FOCUS: MILLENNIUM SPONSORSHIP - Look to the future, it’s only just begun/The world’s biggest party, may be over, but its sponsors expect to reap their rewards for some time. Susannah Strong reports

The New Year’s Eve festivities may be a fuzzy, champagne-tinged memory, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s all over. You can be sure the sponsors of all the Millennium experiences didn’t hand out more than pounds 160 million just to get their logos glimpsed during coverage of the new year bash at the Dome.

The New Year’s Eve festivities may be a fuzzy, champagne-tinged

memory, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s all over. You can be sure

the sponsors of all the Millennium experiences didn’t hand out more than

pounds 160 million just to get their logos glimpsed during coverage of

the new year bash at the Dome.

As the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC), which created, produced

and runs the Dome, national programmes and the millennium festival,

stated optimistically in its Take Part in the Millennium Experience

brochure: ’The millennium is not just a moment of Greenwich Mean Time,

it’s a state of mind, a unique opportunity for us all to see things


But a cynical media found it easy enough to criticise what would

constitute ’the millennium experience’.

The Dome itself took most knocks. There was a general media outcry at

the politics surrounding it and the money being poured into what was

seen as a very big tent in a grotty part of south-east London, and

intense frustration at the mystery shrouding what was going to be inside


Although a handful of sponsors signed up to contribute to the cost of

the Dome back in 1998, NMEC had its work cut out to meet its pounds 150

million sponsorship target.

Deborah Oliver, NMEC’s director of corporate relations, remembers the

early days: ’When the project kicked off in early 1997 there was a lot

of scepticism about whether it would get off the ground at all. There

were concerns about the budget, that it would involve taxpayers’ money,

which it doesn’t, and very big questions about the perceived politics

surrounding the event.’

Oliver admits that it wasn’t easy to start the sponsorship ball


’We were trying to attract really major companies to come in right at

the beginning and to persuade them that it would be worth it. It really

was a leap of faith for them and a huge risk to take. But as the project

developed and we met our targets, that perception changed.’

Oliver is sanguine about the negative media coverage the Dome has

received: ’It is disappointing. But then it’s all happened before with

the Crystal Palace and the Festival of London. They had negative

coverage until they opened, but when they did and people started coming

it was a different story.’

The picture started to change in mid-1999. It was obvious that the Dome

would be finished; NMEC had not only reached but beaten its sponsorship

target of pounds 160 million; the big three New Year’s Eve guests were

sorted out - the Queen, the prime minister and the Archbishop of

Canterbury - and arrangements were being finalised right down to

Tesco-sponsored champagne for the 10,000 guests. In short, it would be

all right on the night.

Contrary to media myth, the Dome was never intended to be a sea of


Neither NMEC nor the Dome’s sponsors wanted that. Fiona Charlesworth,

NMEC media relations manager for sponsorship, explains: ’The sponsors

are using sophisticated marketing techniques here, and very clearly they

were not going to gain credibility by slapping logos on everything. No

one wanted it to look like a trade fair. We wanted to ensure branding

was not over the top.’

NMEC’s task was to negotiate a middle ground with sponsors. Oliver is

tactful: ’It was a question of striking a balance between gaining

sponsorship and the sponsors’ needs. Each relationship involved a

different technique.’

Andrea Sullivan, director of corporate affairs at sponsor Sky

Television, puts it more forcefully: ’We negotiated every single aspect,

and it was a nightmare. There were deadlines and endless pressure, plus

the complication of it being a quasi-government commercial venture.’

Sullivan pours scorn on the media’s logo paranoia: ’The NMEC was really

strict about branding. There are no great big signs; there were a

certain number of banners and boards we could use and that was it.’

The accusations of commercialism weren’t helped by the myth that giant

logos were to be beamed on to the face of Big Ben at midnight on 31


As Amanda Barnes, responsible for the night’s events in London, a

project called Big Time, says: ’We just used that as an example of the

things we would find unacceptable.’

So if pounds 12 million didn’t buy the major sponsors the opportunity to

put their logo where they wanted it, just what did they get for their


- On-site presence at the Dome, which is expected to receive 12 million


- A nationwide programme of events and initiatives, with the potential

to engage everyone in the UK.

- International broadcast opportunities, with worldwide link-ups

throughout the year, and involvement with light entertainment and

education projects.

- A sponsorship recognition programme encompassing television

advertising, printed media, direct marketing, PR and sales


- Product category exclusivity.

- Presenting rights to a themed zone within the Dome.

- Naming rights to a strand of activity within the national


- Use of the Millennium Experience logo.

The Dome’s sponsors were divided into three tiers, depending on how much

money they put in. There are 22 sponsors in all: nine official sponsors,

who stumped up pounds 12 million each, five partner sponsors

contributing pounds 6 million each, and eight supplier sponsors, putting

forward pounds 3 million each.

Selling the idea focused on the global media exposure of the event - as

Tony Blair said: ’The eyes of the world will be on Greenwich’ - and its

potential longevity. Millennium images will be used again and again in

print and on television for years to come, not to mention the 12 million

visitors the Dome expects this year.

One of the pounds 3 million sponsors is Typhoo, the official supplier of

tea to the Dome. Steve Gebbet, creative director of Typhoo agency

Charles Barker BSMG Worldwide, says: ’I’m certain all the millions of

people that go to the Dome will be amazed by what they see, and just as

certain that they will be desperate for a cup of tea at the end of


For Typhoo, the chance to sponsor the Dome coincided with its plan to

revamp the image of the British cuppa. Gebbet says: ’Tea is a drink we

take for granted and its image needs to be constantly refreshed.’

Not only did Typhoo come up with a ’new concept’ in tea (vacuum packed

at plantation and factory), a proposed chain of modern tea bars called

t.fresh and Dome-shaped teapots, but it has served up PR stunts such as

a mountaineer brewing tea on top of the Dome, and astrologer Russell

Grant reading the media’s tea leaves at the December launch of


Most of the official sponsors and partners are also involved in the

national programmes - nationally organised events that will cover all

regions and last throughout the year. These, in line with government

requirements, involve either financial investment, or investment in

children and young people, education and training.

The range of programmes the sponsors have come up with is extremely


One of the most well-supported and publicised projects was the

Children’s Promise, sponsored by Marks and Spencer.

This pulled together seven major children’s charities in a simple,

imaginative scheme to encourage everyone in the UK to donate their final

hour’s earnings to the children of the next millennium.

It was important that programmes worked with, not against, the sponsors’

market positioning, as what worked for one company would not have worked

for others.

Sky Television’s Sullivan says: ’If we’d asked our consumers to give up

their last hour’s earnings it just wouldn’t have worked.’ Instead Sky’s

national programme Reach for the Sky asked children all over the country

about their hopes, dreams and aspirations via an interactive web site

and a magazine, also called Reach for the Sky.

Another sponsor interested in the lasting effects of the millennium

programme is international recruitment company Manpower - one of the

biggest employers in the UK.

Debbie Read is partnership manager for Manpower at the NMEC in


She acknowledges that training and education aren’t easy to sell in PR

terms, and Manpower was therefore keen to invest in longer term national

programme events.

The big days for Manpower are 5-9 July in Birmingham, when the Manpower

National Skills Show takes place.

This will be a national competition where young people can not only

compete to show off their vocational skills, but young and old alike can

try out new skills.

Read says: ’Manpower’s investment in the national programme is not about

its branding, so much as investment in the workforce of the future, and

that, of course, will help them as employers.’

Another sponsor looking beyond the big night is BT, which invested

pounds 12 million in the Dome’s Talk Zone and in its national programme

’Futuretalk’, with which it has ambitions to improve the UK’s

communication skills for the 21st century.

Tim Johns, head of UK PR, says: ’We are looking further ahead than the

beginning of the millennium, we want to improve the way everyone

communicates. Children learn French and maths in schools but they don’t

learn how to communicate with each other.’

He adds: ’We are not trying to get back every penny spent. It’s part of

an investment to create better communication for everyone. If we get

that, then as an organisation we can flourish. It’s not the money

invested, but the opportunity to develop as an organisation.’

So much for the Dome and its sponsors. In other parts of the country

there was a definite air of ’bah, humbug’ as the millennium


Peter Walker is spokesman for Coventry and Warwickshire Promotions,

which promotes events in the city and the surrounding area. Just before

Christmas he had found only pounds 33,000 of his pounds 100,000

sponsorship target, mostly from Coventry employers Jaguar and German

autoparts manufacturer Brose.

Walker is clear about why: ’In my view the public, and to some extent

the commercial sector up here, are fed up to the back teeth with the

millennium. If people remember it, it will just be as the biggest

rip-off that ever was.’

Down the road at Birmingham City Council, Bob Carr, who is responsible

for the city’s millennium celebrations, also says: ’It was more

difficult to get sponsorship as London got the lion’s share. It is the

first time Birmingham has had to charge for its New Year’s Eve Centenary

Square celebrations.’

There was a lack of major sponsorship north of the border, too, but

there was no way that was going to spoil the Scots’ fun. As Fiona

Hutchison, PR manager of Edinburgh Hogmanay, says: ’Hogmanay is ours.

Every new year in every part of the world has a piper and people drink

whisky. It belongs to us.’

Funding for Edinburgh Hogmanay came from Lothian and Edinburgh

Enterprises and from mainly Scottish sponsors. Hutchison describes the

total sum as ’nearly millions’.

Edinburgh’s sponsors have been proactive: ’John Dewar for example isn’t

just sponsoring the beating of the retreat here, but putting pounds 1

million into promoting the event around the world,’ she says.

But British Gas wins the prize for the most regional sponsorship, after

it deliberately chose to avoid London. PR manager Richard Demon says:

’We were approached to be one of NMEC’s official sponsors, but we turned

down the opportunity.’

Instead, it invested pounds 1 million in Millennium Beacons, the project

which lit 1,500 fires across the UK on New Year’s Eve. The company

bought and positioned 100 gas-fired beacons from Land’s End to Lerwick

in the Shetland Isles, all of which were lit on New Year’s Eve in

response to the Queen’s lighting of a giant beacon on the Thames.

Dymond says: ’We deliberately chose to do something that wasn’t centred

on London, and the beauty of the beacons was that everyone could join

in, either with a beacon or a bonfire.’

But it is perhaps the Church of England, which did not sponsor anything

at all, that could be said to have run the most successful millennium

campaign. Its simple message was: ’2000 years since what?’.

Its successes included simultaneous transmission on BBC, ITV and Sky

Television of a reading by the Archbishop of Canterbury of the

millennium prayer, and a number one slot for Sir Cliff Richard singing

the Lord’s Prayer. There was even an illuminated Christ figure forming

part of the 1999 Blackpool illuminations.

Stephen Lynas, the Archbishop’s officer for the millennium, says: ’We

think we won the millennium back from the corporate giants. Everyone

thought it would be about black ties and champagne corks popping all

over the place, but in all the surveys Joe Public said he wanted to be

at home with his family.’

The Church of England got back to the real story behind the celebrations

by developing a millennium resolution, giving away millennium candles,

and setting up a web site.

Lynas, who was also an adviser on the Dome’s Faith Zone, explains:

’People in high places don’t know how to handle religion. That’s where

we could help. This time there was no getting away from the fact that it

was relevant.’

It is too early to say whether sponsors got value for money for their

millions, and it is perhaps just as well that they are looking at it as

long-term investment.

Even NMEC hasn’t just disappeared in a cloud of champagne bubbles. Its

Greenwich office will remain fully functional until the end of the


After that, says Oliver, there will be one ’slightly used’ press office

up for grabs.


For a while it looked like the British Airways’ giant ferris wheel, The

London Eye, might steal the Dome’s thunder, not just in terms of column

inches but also in terms of media hilarity when on the day it was meant

to be lifted into an upright position engineers failed to ’get it


’That was very disappointing, especially for the hundreds of people who

had turned out to see it,’ says Kate Gay, BA PR manager for the

Millennium Experience. Gay is also at pains to point out that the lift

cables did not ’snap’ as some press reported, but failed to align.

However, there is no denying that the London Eye is an impressive sight,

both from the ground and the air. It is also better positioned and more

immediately impressive than the Dome.

For a start, it is obvious that the wheel is for fun. From its 450-foot

pinnacle passengers will be able to see - on a clear day - for 25


As Gay says: ’The only other way you can see London like this is from an

aeroplane’. The London Eye may also outlive the Dome, since BA has

planning permission for five years on the site. She adds: ’I have a

sneaking suspicion it will be there for longer than that, but it depends

really on whether the public like it.’

BA is also pounds 6m joint sponsor, with BAA, of the Dome’s Home Zone.

The London Eye cost pounds 35 million extra, but BA saw the extra outlay

as a worthwhile investment. As Gay explains: ’British Airways flies in

more people than any other airline. Tourists to Britain bring in pounds

50 billion a year and last year that increased by some 30 per cent.

Twenty seven million tourists a year visit London and BA’s hope is that

the combination of the Dome and the London Eye will increase that figure

to 30 million tourists a year.’

With the London Eye and regeneration of the surrounding area, BA is

investing in London as the capital of tourism - long-term sponsorship


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