A look back on Harper Macleod’s three-year association with the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, and how to ensure that any sponsorship tie-in is a beneficial relationship

From one-off industry events to supporting a local sports club, law firms are regularly approached with sponsorship opportunities. Some, however, only arise once in a generation.

For two glorious weeks in the summer, Scotland basked in its moment in the sun as the world turned up and tuned in to Glasgow 2014. Simply put, the Commonwealth Games were a spectacular success.

National pride, international camaraderie, sporting achievement and the ability to deliver a world-class event were the qualities Scotland wanted to showcase.

They are also among the reasons Harper Macleod decided to get involved – both as legal advisers to Glasgow 2014 and, crucially, the event’s very first sponsor back in September 2011. Opting to tie our brand and reputation to Glasgow 2014 may have looked risky at the time. The legal scene was in the midst of a tumultuous period and the London 2012 Olympics were still to come, their success uncertain.

However, we saw an opportunity we couldn’t resist – the chance to use this sponsorship to take our brand to another level. 

With the benefit of hindsight, we could say that we never had any doubts, but with all tie-ins there is a risk that accompanies the association. So how do you ensure sponsorship pays off?

A great fit

The reputation of our sports law practice was one of the reasons we won the tender to become legal advisers to the Games. However, we’d never handled a global multi-sport event before.

A previous article in the Journal featuring the Glasgow 2014 in-house legal team (“Fever Pitch”, March 2014, 30) gave an indication of everything that was involved in putting on the Games. Our role covered the full spectrum of commercial legal services. 

Making the most of what we did as legal advisers was fundamental to us maximising the benefit of our sponsorship. 

The construction of the athletics track at Hampden Park, raised on stilts two metres above the existing playing field, in which our construction and procurement specialists played a key role, is a great example. 

It almost goes without saying, but when considering any sponsorship it’s important that the event is a good fit with your organisation. If it doesn’t align with your brand and values, you’ll waste resources without any chance of a return.

And the most important point of all is that everybody within the firm has to buy in to what you are doing. If your own people aren’t convinced of the benefits of a sponsorship, you have no chance of impressing the wider world.

Know your goal

We wanted to use our association with Glasgow 2014 to differentiate and enhance our brand, positioning us as a firm of choice for clients and lawyers alike. We wanted to showcase our credibility and capability. And we wanted to build even stronger relationships with our clients, as well as seeking new business from avenues opened up by the Games and its stakeholders.

That blurb can be boiled down to two measurable objectives that are the same for any sponsorship: 

  • enhancing your profile;
  • generating additional revenue.

That sounds simple, but it’s not just a case of sticking a badge on and waiting for the good times to roll. It takes time, effort, imagination and investment.

From day one we had an activation plan for the sponsorship (the “HM Game Plan”), which was focused around three principal strands of activity:

  • client engagement and new business;
  • colleague engagement;
  • media relations (including digital).

The HM Game Plan was at the heart of everything we did, outlining key activities and milestones and aligning them with each of our objectives. Having such a plan is essential if you are to meet your sponsorship objectives, allowing you to continually measure the success of your strategy and adapt it if necessary. 

No matter the subject of your sponsorship, it will come and go before you know it. Without the proper preparation you will never be able to maximise your sponsorship rights.

The brand opportunity – on message

Being a sponsor is all very well, but it’s not much use if nobody knows. From September 2011 we put Glasgow 2014 front and centre of the Harper Macleod brand. 

Due to the length of our sponsorship, our brand messaging moved through a number of phases, but even if it is a shorter arrangement, it’s crucial that you get the message right. Ours went from:

  • “Defining Moment” – the first stage of our messaging campaign, which brought in Games designations and logos.
  • “Driven…” – this campaign aligned the unique platform of Glasgow 2014 with the roots and culture of the firm.
  • “Greatness Begins Behind the Scenes” – the final stage which enabled us to talk directly to the sporting events and performances, relate our vital role in Games preparations, and remain relevant post-event. 

The core message informs all other activity. Whether it was dressing our offices, corporate communications, or our website and social media platforms, there was no mistaking the message.

Having said that it’s not just a case of sticking a badge on, one of our most effective ways of activating the sponsorship was just that. We made pin badges featuring both the Harper Macleod and Glasgow 2014 logos. People are your best marketing tool, and this was the most effective way to use our human resource to engage people with the Games. They were unrivalled as a conversation starter, meaning we didn’t have to introduce it into every conversation – the ideal scenario.

Of course, it wasn’t all so simple. A huge amount of hard work went in to enhance HM brand awareness among all our stakeholder groups. The key message was one of credibility and capability. 

There are many ways to go about it, but the crucial point is to get the message right, then don’t be shy about sharing it.

A trusting relationship

Having a close relationship with the individual, event or organisation you’re sponsoring is fundamental to making it work for both parties. It’s all about trust, and to have that you need good communication.

The nature and length of our relationship – with six of our lawyers seconded in-house and many more advising Glasgow 2014 – meant we were close. This was mirrored on the sponsorship side, with a clear vision of the end goals and responsibilities on either side.

Here’s how David Grevemberg, chief executive of Glasgow 2014, summed up the relationship. “From day one at Glasgow 2014 we set out to build the strongest possible group of partners, people who shared our vision and drive to deliver the best Games ever. In Harper Macleod, both as legal advisers to the Games and as our very first sponsors, we got off to the best possible start.

“We came to see Harper Macleod as an extension of our own team, and trusted advisers who we could rely on to deliver, no matter the challenges we faced. They shared our culture and developed comprehensive knowledge of all aspects of the Games, which was both impressive and invaluable.”

A public face 

We’re not the only law firm to sign up a sporting figure as a brand ambassador, but in the circumstances it made perfect sense and was one of the most rewarding elements of our association.

The advice here is simple – pick the right person. We drew up a list of the qualities we were looking for, then worked with Commonwealth Games Scotland to narrow that down to six candidates. 

In the end, we only had to meet one. Samantha “Sammi” Kinghorn, an 18-year-old Scottish wheelchair racer, won us over within moments of our first meeting, and by the time we cheered her on to fifth place in the T53 1,500m final at Hampden, our shared journey was a highlight of the Glasgow 2014 experience.

The relationship behind an ambassador tie-in has to be strong for it to work. Sammi, her family and support team are now part of Team HM, and we are continuing to work together post-Games.

Colleague engagement

A genuine programme of internal engagement allows everyone to understand and benefit from a sponsorship, while having a bit of fun along the way. From a “Get Fit For the Games” initiative, to competitions to win a visit from Clyde the Thistle, colleague engagement was central to the HM Game Plan. Internal benchmark surveys measured its success and the results were overwhelmingly positive, with 100% saying that the association has been positive for the firm.

The legacy

Taking on a sponsorship can be a leap of faith, but we had confidence that Glasgow 2014 could be transformational for Harper Macleod. Our role as legal advisers, and the association of our brand with what has been widely regarded as the greatest Commonwealth Games ever, is paying off. It will take years before we can fully assess the impact of the Games on our business, but over the course of our association it exceeded our expectations. 

I’ve tried to avoid clichés, but ultimately one word is unavoidable – legacy. The period ahead will determine whether we can make our Glasgow 2014 legacy tangible, but we’ve given ourselves every chance. In the end, you can only take out what you put in.

The Author
Martin Darroch is chief executive with Harper Macleod LLP
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