Creating and managing a unique sponsorship

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On 18th March 1997 Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance Group plc announced that it was to sponsor Tracy Edwards MBE and an all women crew of nine in a unique series of daring yachting challenges. The gruelling series of record attempts will push the boat and crew to the limits of physical endurance.

Over recent years corporate sponsorship has become increasingly important as a way of both raising company profiles and injecting funds into various sporting and charitable causes.

The most common form of sponsorship involves the donation of money or materials to a specific cause with the sponsoring company being given credit for their contribution. Sporting sponsorships often involve only one company on an exclusive basis, e.g. the Cornhill Test in cricket, while charity sponsorships more often involve donations from a large number of companies all of whom receive acknowledgement in the charity’s literature and accounts. This particular case study is based upon a sporting sponsorship - Royal & SunAlliance’s sponsorship of Tracy Edwards MBE and her crew as they pursue three yachting world records on board Royal & SunAlliance - a 92 foot catamaran.

Why sponsorship?

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Most large companies advertise their range of products and services using a variety of media e.g. radio, television, press and direct mail. These are all part of a promotional mix designed to convey particular messages to particular audiences. However, in an increasingly competitive market it is also important to project a specific image of the company which differentiates it from all the others operating in the same field. This image is usually built upon a commitment to professionalism, integrity and ethical business practices - often called ‘brand values’ - and can be demonstrated by a company’s attitude to:

  • customer service
  • investment strategy
  • the environment
  • the local community
  • staff, customers and shareholders, the so called ‘stakeholders’.

Sponsorship of particular events or causes can be used as a concrete way of showing a company’s commitment to any or all of these, building both brand recognition and reputation. Unfortunately, of all the forms of marketing, sponsorship has the greatest potential to send the wrong message to stakeholders. For example, a policyholder might be tempted to say that, were it not for a sponsorship, the premium for an insurance policy might be lower, or a member of staff might say that their salary could be higher were it not for the expenditure on a particular sponsorship.

Why embark on a sponsorship now?

Royal Insurance and Sun Alliance merged in July of 1996. Both companies were household names prior to the merger, but it was vital that the message that the companies had merged and that they were now operating as Royal & SunAlliance was communicated to existing and potential customers as soon as possible. It was also important that people understood the size, financial strength and truly international nature of the new Group.

Part of the strategy to achieve this involved an advertising campaign which ran on television and billboards across the United Kingdom. This campaign introduced the new strapline ‘Together We Serve You Better’, which was designed to convey the message that the merger would enable the Group to provide better products and services because of its increased size. However, it was also necessary to find a way of introducing the new company to a more international audience and of doing this in a way which gave them an understanding of Royal & SunAlliance’s aims and objectives.

Why the catamaran?

Royal & SunAlliance is a new brand with a new logo and any sponsorship needed to support the development of both name and brand awareness. It also needed to be relevant to all staff and customers in the 100 or so countries in which the Group operates worldwide. In order to achieve this the sponsorship chosen needed to combine the following:

  • It would need to attract media attention outside the confines of the UK.
  • It should have truly international appeal, capturing the imagination and interest of people across the world. The challenges would therefore have to be unique and not be steeped in nationalism. In this way people around the world could relate to it, following progress in the media or directly from the Internet. The international crew aboard the Royal & SunAlliance would ensure international attention.
  • It should be exciting.
  • It should emphasise the qualities that relate to the Group in the ever increasingly competitive world.
  • It should be challenging, have an element of risk and portray the personal qualities (i.e. task focus, commitment and teamwork) which the company will need to possess in order to be successful.

Yachting is a sport which is popular through the world without being strongly identified with any one country. It can be enjoyed by all age groups and is of interest to both men and women. It is also possible to become involved with the sport on many different levels and with varying degrees of commitment and does not require that you own your own boat! It was therefore the right vehicle for Royal & SunAlliance’s sponsorship message.

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Sponsorship achieves its message by association and this sponsorship emphasises the pursuit of excellence. This is what Royal & SunAlliance aims to achieve by being the best insurance company in the world. There are many qualities within this sponsorship which combine to make its appeal truly international.
(i) Tracy Edwards MBE. Tracy’s return to the ocean racing scene after a seven year absence generated considerable media interest in its own right.
(ii) An all-woman crew with representatives from the UK, France, Spain, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand and the USA. Ranging from 22 to 42 years old, there is a good mix of seasoned campaigners together with the yachting stars of tomorrow.
(iii) Three exciting challenges in a single sponsorship. Transatlantic Challenge (sailing from the Ambrose Lighthouse, New York to Lizard Point, Cornwall). This challenge ended at 21.47 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) on Tuesday 1 July 1997. The time of 9 days, 11 hours and 22 minutes sets a new world record for an all-woman crew crossing the North Atlantic. Round Britain & Ireland Challenge. The record currently stands at 5 days, 21 hours, 5 minutes. Round the World Challenge. Sailing non-stop around the world from west to east. This record was set by Olivier de Kersauson when the trimaran Sport-Elec crossed the finishing line on Monday 19 May 1997, breaking a record that had stood since 1994. The start/finish line is drawn between fixed points in Cornwall and Brittany. The new record stands at 71 days, 14 hours and 22 minutes and represents the toughest yachting challenge in the world. Royal & SunAlliance’s bid to break this record will start in December 1997.
(iv) A unique craft, Royal & SunAlliance is 92 ft long, 42 ft wide and has a mast that extends 102 ft above the structure. It is widely recognised as the fastest boat of its kind in the world. Bigger than a tennis court, the catamaran, in its new blue, green and white livery with eye catching yellow sails, never fails to attract attention wherever she is.
(v) In addition to the challenges, the catamaran has been available for corporate hospitality sailings in New York and from its base in the Hamble (near Southampton). Spending £4.27 million on this sponsorship carries with it a responsibility to all the stakeholders of the company. The sponsorship must justify the expenditure and stringent measurement of the sponsorship's impact in terms of name awareness and the value of the media coverage gained on an international basis has been sanctioned.

Project management

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The very size of the sponsorship is such that no one person should seek to control all aspects of it. Project management skills feature highly amongst the other range of skills required to mount a project like this. A formal project structure with defined responsibilities, roles and budgets needed to be created and a high degree of teamwork developed. The project structure is on a tiered approach:

Steering Group. This is the strategic level that decides upon matters of policy and direction. Members of the Steering Group are not involved in the day to day running of the project. Management Board and Divisional Managing Directors are represented within the Steering Group, which meets on a monthly basis. The Project Team. This is the main driving force, decision making and co-ordinating body of the project. It meets at the same time/place every week for a fairly formal presentation of progress and plans. The head of each operational Task Force is represented on the Project Team and it is the Task Forces, each with a defined area of responsibility, resources and plans, which are the main implementers. Each Task Force head produces a weekly report that is issued to the Project Team prior to the weekly meeting in order to keep discussion to a minimum.

Task Forces exist for:

Boat & crew

A technical project manager oversees the Race Office based on the River Hamble, Hampshire. His responsibilities include office staff, crew, electronic equipment, sails, rigging, painting, livery, mooring etc. In fact everything related to the boat and the crew. Technology in the world of sailing moves on very quickly. Developments in recent years have enabled Royal & SunAlliance’s weight to be minimised to under 10 tonnes. The boat uses hitech materials and techniques. The mainsail is made of a composite material called Spectra and the bright yellow sails used a new ink bonding process designed to withstand the elements and maintain their bright colour.

TV & media

Companies do not necessarily have all the skills available in-house to mount a project such as this. Even large companies sometimes require the services of outside specialists. Although dealings with the financial and insurance press are common, Royal & SunAlliance required assistance in negotiations with television companies and the consumer press. The Royal & SunAlliance Challenge has attracted so much media interest that a documentary covering the three challenges is to be produced for broadcasting in the UK and for sale across the world. The press announcement and official naming in the UK and its visit to New York attracted extensive media interest. This Task Force is managed by an external company but is fully integrated into the sponsorship's project management.


Opportunities for sub-sponsorship exist within the project. The investment in the sponsorship and the advertising support that it has received in the national press gives other companies the opportunity to piggy-back part of their own marketing effort onto this successful project. A package of benefits is being offered to potential sub-sponsors. One of these is with Computacenter. The shore-based teams and the catamaran Royal & SunAlliance are receiving all the IT equipment needed to run a project of this size and complexity. Computacenter is now acknowledged as an Official IT Supplier to the Royal & SunAlliance Challenge. Other sub-sponsorships for cameras, film, cars, cosmetics, clothes, food/drink, hotels, telecommunications equipment, watches and vision equipment have now been negotiated or are being discussed at present.


Another Task Force exists to merchandise the event and a merchandising company was appointed. With the press attention gained by the sponsorship, the event begins to develop a value that can be capitalised upon by various manufacturers and suppliers. Obviously such activity needs to be planned in advance and the value of the event does, to an extent, depend upon the success of the venture. If a new world record is established, then it will be possible to incorporate the theme and/or logo for the Royal & SunAlliance Challenge onto a range of goods. This is by far the largest Task Force. It includes:

  • Internal Communications (a significant consideration for a company employing 42,000 people across the world). This is coordinated by Royal & SunAlliance’s own Internal Communications team.
  • Financial and insurance trade press. This is co-ordinated by the Group’s own Corporate Affairs Department.
  • Yachting press. This is controlled from the Race Office.
  • Consumer TV, radio & press. This is co-ordinated by a company outside Royal & SunAlliance.
  • he World Wide Web is managed by the Project Office in Horsham, West Sussex.

It is occasionally possible to provide links with various charities and community groups. Royal & SunAlliance has a long-standing relationship with The National Trust. The Round Britain & Ireland Challenge was of particular interest to The National Trust who established Enterprise Neptune in 1965, to protect and conserve the coastline of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Round Britain & Ireland Challenge therefore has a natural link with the Trust’s endeavours to preserve the coastline. Enterprise Neptune has been successful beyond expectations and now owns one sixth of the coastline in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. (A separate National Trust organisation exists in Scotland, although the pressures upon the coastline from increased urbanisation and industrialisation are not as great in Scotland as they are in parts of England and Wales.)

Divisional marketing co-ordination

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An organisation the size of Royal & SunAlliance is organised into divisions with their own marketing functions and product ranges. At Group level, the company has provided a means whereby individual divisions can enhance their own marketing plans (press ads, direct mail, product launches etc.) by incorporating the image/values of the sponsorship. This process has already started and will mature further as the major event (i.e. the Round the World Challenge) approaches.

All the Task Forces draw upon specialist resources, both internal and external, to support their activities. They include the design consultancies, facilities management companies, printers, Internet service providers, electronics specialists and many others. Their support has been vital to meet the demands of the project, often working within very short lead-times.


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There are many unique features to the Royal & SunAlliance Challenge sponsorship. It is not usual for such a sponsorship to arrange sub-sponsorships or to consider a merchandising approach. Sub-sponsorship within this project has been extremely successful and it may set a pattern for other large company sponsorship programmes in the future.

The sponsorship is due to end in April 1998 but could be extended for a further four months. As this is the largest sponsorship ever undertaken by Royal & SunAlliance, it is subject to a very high degree of scrutiny, especially on the quantified benefits of the venture. Results to date indicate the project will more than meet expectations.