Giles Morgan is not your average spokesman for a major sporting sponsor. He’s knowledgeable, forthright, and is more than happy to put a few noses out of joint if he doesn’t like what he sees going on around him. As global head of sponsorship and events for HSBC, he’s made it very clear on many occasions how he feels that sporting governing bodies do not appreciate the value of free-to-air television. HSBC has been a long-time supporter of golf and rugby, but one of its major sponsorship platforms, the British and Irish Lions has not achieved the exposure that some would have wished because of their exclusive deal with Sky Sports, and live coverage of the Open Championship, golf’s premier event, will leave the BBC in two years’ time.
When talking about his company’s limited investment in the Rugby World Cup hospitality programme, Morgan, whose previous experience includes successful stints at agencies Craigie Taylor and Hill and Knowlton, highlights the media exposure the official sponsors will receive. “Media is one of the key indicators of the value of commitment to events of this scale. Sponsorship deals have to match the sponsor’s image,” he says, “but they also have to achieve the maximum amount of impact, and that means as many people as possible knowing about it, and that means having the right media on board. Banks are in the relationship business, and sponsorship adds colour to a brand, especially to a sector that is perhaps intrinsically not very exciting. Getting the message and association with a sport like rugby is absolutely crucial.”
HSBC’s message these days centres as much on grassroots sport as it does on the elite. More than 200,000 young people in 24 countries have gone through its community rugby programme in recent years, and that according to Morgan, “provides the most positive signs of the bank’s commitment to sport as a whole, and an understanding of our responsibilities to the future. As a bank, our objective is to be a catalyst for growth, and by helping the next generation of sportsmen and women, we are helping their respective sports to grow too. It’s a very obvious, but also a very strong link as a force for good.”
HSBC’s involvement with the Lions and the HSBC Sevens World Series means it has a long-standing link with the sport, so that even though it is not an official sponsor of the Rugby World Cup, it is only too well aware of its importance in the sporting calendar, and the need to be involved. “It’s going to be a great showcase for Britain, never mind just rugby. We will take a lot of customers to matches because they will genuinely be rugby fans, and because it’s a sport that embodies so many of our core values such as integrity and respect.”
HSBC is a global brand but with considerable links historically to the Far East. That was one of the reasons for taking the flagship golf tournament to Shanghai in China in 2005, but also for its continued support as main sponsor of the recently held Hong Kong 7s event – and it is in that environment, as the face of the bank, that Morgan is most in his element, working a room with the dexterity of a member of the royal family. And what he is most proud of is that for three days “HSBC doesn’t look like a bank.”
The most glamorous event on the 7s circuit – a sport that will become an Olympic event in Rio in 2016 – is “dynamic, vibrant, and a blaze of colour. That’s not really how people tend to see banks. That’s what sponsorship of sport can offer. A chance to engage with customers, to involve staff, and to create a different feeling about our organisation, while never losing the core strengths of tradition and heritage.” With a name like Morgan, it’s more than a little obvious whose side he’ll be on in the autumn. His face still contorts with agony at Wales’ missed opportunity four years ago when inspirational captain Sam Warburton was sent off early in the semi-final against France, leaving 14 men to narrowly miss out on a final against the All Blacks. “I genuinely believe this time that Wales have a good shot at the semi-final again, and if Sam stays on the field for 80 minutes who knows after that.” Morgan normally deals in the hard facts of a matrix of factors that determine the success and value of sponsorship deals. Just occasionally though, he allows himself to dream.