SPONSORSHIP: 999, which sponsorship do you require? - Police vans paid for by breweries have generated criticism but, as Robert Gray reports, private sector funding is reducing the pressure on the emergency services

’Ello, ’ello, ’ello. What have we here, then? A juicy sponsorship offer for the constabulary, I presume. Or would you rather enjoy a stretch at Her Majesty’s pleasure?’

’Ello, ’ello, ’ello. What have we here, then? A juicy sponsorship

offer for the constabulary, I presume. Or would you rather enjoy a

stretch at Her Majesty’s pleasure?’



Of course, it’s unthinkable that an officer of the law would ever utter

such lines. But the truth of the situation is that sponsorship is now

firmly on the agenda for police forces, and has been so since

legislation was changed three years ago.



In the future, the image of the police may owe less to Dixon of Dock

Green and more to Dixons of Dock Green. If Inspector Morse can be

brought to us with the assistance of Beamish stout, one might argue, why

can’t his real-life counterparts be supported by other companies and

brands?



This contentious issue makes some profoundly uneasy. David French,

chairman of the constables committee at the Police Federation, takes the

view that there is a danger of the police being compromised by accepting

sponsorship from private companies.



’Once you are associated with individual companies you can be affected

by whatever political spin the company might put on anything,’ says

French.



’The thought of using a car sponsored by a brewery to do roadside breath

tests is farcical to me.’



Uniform pressures



There has been talk of the credibility and impartiality of the police

being undermined, even the spectre of brand logos appearing on uniforms

has been raised. But the latter appears extremely unlikely - although

the move toward increased sponsorship is gathering momentum in less

emotive ways.



All of this is taking place within a loose framework of rules governing

sponsorship and the police. Chief constables are permitted to raise up

to 1% of their budgets from private sources; this may not sound a lot

but it equates to about pounds 70m in England and Wales.



How that sponsorship is implemented is at the discretion of chief

constables, but the convention is that it should not be used to fund

core services.



The most controversial of the services sponsorships to date have come

from drinks companies. Off-licence chain Thresher has sponsored a van

for the Avon and Somerset force while Newcastle Breweries has provided a

mobile police station for its home town.



Due to the police’s role in accident prevention and clamping down on

drink driving, there has been criticism of sponsorship of this sort. But

it appears that most forces would not be averse to accepting drinks

company sponsorship in appropriate circumstances.



’There will still be officers on the beat who are not very

pro-sponsorship because they think that marketing or PR-sell will take

over,’ says North Yorkshire Police sponsorship and marketing officer Roy

Philpott, who is co-ordinating a national police sponsorship working

group.



’Our force’s view is that if it’s a brewery putting something back into

the community, and if they’re taking a responsible attitude, then why

shouldn’t they be supporting us? Indeed, why shouldn’t they be pouring

more money into it?’



Cambridgeshire Police sponsorship officer Terry Turner adds: ’All core

policing is funded by local and national government, but I can see all

sorts of opportunities for adding the icing on the cake.’



To date, most of the sponsorship deals that have been agreed have been

PR-driven; public demonstrations of good corporate citizenship rather

than cause-related marketing.



Facilities management group Care Services has, for instance, provided

North Yorkshire police with two vehicles for use by the special

constabulary.



Although the company’s logo is discreetly evident, Care Services

maintains the initiative is a thank you to the local community around

its head office rather than part of its marketing.



’This is not by any stretch of the imagination a visual-branding

exercise,’ says Care Services sales and marketing manager, Victoria

Keogh.



Media drive



The fire brigade, not burdened with the same need as the police to

continually stress its impartiality, has gone some way further down the

road of sponsorship as marketing communications. As well as putting out

blazes and rescuing our feline friends from trees, West Yorkshire Fire

Authority has dabbled as a mobile media owner.



A3-size advertising panels on its fire engines have been sold at pounds

1000 a go for those vehicles based in Leeds (and at discounted rates for

those located in less densely urban locations). Companies such as

Cornhill Insurance and Radio Aire have signed up for space.



The London Fire Brigade, which needs to make savings of about pounds 10m

a year, has even more ambitious plans.



’We’re considering the badging of fire engines and maybe some of the

equipment, like fire helmets and tunics,’ says its head of PR, Gordon

White. ’The fire brigades union aren’t keen on it; it’s being done

because the fire service is short of cash. But if it’s done with the

degree of taste that I’m sure we’ll all insist on, I don’t see any

problem.’



White adds that the London Fire Brigade it hoping to attract a ’major

sponsor’ for its entire fleet of 200 tenders and 6000 operational

staff.



To this end, the Central Office of Information has been appointed to

help attract interested parties and is expected to begin contacting

large ad agencies in the near future to sound them out about suitable

clients.



Given the size and prominence of the fire service in London, sponsorship

of its vehicles would be comparable to buying space on the sides of a

significant number of taxis or buses. Although clearly it will have the

advantage - and PR spin off - of being unique.



The Coastguard, meanwhile, is talking to potential sponsors for its

education programme encouraging seaside safety awareness among children,

while the sponsorship of the London air ambulance - for a long time

carried out by Express Newspapers - proves there are also opportunities

in the medical sector.



In the future we will still dial 999 to reach the emergency

services.



But who knows, there might also be an 0800 number we can call for

details of the latest emergency services sponsorship opportunities.



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