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Sponsorship case study: EDF and swimming

Sponsorship case study: EDF and swimming

By: Luke Upton

4 Jun 2011
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EDF chose to sponsor a water-based sport in order to keep inline with its professional values – successfully developing a relationship with swimming that has allowed the firm to improve brand awareness and promote its eco-friendly beliefs.

EDF is the world’s leading nuclear energy company, with a solid presence in major European countries. Havas Sports and Entertainment has been working with EDF since 2005 to design and implement an ambitious sponsorship strategy in Europe, to further drive its strong commitment to sport that dates back to a first partnership with canoeing 20 years ago.

EDF has chosen to align with water-based sports in particular – swimming, rowing and canoeing – because it is an area that is closely associated with EDF’s professional values and activities: respect for individuals and environment, striving for excellence, commitment to the community and need for integrity. EDF also sponsors the European Rugby Cup, the London Olympic Games and disabled sports.

Why sponsorship?

The context of EDF as a company:

  • The opening of the electricity market to rival companies; electricity suppliers had previously had monopolies on a national scale
  • The worldwide debate on energy suppliers’ social and environmental responsibility
  • EDF has an increasingly large number of employees across Europe who, it is believed, would all benefit from a strong sense of corporate unification.

The context of EDF’s brand objectives:

  • To make EDF more visible in European markets, to support its international expansion (today 50% of its activities are based outside of France)
  • To highlight the company’s involvement in sustainable development and drive the brand’s reputation as on the cutting-edge of low-carbon energy solutions
  • To explain that water is vital to efficient production of eco-friendly electricity
  • To build a strong company spirit within EDF

Why swimming?

Three main reasons convinced the company to get strongly involved in swimming:

  • Swimming is an Olympic sport that fits particularly well with EDF’s water sports sponsorship strategy and corporate values
  • Swimming is a credible communications platform from which to convey the message that water is the ultimate low-carbon energy source
  • Swimming is the water sport with the highest level of interest. Worldwide, swimming was the second-most followed sport during the 2008 Beijing Olympics in 2008 (with four of the top 10 TV audiences) and the success of internationally-recognisable competitors such as Michael Phelps are contributed to a vast amount of global media attention. In France, there are 16 million swimmers, 1,300 clubs and 246,000 registered members in the French Swimming Federation. Swimming has proven to be increasingly popular ever since the French national team’s series of victories through, in part, Laure Manaudou and Alain Bernard.

Sponsorship objectives

By supporting swimming, EDF and Havas Sports and Entertainment’s key objectives were to:

  • Reach a wide target audience: consumers, particularly youth interested in sport and members of the public who are already ‘green engaged’; institutions with political representatives who drive energy choices; and EDF employees
  • Promote behaviour change around the consumption of energy and engage people in the brand’s message of ‘Leading the Energy Change’
  • Generate brand exposure and media coverage in order to communicate these messages. In order to deliver against these objectives, EDF and Havas Sports and Entertainment collaboratively designed a relevant and comprehensive strategy.

How the sponsorship played out

In order to have maximum effect EDF and Havas Sports and Entertainment wanted to involve the entire swimming community as well as the larger general public. In order to do so, it was necessary to demonstrate the legitimacy of the brand’s involvement and this meant bringing exciting content to the entire target audience.

EDF created an integrated communications strategy, based on long-term partnerships that could, in turn, be activated at all levels: from top-level international competitions to local grassroots projects and community involvement.

Established partnerships

The strategy was to make established institutional partnerships with two major swimming federations:

The European Swimming Federation (Ligue Européenne de Natation or LEN)

EDF became an official sponsor of the European Short Course and Long Course swimming Championships from 2009 to 2012. The partnership rights enabled EDF to generate brand exposure on a wide scale by:

  • Making the EDF logo visible in the competition’s key locations, using advertising media – such as panels and interview boards – and promotional support
  • Placing the EDF logo on the competing swimmers’ official bibs to be visible in broadcasts across European media.

LEN also provided EDF’s hospitality programme with VIP passes covering all events ranging from 2009 to 2012.

The French Swimming Federation (Fédération Française de Natation or FFN)

EDF signed a seven-year partnership signed with the FFN, from 2005 to 2012, which granted a variety of extensive brand exposure:

  • On French-sponsored events, across a wide range of water sports (Short and Long Course, synchronised swimming, open water swimming, diving and water polo), competitions (championships and cups) and age groups (from youngsters to seniors)
  • On swimmers part of the French team, by placing their logo on their competition clothing items, such as swimming caps; official uniforms including t-shirts and tracksuits; and accessories
  • In Natation, FFN’s official magazine, which dedicated space to the energy supplier, to anchor them deeper into the French swimming community. EDF were also given VIP passes to further supplement their hospitality programme.

Grassroots events

To accelerate swimming development and provide enhanced credibility within the sport, EDF’s participation in two grassroots swimming events were also part of the agreement with the FFN:

La Nuit de l’Eau (The Water Night)

La Nuit de l’Eau is a charity night that takes place once a year across the country. It is organised by UNICEF (The United Nations Children’s Fund) France and the FFN with the support of EDF as the major sponsor of the event. Aimed at raising awareness of key issues linked to the respect of water, the project consists of opening pools up, overnight, and organising festive and educational activities for the public. The money raised is then offered to UNICEF France which in turn uses this invaluable donation to help underprivileged children from around the world in gaining access to drinking water.

La Nuit de l’Eau is an engaging platform for EDF to demonstrate leadership and promote behaviour change in the consumption of water for energy. EDF leveraged this to communicate its commitment to corporate responsibility in relation to social and environmental impact. La Nuit de l’Eau is also a valuable vehicle to help promote internal employee unity as a large number of employees were able to get involved with the programme at a local level.

Nagez Grandeur Nature (Swim in the Grandeur of Nature)

Since 1998, with the support of the French government and local authorities, the FFN and EDF have worked together on Nagez Grandeur Nature, a summer campaign to promote the practice of safe swimming in natural environments – sea, rivers, lakes.
EDF’s objectives were to:

  • Increase swimmers’ awareness of environmental issues
  • Establish reliable links with French authorities by helping them to resolve the lack of swimming facilities in rural areas and prevent swimmers from drowning.

Such a community event enabled EDF to raise the issue of water on the community agenda, and help demonstrate that its swimming-oriented strategy is legitimate and meaningful.

Creation of a major event

EDF created and organised a major event alongside the FFN: L’Open EDF de Natation. L’Open EDF de Natation is one of the biggest international meets on the swimming circuit with a significant reputation and profile within the sport.

Every year, the two-day competition brings the world’s best swimmers together in Paris: for its fourth edition in 2010, L’Open EDF de Natation welcomed close to 200 international swimmers, including American Olympic champion Michael Phelps and the Brazilian Caesar Cielo, and attracted more than 5,000 spectators.

EDF developed a 360-degree communications plan to promote the event and promoted its involvement in swimming through the following activation plan in 2010:

  • Advertising campaign: predominantly using promotional billboards across the city, as well as media partners such as Eurosport and
  • Digital strategy: dedicated event website ( and social media activity (10,500 fans on the EDF Open Facebook page, Twitter push)
  • Viral video content: designed to create buzz for the swimming event. Two mini video clips featuring Olympic French champion Alain Bernard were produced specifically for the campaign and content was featured on blogs, social media platforms, and through an online campaign
  • At the meeting itself, there was a hospitality programme, PR and exciting experiences designed for the general public to take part in, such as autograph sessions with swimming stars and consumer contests
  • A specific internal communications program within EDF, designed to engage employees in the campaign, for example the branding of company headquarters in Paris.

Team EDF

Created in 2001 by EDF and Havas Sports and Entertainment, the Team EDF programme consists of 25 international and French sporting champions who compete in water or disabled sports coming together to embody EDF’s brand message in consumer-facing communications. The ambassadors’ role is also to increase team spirit within the company, conveying its values and commitments to both an internal and external audience.

EDF signed individual endorsements with five of the strongest French swimmers to be part of Team EDF: Alain Bernard (Olympic and world champion), Hugues Duboscq (Olympic and world medal winner), Coralie Balmy (Olympic and world medal winner), Yannick Agnel (world champion), Camille Muffat (world champion).

These five swimmers were central to the overall sponsorship plan, used as spokespeople to provide EDF with visibility in the media and help develop an experiential approach conveying the brand’s core messages related to environmental issues. Their reputations helped generate great exposure for the brand and provide an engaging link to performance and as role models with faultless reputations, they both proved the firm’s values are genuine and served to actively inspire the general public. Their special relationship with EDF Energy’s employees also created a positive feeling within the company.

The presence of the five swimmers at EDF’s events and campaigns delivers fame and cut through for the brand’s communications. For example, three Team EDF swimmers – Bernard, Duboscq and Balmy – were integrated into the pan-European corporate print and TV advertising to increase its impact.

In 2010, to create a strong emotional link with the public and specifically youth interested in sport, a digital strategy was rolled out for the Team EDF programme. A 15-minute video report, named Team EDF Le Mag, was created on a monthly basis focusing on a different member of the team; regular content was updated on the website and social communities; and a community management campaign included the running of Alain Bernard’s personal Facebook page as well as that of Team EDF.

The results of the sponsorship

EDF and Havas Sports and Entertainment had to overcome some significant challenges in order to execute a successful branded content strategy. Swimming has less media coverage than other sports, and therefore it was necessary to develop an innovative activation plan to unveil EDF’s sponsorship in order to gain media interest. Swimmers, too, are often overbooked which means projects and events had to be planned with flexibility.

However, EDF’s commitment to swimming provided the company with very positive results. In 2010, EDF was the winner of the most-recognised sponsorship awards in France at Les Trophées Sporsora du Marketing Sportif.

To measure the success of the sponsorship EDF uses key metrics, in particular the LH2 barometer, which for 2010 showed the following positive results:

Choice of swimming

  • French people’s interest in swimming up 7% on 2009
  • EDF the top brand associated with swimming in France
  • People who know that EDF is involved in swimming have a more positive image of the company (+3 points)
  • EDF’s values, such as performance and respect for the environment, are largely associated to swimming (70%).

Commitment to grassroots events

  • More than €300,000 was raised for UNICEF France since the first edition of La Nuit de l’Eau.

Organisation of L’Open EDF de Natation

  • EDF increasingly associated with the meeting as a major partner (+11 points).

Use of Team EDF as an experiential approach

  • 74% of French people trust Alain Bernard when he talks about environmental preservation and renewable energy
  • Team EDF‘s members generated more than 301 media articles throughout 2010, representing 24% of the press coverage for EDF’s sponsorship.

EDF’s mobilisation

  • 78% of EDF’s employees say they now know that their company is involved in swimming and agree with the partnership.
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