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
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
- 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
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
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
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
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
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.
CAPITAL INVESTMENT THE EYE HAS IT
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