City & Corporate: Boat Race backers are eyeing talent

It is a fair bet that most people who tune in for the Oxford and Cambridge boat race this Easter Sunday will never have heard of its new sponsor - a firm called Xchanging.

But they may soon; it is one of the fastest growing outsourcing companies in the country - in charge of the back-office computerisation of the London insurance market, for example, and all the human resources of BAe Systems.

Founder David Andrews was previously a top partner at Andersen Consulting, which was also big in outsourcing. Now renamed Accenture, it is one of the corporate backers of London's Olympic bid.

It is no coincidence that both have been tempted into high-profile sponsorships.

Constraints of client confidentiality mean there is not much that services firms like these can do to raise their profile, so a sponsorship can provide a peg on which to hang a PR campaign. Xchanging may have a specific agenda with the Boat Race - it is backed by venture capitalists who want a public share listing.

Most sponsorship deals have softer objectives, one of which is to raise profiles with graduates entering the job market for the first time. But to this end Xchanging also seems to have targeted Oxbridge effectively - a smart move given the competition for graduate talent, and concerns of today's job seekers over corporate responsibility.

Similarly, Accenture says the Olympics deal has gone down very well internally with its staff and this matters because many of the people it employs were transferred in as a result of contract wins, so they do not have an automatic loyalty to the firm.

In the 1980s, when Hanson spent a great deal on promoting the group as being 'over here and over there' (in the US), Lord Hanson also found that the real benefit was not with customers or shareholders but internally and with recruitment. Perhaps business has changed less than we think.

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