This year is the 25th anniversary of Mitsubishi Motors sponsoring the Badminton Horse Trials, one of the most famous equestrian events in the world.
The trials were established at Badminton Estate in 1949 by the Duke of Beaufort and the 2016 event is now underway and ends on Sunday 8 May.
Sponsorship partnerships lasting 25 years are almost unique so for a relatively small UK car company to be sponsoring such a large event, which attracts each year over 200,000 visitors from around the world plus the world’s top three-day event riders and horses, the 2016 event is a notable anniversary of their partnership which started in 1992.
How did it all start? Early in 1991 I received a phone call, no voicemail in those days, from Jim Gilmore the Press Officer for the Badminton event until 2001. He and I had worked for the same group of newspapers before I left them to become Press and PR General Manager at Mitsubishi Motors in 1985. He asked me if Mitsubishi would be interested in sponsoring Badminton in the following year as their long-term sponsors Whitbread Brewery were giving up.
I should point out that prior to this call Mitsubishi, or Colt Cars as it was in their early days from 1974, had become well known for their sponsorship activities as they promoted the fledgling Mitsubishi Motors brand in Britain. Everything from inshore and offshore powerboating to the Grand National; to the Shogun National Hunt racing series; to regional equestrian events; to touring cars racing; rallying; hot air ballooning; Lords cricket and even aerobatic teams carried the Mitsubishi Motors name.
That phone call led to meetings between Peter Beaumont, Mitsubishi’s managing director, with his fellow directors, Hugh Thomas, Director of the Badminton event and of course the Duke of Beaufort. Adding a Japanese brand name to a British traditional world-class equestrian event needed some careful consideration at that time.
Mitsubishi’s sponsorship policy was not just to throw money at an event but to be involved where possible to make sure the maximum amount of positive publicity was achieved for the money involved. An initial three-year agreement was reached and that has continued ever since.
What were the deciding factors in taking on the sponsorship? Adding the brand name to a famous equestrian event known around the world, brand publicity from the live television coverage by the BBC, the event took place close to their Cirencester headquarters, it was an opportunity to heavily promote their best selling Shogun 4×4 models as well as other vehicles and there was opportunity to entertain VIP guests, staff and suppliers.
In addition to the horse trial events, Badminton has one of the largest shopping villages for the thousands of visitors to explore. You can buy anything from a horse box, of course a Mitsubishi car, to high end fashion clothing to jewellery to a steak and ale pie.
On the Media side we established an award winning high-tech media centre, developed a computer based results service, and employed freelance equestrian journalists and broadcasters to provide a constant supply of news stories prior to and during the event. We employed a dedicated equestrian photographer to provide pictures for the national and regional media and we set up Radio Badminton.
We also involved Mitsubishi Electric to provide their huge Diamond Vision outdoor television screens for the visiting public and they also supplied their latest TVs in the media and hospitality centres as well as providing high speed fax machines, early PCs and photocopiers for the media Centre. We also involved another Mitsubishi family member – Nikon who provided a camera repair and telephoto lens loan service to accredited press photographers attending the event.
I have to say that much of getting the partnership between Mitsubishi and Badminton up and running for the first few years wouldn’t have been so successful if it weren’t for the hard work and dedication put into the event by Mitsubishi’s Cirencester HQ in-house PR/Promotions/Marketing /IT staff. Their innovative ideas and hard work made the initial sponsorship work for both parties, the equestrian world and Mitsubishi Motors, and that paved the way for a very successful future. That joint effort between the event organisers and the sponsors continues today
And the rest they say is history. See what happens when you pick up a phone; ‘it’s good to talk’ and personal contact is made. Much better than email and who knows where that conversation my lead in future.
Equestrian legend and Mitsubishi Motors ambassador, Mary King, was the first to pick up the Mitsubishi Motors Trophy (above) when she rode King William to victory in 1992. The trophy, designed and produced by the Wiltshire-based sculptress Judy Boyt, has since become iconic in the equine sporting world. Presenting the trophy was Princess Michael of Kent and the late Peter Beaumont, managing director of Mitsubishi Motors in 1992. Meanwhile, daughter Emily King, also an ambassador for Mitsubishi Motors, makes an exciting debut 25 years on at this year’s competition and this year the presentations will be made by HRH the Duchess of Cornwall.
Mary King the first winner of the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials trophy in 1992 (left). Action from the famous cross-country stage of the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (right).