Olympic sponsorship – the good, the bad and the plain ridiculous
Coca-Cola freebies given out to crowds waiting to see
the torch relay through Maidstone
by David Philpott, Chairman of the Institute of
Directors Kent branch
So the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games are finally upon
I am hesitating slightly, though, before I go on, since I have
to assure myself that it is legally acceptable for me to use the
word “Olympic” and I must be doubly careful about what I say in
this column because it has not been cleared by the London
Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG).
They have ensured there will be brand police on duty for the
duration just in case anyone dares to use the trademarked phrase
“London 2012” in the wrong context, or anyone other than McDonald’s
sells fries on Olympic sites, or anyone with the temerity to use
the five Olympic rings.
remedy they have I cannot say – perhaps a civil prosecution – but
the whole matter of sponsorship has taken on the characteristics of
“Oh no it hasn’t!” might shout LOCOG. And they would no doubt
point to that fact that the British taxpayer has been saved many
millions of pounds because of the desire of so many large
corporations to be linked to the Olympic brand.
I suspect that for many companies, brand association like this
is nothing more than vanity advertising. Indeed, the chief
executive of G4S recently admitted to the Home Affairs Select
Committee that he wished his company had never tendered for the
Olympic security contract. Nick Buckles said the company had taken
on the contract to “build its reputation” but admitted that its
reputation was now “in tatters.”
You would think, then, that I take a pretty dim view of
sponsorship like this but actually nothing could be further from
the truth. Inertia by successive governments meant that we would
have had a patchy national air ambulance service in this country
were it not for the intervention in the late 1990s of the
I had the great privilege at the time of having a modest role in
brokering what was then said to be one of the largest corporate
sponsorship deals in British history as £14 million was distributed
to county-based helicopter charities – Kent Air Ambulance included.
In that business, money means lives saved and the impact of the
AA’s sponsorship cannot be underestimated.
And, of course, we in the Institute of Directors benefit
enormously from the sponsorship of our marketing partners. Here in
Kent, Warner’s Solicitors, Wilkins Kennedy Accountants, Kent
Science Park (where we have our offices), the KM Group and Westgate
Communications, our new PR partners, help us to deliver more than
70 quality events for our members every year.
Maybe the great differentiator between all this Olympic
sponsorship and our partnerships with Kent companies – apart from
the money involved – is that we truly build relationships with our
sponsors. That is why the IoD calls them marketing partners.
I prefer to call them friends.