Magazine article Marketing

Alan Pascoe, Chairman and MD, the Sponsorship Group; Athletics Star on a Winning Streak

Magazine article Marketing

Alan Pascoe, Chairman and MD, the Sponsorship Group; Athletics Star on a Winning Streak

Article excerpt

Alan Pascoe, MBE, is quick on his feet. Not only was he once one of the fastest men in the world, but he's also jumped some controversial hurdles in business.

Interviewing him in the immaculate offices of his Sponsorship Group, it's impossible to ignore the sporting links of this former British athletics team captain. Framed prints of athletics' heroes hang on every wall, but the amateur status of these sprinters is far from what Pascoe's firm is all about. Sponsorship, of sports events especially, is big money now.

Last year sponsors poured |pounds~15m into athletics alone. In theory the sport is still amateur, but this summer the International Amateur Athletics Federation relaxed the rules about athletes' earnings. All of which was music to the ears of Pascoe, both as one of the leading players in the sponsorship sector, and as a key mover back in the late 60s/early 70s who "wanted to see athletics become more professional", says Tony Ward, press officer at the British Athletics Federation.

"He was at the end of a long line of prominent athletes who, although they weren't popular at the time for saying so, though there should be a professional athletics administration. After Alan retired from running, he got his way and a general secretary was appointed."

Talking to other marketers about Pascoe, this story serves very well as an introduction to the man -- "professional", "well-versed and influential in athletics" and "strong, you have to be on your guard when you're dealing with him", are typical observations. However, former javelin champion Fatima Whitbread describes him as "inspirational". "He always had a kind word for everybody. It's a pleasure to have known him as an athlete and now that I'm in marketing myself |running Chafford Hundred which finds sponsorship for individual athletes~, I have respect for him as a businessman too."

Being a success is obviously important to Pascoe. You don't win gold medals in the 400m hurdles at the Commonwealth Games and European Championships or a silver medal at the Olympics (Munich, 1972) without a degree of confidence, without moving quickly past your competitors or treading on a few toes occasionally. This training has stood him in good stead for the competitive marketing world.

Pascoe has had the rare experience of selling his business (to the Aegis Group in 1986) and then leading a management buyout seven years later. It's this deal above all that splits opinion about him in the close-knit sponsorship industry. The company only cost him |pounds~1.5m, reflecting the losses it suffered in business outside its core sponsorship activities. Aegis "had to write off goodwill value to the tune of |pounds~4m because of APA's involvement in unprofitable ventures," said Aegis group development director Roger Parry at the time. One marketer says it would be "very false to have an impression that his company is the best thing since sliced bread", while another mentioned the "poor Aegis shareholders". Barry Gill, chairman of rival firm CSS, describes him as an "interesting competitor whom we're delighted to beat on many occasions".

"From the business angle he has put together a very competitive and aggressive company," says Karen Earl, managing director of sponsorship firm Karen Earl Ltd. "His move from Aegis was a very clever business deal. …

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