Sponsorship Agency of the Year - Fast Track

Oscar Pistorius: Fast Track handled publicity for  South African athlete, gaining positive international coverage
Oscar Pistorius: Fast Track handled publicity for South African athlete, gaining positive international coverage

The winning agency has built on strong relationships with long-standing clients to develop new business ties and create innovative, robust measurement methodologies, writes John Reynolds.

WINNER

Fast Track is Marketing's Sponsorship Agency of the Year 2011, following 12 months in which it has unveiled eye-catching work, brought genuine innovation to the market and outclassed its rivals with its joined-up approach.

Fast Track's impressive performance has been grounded in work for its long-standing clients. These include Lucozade and Land Rover, with which it has worked for more than 20 years.

For the sports-drink brand, it acted as lead agency for an extensive campaign around the London Marathon. A six-month project, Lucozade's integrated work provided runners and their support networks with key advice from the start of their 'marathon journey' last autumn to race day.

Fast Track's work for Land Rover, which covers the marque's rugby and snow properties, provides a strong example of its lead-agency capability; the work covered experiential at high-profile rugby games, managing marketing material in support of this, and supervision of sales-leads data through to PR rights and ambassador relationships.

However, the agency has also made waves with new relationships, particularly in the area of reputation management, acting as publicist for 'Blade Runner' athlete Oscar Pistorius. Since July this year there have been more than 281 pieces of media coverage across 28 countries. A high proportion (95%) of this was positive, too, challenging negative opinion and educating the public about scientific testing of the athlete's carbon-fibre artificial lower legs.

Fast Track appears to be bouncing back from UK Athletics' decision to drop the agency as its commercial-rights partner and bring these duties in-house. Its new-business record is strong, having brought in £1.76m of additional revenue in the UK; clients such as Ballantine's and Visa Team 2012 have signed with its consultancy, communications and PR and events teams.

A key contributing factor to Fast Track's success has been its closer relations with other parts of the Chime empire; it is now also physically closer to its sister sports marketing agencies, having moved to London's Victoria.

Recognising the need for marketers to demonstrate that the money spent on sponsorship is effective, this year the agency redoubled its focus on developing robust measurement methodologies. This has enabled Fast Track's clients to understand the impact of their investments across the board, from commercial measures through to CSR and community engagement. The agency is confident that these initiatives will soon become industry standards.

The final word goes to one of the judges, whose comment neatly sums up the agency's way of working: 'While growth is important, it was clear Fast Track had the customer at the heart of everything it did and challenged all aspects of activation to ensure real value.'

FOCUS ON SAINSBURY'S UK SCHOOL GAMES

Now in its sixth year, this annual multi-sport event for the UK's elite young athletes and the biggest integrated schools competition of its type in the world, is still growing.

Designed to replicate the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Fast Track claims the event has brought about a 'step-change in the content, structure and presentation of competitive sporting opportunities in the UK'.

Almost 1400 young athletes participated in the UK School Games held in Sheffield this year, at which a world record was broken in one of the swimming events.

Fast Track has secured the use of the Olympic Park for the 2012 event, which will, no doubt, be another notable occasion.

BEST OF THE REST

COMMENDED

This was yet another great year for M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment, ably led by affable chief executive Steve Martin. A combination of high-profile new-business wins such as Qantas and additional work from existing clients such as Coca-Cola mean the agency is expected to break the £1m profit barrier for the first time in 2011.

The year has also been notable for the significant inroads the agency has made into the sporting PR arena, with boxer Amir Khan and Formula One driver Mark Weber on its books.

On the international front, global projects now account for more than 50% of the agency's work. Its US and Sydney operations are expected to produce double-digit growth in 2011, while it plans to open new offices in Germany, China and Brazil next year.

Significant additions to its staff have also been made, as the agency looks to grow its business in preparation for the 2014 Commonwealth Games and golf's Ryder Cup.

Standout work by M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment this year included the creation of an hour-long TV documentary, starring footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, for client Castrol. The film has proved a hit, evinced by more than 1m Twitter users using the hashtag #testronaldo, while the oil brand's Castrol EDGE website received 90,000 visits.

The agency was also behind headline-grabbing activity for Coca-Cola's sponsorship of London 2012, which involved producer Mark Ronson and singer Katy B creating a Coca-Cola Olympic 'anthem'.

COMMENDED

Synergy has had another successful 12 months, boosting its profits year on year from £572,000 to just over £1m. It also achieved 12 new-business wins, worth more than £500,000, including work for blue-chip clients such as Sky, Unilever and News International.

Notable work centred on rugby and football, especially that for Guinness, aimed at driving up sales during the 6 Nations rugby tournament and the autumn internationals with its 'Bring it to life' campaign focusing on brand ambassador and former England captain Lewis Moody.

Other strong output from the agency included activity with Olympics sponsor BMW and activating Betfair's sponsorship of football clubs Manchester United and FC Barcelona.

Additionally, the agency, which is part of the Engine group, made strides in the area of CSR, with initiatives such as 'Our little bag', which encourages staff not to use plastic bags, and its commitment to ensure that 80% of its stationery comes from renewable and sustainable sources.

COMMENDED

MEC Access, this category's winner last year, added a handful of new clients, including Singapore Airlines and Halifax. High-profile campaigns included work for Xerox and Nintendo.

Its campaign for the latter, which aimed to convert the over-50s, technophobe market to buy into Nintendo DS, resulted in a leap in sales for the handheld gaming console, while its Xerox campaign achieved the unthinkable: getting consumers to associate the brand with outsourcing and not photocopying.

MEC Access continued to produce impressive work for the Specsavers TV Book Club, with the focus this year on encouraging upmarket consumers to switch to the optician from independent alternatives.

Also shortlisted were Brand Rapport and Generate.

PREVIOUS WINNERS

2010: MEC Access

2009: Synergy

2008: Octagon

2007: M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment

From Marketing’s Agency of the Year 2011 supplement

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