England may have flopped again at this year's World Cup, but in the tournament's hard-fought battle of the brands, M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment achieved standout for its clients and made itself a winner as Marketing's Sponsorship Agency of the Year.
In a World Cup year, cutting through the clutter is a tall order. With official sponsors and ambush marketers all jostling for a place in consumers' minds, only the best marketing campaigns can rise above the rest.
In the run-up to the tournament Coca-Cola, a FIFA sponsor, took the authentic solid gold trophy on a world tour. M&C staged the UK leg and the activation of the event, billed 'The real thing meets the real thing'. The agency enlisted football's man of the moment, Wayne Rooney, for a photo call and a 45-minute interview with Grandstand presenter Ray Stubbs in front of an audience of journalists and competition winners.
The event generated more than 40 articles mentioning the brand, including three front pages in tabloids and quality papers, and widespread TV coverage, including a six-minute slot on BBC One's Football Focus. Its ROI was calculated at 28:1.
Was the Carlsberg 'dream pub team' ad, featuring England veterans including Bobby and Jackie Charlton, Stuart Pearce and Bryan Robson, probably the best ad of the World Cup? Definitely, according to many industry experts. The spot was created by ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi, but M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment played an important role in making the ad possible and getting maximum exposure for it.
As well as selecting players and getting them on board, M&C ensured that the ad was exploited to the full in terms of media coverage. Instead of an exclusive with one paper, M&C felt it could sell in the feature to a number of titles by providing them with exclusive access to the different players. The risky tactic worked, and nationals from The Independent to The Sun ran weighty features on the activity. During the shooting of the ad, M&C made a 30-minute behind-the-scenes programme for the Carlsberg staff and from this created a series of three-minute executions aired on Sky Sports show Soccer AM.
Beer brands always enjoy a sales hike during the World Cup, but Carlsberg, usually in third place, outperformed the market with sales rising by as much as 300% - at times during the tournament it was the top seller.
When Reebok wanted to manage its return to football, it turned to M&C. The agency helped it sign up Arsenal star Thierry Henry and Andriy Shevchenko, Chelsea's £34m record signing. A pan-European PR campaign run by M&C around the signings increased traffic to the Reebok site by 500%, and when the ad campaign kicked in three weeks later, Reebok football products outsold Adidas and Nike for the first time.
At the end of the year the agency worked with Henry again, on the press launch of his tie-up with Tommy Hilfiger, which will see the footballer design a menswear line.
M&C also proved itself at the grass-roots level with a regional campaign to launch the Football Association's 'Get into football' initiative, promoting the many ways in which men and women of all ages can get involved.
But there is more to M&C than football. Other new business wins included cricket in the form of a brief from Tourism Australia to exploit the Ashes series, and its appointment to handle the activation of Holsten Pils' Premier Darts League sponsorship.
Entertainment is a growth area for the agency, so much so that it is seeking to recruit a head of entertainment. Its name change - from M&C Saatchi Sponsorship - underlines its ambitions.
M&C's Orange work continued to grow and this year it won a competitive pitch to create and manage the Orange Prize for Fiction. It also project-managed the mobile-phone operator's title sponsorship of the Baftas and handled its integrated campaign. One project, Orange Waparazzi, indulged the public's interest in celebrity and user-generated content by allowing people to post pictures of stars on a bespoke website.
This potent mix of sport and entertainment has given the agency a year to remember, with a 48% increase in turnover on 2005 to £2.7m and a profits hike of 105%.
2005 Karen Earl Sponsorship
2004 M&C Saatchi Sponsorship
BEST OF THE REST
Last year's winner, Karen Earl Sponsorship, came close to retaining its title. The agency's appeal to brands is still strong and it hauled in four major pieces of new business this year.
One, Ask.com, briefed the agency to create a sponsorship strategy. The resulting deal with the England & Wales Cricket Board and the England team was the first significant UK sponsorship by a search engine. Karen Earl drew up an innovative agreement, and from May to September ran a PR programme that generated coverage valued at more than £4m - an ROI of 22:1.
Another cricketing triumph was the agency's work for Npower, in particular its grass-roots campaign for the brand's 'Urban cricket' activity featuring England batsman Kevin Pietersen.
Karen Earl's impressive title sponsor portfolio grew when it was hired to create and manage a sponsorship strategy and exploitation programme for 888.com's backing of the World Snooker Championship. It also used unusual sports such as elephant polo in the first full year of The Chivas Life Series, which it created to showcase the brand to a global audience.
Once again Karen Earl is adapting to life under a new owner - The Engine Group swooped in to buy the agency just a year after it was acquired by Media Square. Judging by its performance in 2006, the change in ownership should not affect the agency's ability to produce the goods.
Athletics specialist Fast Track had a busy year and picked up the most votes from among its peers. Its acquisition of Lighthouse Communications underlined its commitment to expanding the business into other sports and brought on board clients including GlaxoSmithKline and Heineken, as well as significantly strengthening the agency's senior management team.
New business poured in and its rights sales division secured a six-year, £50m agreement between Norwich Union and UK Athletics. The deal is one of its biggest outside football and runs up to the 2012 Olympics. Fast Track also took on the marketing of the European Indoor Championships and has raised more commercial revenue for the event than ever before.
Four Sports Marketing & Sponsorship had a stellar year for new business. By October it had won 11 accounts, including Sony Ericsson's global tennis portfolio. The work includes the promotion of Night Tennis, a fusion of music, dance and tennis. Four, which launched last year, is projected to achieve fee income of £672,000 in 2006, a growth of more than 350%.
One to watch is Generate, which - often with a fraction of the budget available to others - delivered for clients including Wrigley, Timberland and Sanex for Men. Its creation of Drambuie Pursuit, an adventure race across the Scottish highlands, was recognised by the industry as an innovative way to reposition the drink for a younger generation.
Generate also secured Intelligent Finance as the title sponsor of the Edinburgh Festival Comedy Awards, which for 25 years had been backed by Perrier. It moved swiftly: the seven-figure, three-year partnership was delivered in less than two months. Aside from this work, the ambitious agency has established a dedicated department and research house for activity around the London 2012 Olympics.
This year's Winter Olympics in Turin provided IMG Consulting with a great start to the year, as it handled activation programmes for Coca-Cola, Fiat and Johnson & Johnson.
As O2's sports agency, IMG devised a way to mark the end of Arsenal's tenure at Highbury ahead of its move to Emirates Stadium. The 'O2 tear up the turf' event gave fans unique stadium access, a chance to meet players and take home a piece of the old ground.
Visa, one of the big global sponsorship brands, signed up with IMG, initially for rugby and football projects, as well as a strategic review of the digital media landscape and the development of video, audio and mobile content around its rugby ambassadors.
Another major international player, Octagon Marketing, rolled out high-profile music activity for Vodafone this year as part of a campaign to place mobile entertainment at the heart of the network's business. Its launch of a series of secret gigs featuring bands including Franz Ferdinand and The Killers culminated in the Vodafone Live Music Awards.