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Is the sponsor ship sinking?

Imagine you are at the starting line for one of the most historical

sporting events in Britain. You are in one of the crew in the Oxford v

Cambridge boat race and this is the moment you have been building up to

during all your days at university.

Hundreds of exhausting hours of training through rain and shine have

prepared you for the challenge of your life.

Your team members feel as close to you as your family and friends who are

cheer ing on the sidelines. You can already picture the celebrations in the

bar afterwards.

Suddenly, the starting pistol fires and you are off. The River Thames

stretches out in front of you for the four-and-a-quarter miles of the race

as you take your place in 146 years of history.

But hang on a minute. What if you lose? What if the years of physical

training and mental exertion end with the rival team swishing past and

stealing the glory?

Closing your eyes and thinking of Isas may not immediately spring to mind.

But as hopes were sunk this year for the Cambridge team, they could at

least take comfort in the fact that their sponsor claims to have done well

out of the event.

Aberdeen Asset Management had 185,000 clients in March 1999 when it

started sponsoring the boat race. It now has 400,000.

Chief executive Martin Gilbert says: “Our advertising campaign encourages

our Isa sales through IFAs. Strong brand awareness makes it easier for IFAs

to sell our products as clients are more likely to buy Isas from a company

they have heard of.”

Yet IFAs say fund managers which sponsor sporting events such as the boat

race are wasting their money.

Hargreaves Lansdown managing director Peter Hargreaves says: “Sponsoring

the boat race was the single biggest waste of money purported by any

investment company in the world. Aberdeen Asset Management would have been

better off chucking its money in the North Sea – at least it would have got

it some comment somewhere.”

Churchill Investment managing director Jamie Ware says: “As an IFA, I am

not going to switch on the television and say: &#39Oh, there is Aberdeen Asset

Management sponsoring the boat race. I must support its Isa funds more.&#39

“The only person who gets a thrill out of this sort of sponsorship is the

marketing manager but it is in his dreams if he thinks that it improves Isa


Opinion is divided between fund managers themselves. Some say sponsoring

events such as the boat race raises brand awareness and provides a platform

for entertaining IFAs which encourages them to sell the company&#39s products.

But others say it is performance which sells Isa funds and that sports

sponsorship is a waste of money.

Jupiter sales and marketing director Steve Glynn says: “It is unlikely

that Jupiter would sponsor the boat race. It tends to be very expensive and

there are better ways for us to spend our money.”

So how can marketing managers justify spending vast amounts of money on

sponsorship, claiming it is an effective tool for attracting business

through IFAs?

Aberdeen Asset Management head of sponsorship Diane Finn says the company

has signed up to sponsor the boat race for a further three years. She says

6.3 million people watched the boat race on television this year compared

with 5.7 million last year.

With a further 300,000 supporters lining the banks of the Thames and media

coverage ranging from the Sun, Mirror and Financial Times to OK magazine

and even TV&#39s Ready Steady Cook, Finn says the total £8m cost of sponsoring

the event will be money well spent.

She says: “We have spent £4m on the sponsorship and will spend another £4m

on equipment for the teams but we have had a wide range of media coverage

as a result.”

All this for an event which boasts no famous sporting personalities and

where the participants are amateurs from two of the oldest academic


But this does not seem to have impressed IFAs, who maintain there is very

little awareness that Aberdeen sponsors the event.

Hargreaves says: “I do not think if I asked the first million people who

pass by my office or even if I asked the entire UK population, they would

know that Aberdeen Asset Management sponsored the boat race.”

IFAs say sponsorship of this kind encourages people to go direct to

providers and miss out on independent advice.

Chase de Vere investment director Graham Hooper says: “Linking this sort

of sponsorship to sales of Isas through IFAs is tenuous. Joe Public would

be more likely to call Aberdeen Asset Management direct rather than call an


Some fund managers believe that corporate entertainment at sporting events

is a more effective way to gain IFA business.

Gartmore corporate marketing manager Claire Lewis says: “We sponsor a

yachtsman in the round the world race and this provides a great platform

for entertaining IFAs. It is a lot more effective than buying a box at the

Royal Albert Hall.”

Edinburgh Fund Managers head of marketing Marianne Cantley says: “We have

sponsored a Scottish golfer since 1998 and will continue to do so next

year. We think golf is a sport which is appropriate for our clients and

IFAs enjoy golfing days as a result of this sponsorship.” Cantley says the

key to this sponsorship is pitching at the right market. She says: “You

need to think about where your client base is.

The trick is to sponsor something that people who may be interested in

your products will be watching. The boat race is not something we have

considered sponsoring and it is not likely we will.”


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