ANALYSIS: Sponsors in PR battle for World Cup - Sponsorship PR opportunities at this summer's football World Cup are plentiful, but there are challenges ahead for brands seeking to stand out from the crowd, says Ed Shelton

Friday lunchtime on 7 June will be a pretty quiet time in this country. The England/Argentina clash in the first round of the World Cup in Japan is likely to see normal life put on hold.

For the tournament's 15 core sponsors, however, this day, as throughout month-long competition, will be a time of frenetic activity. Having paid millions of pounds for the right to associate themselves with the biggest sports event of all, leveraging the deal through PR is essential.

As Mike Parker, who heads the Coca-Cola account at sponsorship firm Karen Earl, says: 'Buying the rights just gives you the opportunity to run the race: what you do on top of that dictates your success.'

The World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the world and will generate billion-strong TV audiences. A number of mega brands are therefore involved.

So much so that, for sponsors, the hardest task is to make messages stand out.

Sarah Gower, head of UK PR for World Cup sponsor Adidas, which achieved significant 'cut-through' by projecting images of England players onto the white cliffs of Dover in the last World Cup four years ago, says: 'What will make or break a brand's sponsorship activity is how you get through the media clutter.'

Adidas plans for this summer are a closely guarded secret, and the company dismisses words such as stunt as passe. But eye-grabbing events are likely to feature, and focus mainly on exploiting England captain and media wonderboy David Beckham.

To gauge how Adidas - and, by extension, other brands - will use creative PR to maximise exposure, look at form to date. Work so far includes profiting from last December's group draw. The event took place on a Saturday and was covered in detail in the Sundays. For the Monday papers a fresh angle was required. Adidas worked with Hill & Knowlton to see the The Sun cover its front page with a company-branded ball in the hands of the ubiquitous Beckham.

For Paul Fox, UK comms director at sponsor Gillette, a fit between brand and tournament is demonstrated by the company's global penalty kick competition, which has a prize of $1m. He says the most important thing is to ensure activity is aligned to the values of the business: 'The penalty kick competition is attractive as it ties directly into the theme of the World Cup.'

Gilette has been a sponsor of the World Cup for many years, but has not achieved the sort of cut-through one associates with Adidas. Its PR has tended to be based on links with specific partnered media outlets, such as football glossy FourFourTwo. Plans for this summer are thought likely to include further such executions.

Aside from the other Fifa sponsors, there will be competition from more brands seeking to capitalise on the event. A financial services company, say, might release a story about the cost of going to the tournament, keeping sponsors out of the press.

Another challenge is to use PR to make sponsorship of the event relevant to ordinary people back home.

One of this year's initiatives that illustrates how to do this is the international pub football tournament being run by Budweiser, launched late last month in The Sun (PRWeek, 1 March).

The contest involves pub teams from around the world competing in regional heats to represent their country in the finals which take place in Korea and Japan at the same time as the World Cup proper.

Guardian football journalist Simon Burnton says most of the PR activity at the events themselves is aimed at corporate guests and the general public rather than the journalists.

The impact of PR is mostly felt, he says, when it comes to dealing with individual players through their personal kit sponsors. Typically, journalists will get time with a player in return for brand coverage.

Hence an interview with David Beckham might be secured by promising mentions for his sponsor Adidas, to whom he will be contracted for a certain number of days a year.

Gower says much of the success of Adidas work is based on good relationships with media, and in particular The Sun. But she stresses that even though the company has Beckham, coverage still needs work to be achieved: 'It is all about controlling the message. You have to give the paper what they want but at the same time not lose integrity for your brand. It is a fine line.'

And the increased clutter around the tournament means the agency needs to be more demanding about the message it wants to put over in order to get value for money.

'For us, the important thing is drilling down to the product which we are trying to sell. It is no longer enough just to have Beckham wearing Adidas shoes. That was fine six years ago, but now things have to be more explicit. It is about having an honest relationship with the paper,' Gower adds.

Despite the difficulties, sponsors say the national fervour the World Cup generates makes it far more attractive than other sporting events. The commercial competition will continue to rival that on the pitch for some time.

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