PUBLIC RELATIONS: Injecting life into sponsorship deals - How can media relations be used to maximise sponsorship? Mary Cowlett investigates

Over the past ten years, sponsorship deals have started to embrace meaningful relationships, bringing benefits to customers or other stakeholders.

But while slapping a logo on a racing car or a beer tent can generate widespread awareness, leveraging such partnerships through PR can drive millions of pounds' worth of added value.

"The more the audience believes that the benefits or improvements to the event they enjoy are as a direct result of the investment a sponsor has contributed, the more the brand benefits,

says Jonathan Shore, managing director of PR agency Cohn & Wolfe.

"PR enables the sponsor to cut across multiple media channels,

says Shore, who has worked with Coca-Cola for several years on its football associations. "It lets them develop credibility by offering a breadth of exposure that would be prohibitively expensive via paid-for media."

Whether it's the Olympic Games, a community project or a music festival, a large part of PR's success in supporting sponsorships is in making the money invested work harder.

While there are no hard and fast rules governing the ratio of sponsorship expenditure to exploitation expenditure, many PR specialists despair at the number of brands that see a commercial partnership as an end in itself.

"Not everyone will go to the event, but everyone will know about it, so it is vital to get involved in activities that let as many people know as possible,

says Mike Mathieson, chief executive of marketing agency Cake.

Packaging partnerships

For several years Cake has worked with Evian, organising live events such as the Evian Zen Garden at the Mint nightclub in Leeds.

Since May 2001, Evian has sponsored Brockwell Lido in South London and spent £100,000 on essential repairs to the outdoor pool. In return it was allowed to place a large Evian logo on the bottom of the pool, directly below several Heathrow flight paths.

"While the sponsorship is about giving back to the local community, we've broadened it out. We've allowed Dazed & Confused to use the venue, which resulted in a photo shoot; Channel 4 used it during its cricket coverage and we held an exclusive gig for Basement Jaxx,

says Mathieson.

The idea that PR can extend sponsorships beyond the package itself is a popular one, but for those partnering with global events, it's not always cheap. In 1999, when Mastercard first committed to the 2002 FIFA World Cup , it reportedly paid nearly £28m for the privilege, saying that it was likely to spend a further £90m over three years to leverage the deal.

Similarly, fellow FIFA sponsor Budweiser is investing heavily in maximising its tie-in with the event, through its Budweiser Cup, an opportunity for amateur footballers to earn trips to South Korea and play in the Budweiser Cup final on June 15 at Incheon Munhak Stadium.

A major part of this PR initiative is to bring the sponsorship alive for customers. "We are offering football fans the thrill of representing their country in an actual FIFA World Cup stadium - it's a dream come true,

says Anheuser-Busch Europe marketing director David Dryden.

The exercise will offer longevity in terms of PR exposure, as the competition builds through its regional, national and international finals.

But sports sponsorships are not always about large amounts of money, and often PR offers the only opportunity to explain what a brand wants its partnerships to say. CIS, the insurance arm of the Co-op, sponsors football stands at Blackburn Rovers and Leicester City. While these associations reflect the Co-op's local business interests, the link between football and insurance is somewhat tenuous.

So, in order to underline how its involvement with football reflects its ethical stance, last January the insurer asked sports PR company Playmaker to initiate a campaign to gain media coverage.

"Fairness is one of CIS' brand values, so we commissioned research into the levels of sportsmanship in football and used the findings that fans want the sport to clean up its act, to discuss the sponsorship with journalists,

says Playmaker managing director Rowan Andrews.

Reinforcing messages

But for most sponsors, PR offers the vehicle to tie their branding back into their business objectives. Orange is involved in a range of sponsorships, across film, Formula One and music. "When you're communicating to a large number of people, then obviously branding alone doesn't get the message across,

says Orange group head of sponsorship Peter Raymond.

To relate its partnerships back to its products, Orange augments its investment with PR activities. "With the Glastonbury festival, we're the official communications supplier, so we erect an antenna to ensure that everybody - not just Orange customers - has excellent phone coverage," says Raymond.

It also offers a recharging service for mobiles at the event and a voice portal information service. "It's all about demonstrating the value of our association with the music scene and reinforcing the messages through the right target media,

says Raymond.

But to maximise the benefits that PR can bring to sponsorship in terms of photography, celebrity appearances, corporate hospitality, ticket-giveaways, private viewings, signed merchandise or exclusive behind-the-scenes footage, it is vital that the communications team is brought in at the negotiation stage.

"PR opportunities are often restricted by the terms of contracts that limit or remove the scope for 'money-can't-buy' experiences,

says Cohn & Wolfe's Shore. "These tools help to extend awareness of a sponsorship and offer an opportunity to communicate the brand messages and values in a way that is meaningful."

AMERICAN EXPRESS PARTNERS FASHION

A partnership between financial services and fashion seems unlikely, but since 1997, American Express has sponsored British designer Alexander McQueen.

"It was a departure for us, but having come from a corporate and travel background, we wanted to reach a target audience of 23- to 35-year-olds,

says public affairs director Doug Smith.

In 1997, when Amex launched its Gold Credit Card, McQueen designed a special one-off gold suit, which formed the finale of his show and was later auctioned at a charity dinner for Save the Children.

Likewise in 1998, McQueen's injected aspiration values into the launch of the Amex Blue Card, by designing a limited edition card, with a run of just 500.

To gain maximum impact from PR, one of these cards was put on display in the Design Museum, a further 100 were carried by celebrities such as Bjork and Kate Moss, while the remaining cards were offered to the general public.

This resulted in coverage in weekend supplements and consumer titles with total reach exceeding ten million readers.

Recently, the two parties have linked up to run a competition for people to win a pair of McQueen's sought-after Panda Eye sunglasses, an award at Graduate Fashion Week and the launch of a Limited Edition Gold Card in September 2001.

"In a crowded marketplace, this sponsorship has allowed us to make an impact with product launches, generate media coverage and stretch brand values through association,

says Smith.

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