other companies are marking the Millennium in different ways. Glaxo
Wellcome is donating pounds 250,000 to the Millennium Seedbank created
by the Royal Botanical Gardens to preserve plants, while Cambridge-based
Focus Group has teamed up with artist Michael Condron to offer
corporations a one-stop-shop for creating art to mark the
’A lot of the corporations we’ve spoken to are going to do something but
they haven’t finalised budgets or working groups yet,’ says Focus
director of marketing Gerry O’Keeffe. ’But I think by the beginning of
September they are going to start realising that time is running
’What’s holding people back is that they are not quite sure what they
are celebrating. Is it Christian? Is it about bringing people
Or will all the machines shut down so that it turns into a Stone Age
NMEC’s Oliver concedes: ’We don’t have the monopoly on the Millennium.’
She adds that while she would prefer to see corporations working with
NMEC she does not believe that those intending to mark the Millennium in
their own way will suffer.