Sport: Ellington's razor-sharp sponsorship deal

Athlete James Ellington is one of Britain's fastest sprinters and has competed for the country in previous championships. But due to a four-year run of serious injuries, he was also the only major sprinter in the country without a sponsorship deal. This meant he was unable to commit to full-time training for Olympic qualification. After many false starts with potential sponsors, Ellington approached Third City for help.

Campaign: Running on Empty
Client: James Ellington
PR team: Third City
Timescale: December 2011-January 2012
Budget: Pro-bono



To secure £30,000 worth of sponsorship to allow Ellington to train for the Games.

Strategy and plan

Third City believed the best way to attract a sponsor would be through major publicity to draw attention to Ellington's plight.

It decided to put Ellington's sponsorship bid on an online auction site. As well as drawing media attention to his situation, it also set a time limit on submissions and promoted rivalry between potential sponsors.

The PR team knew there would always be the potential for hoax bids but judged this would simply add to the publicity, attracting interest beyond eBay.

Third City negotiated free use of the Crystal Palace stadium to launch the bid. It invited all national newspapers and sports correspondents to attend a photocall and sent images to newswires. The London Evening Standard was given an exclusive opportunity to break the story in print in its afternoon edition and Ellington was interviewed on Channel 4 News that evening. The following day's national print coverage was extensive.

The auction ran for a week and regular updates were posted on Ellington's Twitter feed to maintain momentum. Many of these tweets were then picked up and run by news outlets as the story progressed.

When the process closed, the top bid turned out to be a hoax. But the team capitalised on this by negotiating an exclusive piece in The Daily Telegraph that dramatised Ellington's disappointment.

The team received many approaches from brands interested in Ellington outside of the eBay auction.

One brand, King of Shaves, was judged to be an excellent fit, given its challenger position towards rivals such as Gillette, which already uses high-profile athletic endorsement.

A partnership was negotiated to cover all of the funding required for Ellington's Olympic bid.

Measurement and evaluation

The campaign generated 14 national news-paper articles, including a double-page spread in The Daily Telegraph. There were 47 broadcast pieces, featuring 18 national interviews with Ellington including BBC Breakfast, Channel 4 News, CNN and TalkSport. There were more than 500 online pieces on global news portals including Reuters and The Huffington Post. Ellington's site received more than 10,000 hits and there were more than 5,000 tweets of the story.


Ellington secured the full sponsorship amount. He achieved a personal best in an indoor ranking competition at the start of the year and is expected to be selected for the Team GB Olympics squad.



Before this campaign was launched, I had never heard of James Ellington and certainly was not aware of the fact that he was one of Britain's main sprint hopes for the Olympics.

I suspect that this story would only have worked this year with the Games in our own backyard, but, nevertheless, I still loved how it was put together. To me, it had the right blend of traditional and social media working together to develop news angles and maintain momentum postlaunch at Crystal Palace.

The eBay auction was a clever idea, but I felt that the best part was the media fuss created around the hoax bid. The bid made the readers all feel for Ellington and his desperate plight to get to the Olympic Games.

It also allowed him to have a shop window and when one of Britain's most entrepreneurial businessmen, King of Shaves' Will King, stepped in to save the day, then the campaign had the happy ending we all wanted it to have. Let us hope that Ellington is able to make it to the starting blocks for the Games.

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