Saturday 24 February 2018

Sponsorship of our Irish Olympic contenders connects the Electric Ireland brand to public

Lisa Browne, head of marketing with ESB's retail arm, outlines to John McGee the importance of the initiative for the brand

Lisa Browne, head of marketing at Electric Ireland. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Lisa Browne, head of marketing at Electric Ireland. Photo: Gerry Mooney

John McGee

With the 31st Olympic Games now in full swing, expect to see a lot more of the Electric Ireland brand over the coming weeks as Ireland's 77-strong team of athletes bids for glory in Rio.

As the main sponsor of the Irish hopefuls, Electric Ireland - the retail arm of the ESB - the Games mark the culmination of a year-long sponsorship initiative that positions the brand firmly at the centre of Ireland's hopes, dreams and dare we say, expectations.

Of course, this is not the first time that Electric Ireland has thrown its weight behind Team Ireland, says Lisa Browne, head of marketing with the company.

"Although it is our flagship sponsorship for 2016, it builds on our sponsorship of Team Ireland back in 2012 when the Games were held in London," she says.

Back then however, the Electric Ireland brand was less than a year old - so it was a perfect opportunity to promote it in the marketplace. Now that the brand is well established and the company is the largest supplier of electricity in a cut-throat market (with 1.3m customers and annual revenues last year of €2.1bn), the motivations behind the sponsorship are slightly different.

"The success of the 2012 sponsorship led us to ask ourselves if we should go again and, if so, for what reasons. I suppose the values of Team Ireland and what it takes to be an Olympic athlete in many ways embodies what we are trying to do with an energy brand in terms of the resilience and strength required to achieve success, be competitive and ultimately successful," she says.

"Utilities tend to be low-interest brands and people only think about them when they are not working for them.

"People take electricity for granted and in a competitive market like this, you really have to work hard to be interesting and relevant to consumers - and sponsorship is a great way to do that," says Browne.

"We work very hard at understanding the needs of our customers in terms of the products and services they expect but we also try to understand their interests and passions - and sport, music and charity are three areas that we have built our sponsorship portfolio around," she adds.

"What we have tried to do with the Team Ireland sponsorship is tell the story of these fantastic athletes on their road to Rio and talk about the strength and agility they have to compete at the highest levels and what are the smarter things they do in terms of sport, mental fitness, technology that enables them to compete successfully on the international stage.

"Our campaign has focused on this fantastic idea called 'The Power Within,' which was developed in collaboration with our agency Thinkhouse, and based on an insight about what makes an Olympic athlete so special.

"The reality is that 0.0001pc of the world's population get to call themselves an Olympian, so these people really are special. That insight led us to develop a really strong campaign around the athletes and how they find the power within themselves to excel at the highest level.

"But we also wanted to inspire the Irish public with these powerful stories and encourage them to look within themselves to discover what drives them and - ultimately - uncovering their own power within," she says.

While Rio will remain a focus for the next few weeks, closer to home Electric Ireland is the main sponsor of the GAA's All-Ireland Minor Football and Hurling Championship which is gradually winding its way to Croke Park for two eagerly anticipated finals in mid-September. Using the hashtag #ThisisMajor, the activation of the sponsorship scooped an award at the European Sponsorship awards earlier this year.

Electric Ireland also sponsors the Ireland Under-20 rugby team which made history earlier this summer by reaching the Under-20 World Championship Final.

Outside of the sporting arena, it is also one of the main sponsors of the annual Electric Picnic music festival, and the main sponsor of the annual Darkness into Light walk, which is organised by the suicide prevention charity Pieta House. Last year more than 120,000 people turned out for the annual 5km walk in 90 locations around the country.

"All of our sponsorship initiatives are a real way of demonstrating that Electric Ireland understands its customers and we care about the communities in which we operate. For us, it's not about putting our logo on something and saying that's it. We try and help to make a difference by adding some value to the sponsorship," she says.

"Behind the scenes with Team Ireland, for example, we would have spent a lot of time working with the athletes in areas like social media, conducting media interviews while we would also have promoted them heavily over the past year on TV where we collaborated with RTE in the making of the series The Road to Rio. We also did a lot of work with them for press and radio. So a big part of the sponsorship was about helping the athletes themselves," she concludes.

Sunday Indo Business

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