Sponsorship: A thousand reasons for PR to celebrate - The whole world is preparing to celebrate for the year 2000 like no celebration before. So can big business afford to miss out on the PR opportunities on offer? Not in a thousand years!

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.

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

spiritual resonance.



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

involvement?



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

initiatives.



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

so.



’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

Millennium.



’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

short.’



’What’s holding people back is that they are not quite sure what they

are celebrating. Is it Christian? Is it about bringing people

together?



Or will all the machines shut down so that it turns into a Stone Age

celebration?’



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.



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