BP became the latest British corporation to become a headline sponsor of the London 2012 Olympics yesterday, in a multi-year deal estimated to be worth in excess of £50m.
The oil major joins an illustrious list: Lloyds TSB, EDF Energy, Adidas, British Airways and BT are already signed up to contribute both money and services to put together and run the event.
So far Adidas is the biggest contributor, with a total effort worth some £100m that the company says will help to leave a legacy of better public access to sports facilities.
The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games needs to raise £2bn, on top of the £9.3bn from taxpayers. Around £600m will come from domestic corporations, the rest from merchandising and ticketing, broadcasting rights, and the International Olympic Committee. Locog is pleased with its progress. It is unprecedented to have even a single 'tier one' sponsor agreed before the previous games take place, let alone six. There are only two more top slots to fill, although plenty of opportunities for second and third level involvement remain.
BP's contribution will include fuel for all 4,700 official vehicles, as well as Liquefied Petroleum Gas for catering and technical support. It will also be supporting the four-year "Cultural Olympiad" designed to ensure that the impact of the games reaches across the whole country.
Tony Hayward, the chief executive, said: "We want to support this momentous event, which will also provide a unique opportunity to engage with our own large UK and global workforce, the millions of customers we serve each day, and our existing partners in the arts, education and cultural arena."
BT is putting up a vast array of communications facilities – in effect, a giant showcase of the company's ability to manage large, complex programmes.
But simple advertising is not all there is. Such a long-running programme also has the scope for subtler benefits, for both the brand and the organisation. BT's effort, for example, included creating a team of top sportspeople, such as the double Olympic gold winner Dame Kelly Holmes, to inspire the company's 100,000 staff to become mentors, coaches and helpers for young British athletes.
LloydsTSB, which was the first company to sign up as a top sponsor, has three objectives: to drum up business, to build the brand, and to bring together its 68,000 staff. According to the group's internal tracking, customers who are aware of the sponsorship are already more likely to buy extra financial products than their counterparts who do not know about the link. And the scheme to help fund 250 budding young athletes every year was not only borne from staff suggestion, but is also helping to foster employees' involvement.
"This is for our customers, our brand and our people in equal measures, and we are already seeing real success," said Sally Hancock, director of the London 2012 partnership at Lloyds TSB.
Such a vast promotional stage can also be used to push a wider message. Adidas wants to inspire more people to participate in sports, and is to build a 625 square metre multi-sport "zone" in each of the five host boroughs. "This not just a giant advert, it is an association with the biggest sporting event in the world," a spokesman said. "There is no point in just writing our name on things, if you are going to get involved, you have to do things. It is about the legacy."
For EDF Energy, it is a platform to trumpet its message of sustainability. "Our ultimate goal is to unite people to make London 2012 a turning point in the race against climate change," the company says.
But while Olympic sponsorship may offer almost unrivalled exposure, it also requires careful management. Peter Walshe, the global bands director at Millward Brown Optimor, said: "There are few opportunities of this scale, so the potential rewards are extremely high, but we are not talking about just a few weeks at an event, this has a build-up of several years, and then the magnifying glass of the actual games."
The main requirement is for the sponsor is to have a clear goal. "If you are not careful, and all you do is tell people what they know already, then the danger is that it comes across as showing off, as flashing money around, and just highlights the negatives," Mr Walshe said.