Running events as marketing tools

Raymond Snoddy talks to the Camelot and National Lottery chief who found added value in sponsoring the London Olympics

Dianne Thompson, chief executive of Camelot, was determined to have her very own Olympic event to mark London 2012. Of course, there would be favourable publicity for the UK’s National Lottery as a result. But she says that wasn’t the point.

“What we wanted was a way to thank the British public for having played the National Lottery game that allowed the money to be raised for the Olympics,” says Ms Thompson, who over her decade in charge at Camelot has promoted the funding of a host of good causes.

Camelot raised the £750 million it pledged through special lottery games for the Olympics, part of a total of £2.2 billion, including general lottery contributions. More than 47,000 people applied to take part in the Olympic Park Run, more than applied to carry the Olympic torch, and 6,500 were chosen, each of whom could bring two guests.

“Our people who took part in that run were the first people ever to cross the finish line in the stadium,” says Ms Thompson with satisfaction. She feared at one stage there was a danger that the role of lottery players in funding 2012 would not be formally recognised.

The run sums up Ms Thompson’s approach to using events as marketing tools. She has been marketing director of a number of British retail and consumer groups, such Sterling Roncraft, Woolworths and Signet.

According to her code, there must be a point, it must be relevant and, if possible, Camelot employees should be involved. Setting up an art exhibition, however interesting, or taking corporate guests to a concert doesn’t have the same impact, she says.

The real benefit I have found in corporate sponsorship over the years is where people meet people

A perfect example of what she means came from the Olympics itself when Camelot, which backed GB lead boats in the rowing over eight years, took guests to Dorney Reach for the last day of Olympic rowing. Ms Thompson and guests roared themselves hoarse in a morning of double GB gold-medal victories.

“As at the rowing, you have a good half day where you are with people and you can have a chat off the record. It is a good atmosphere,” says Ms Thompson, who has taken corporate guests to Ascot for similarly great days out over the years.

“If you’re running the event or it’s like the rowing and you have a vested interest in a race and there is a purpose behind you being there – you are not just there for a nice day, I find that works incredibly well,” she adds.

The idea behind supporting rowing by Camelot plc – rather than general National Lottery funding – happened largely by accident.

Ms Thompson says she fell in love with Steve Redgrave, now Sir Steve, when he spoke in an interview after the Sydney Olympics about the importance of lottery funding.

The following year, Ms Thompson was on her way to work when she heard Redgrave’s gold-winning colleague Matt Pinsent – now Sir Matt – say on Radio 4 that he and James Cracknell had been unable to find sponsors.

“I did what no chief executive should ever do and rang my newsroom, and I said find out how much it will cost and if we can afford it, we are doing it,” says Ms Thompson, who knew nothing about rowing at the time.

Camelot sponsored first the lead men’s boat and later added the women’s boat. The deal was about much more than money changing hands. There were in-house competitions that took groups of ten Camelot staff to rowing world cups and world championships.

There were motivational talks by the gold medal winners and Pinsent even came into Camelot to challenge some of Camelot’s fittest on rowing machines.

“The real benefit I have found in corporate sponsorship over the years is where people meet people,” insists Ms Thompson, who ended Camelot’s sponsorship of rowing three years ago to avoid causing confusion with the National Lottery’s fundraising for the Olympics.

“I think we will do something going forward. It’s just that we don’t know yet what is the right thing to do. It could well be a link into another Olympic sport,” the Camelot chief executive says.