First London Marathon

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The inaugural London Marathon on March 29th 1981 was described as “The Sponsorship of the Century”. West Nally was the agency that united Chris Brasher, ex-Olympic Gold Medallist, journalist and architect of the Marathon dream with Gillette UK Limited, a major company with sufficient courage and budget to back an unknown quantity.

West Nally had already been working with Chris Brasher for several months – dealing with public relations and marketing issues that involved Royal Palaces, the Metropolitan and City Police and gaining public awareness. Gillette had been long-time sponsors of cricket but were looking for a new avenue. The £50,000 West Nally secured from Gillette was vital – underwriting the operation and enabling the total organisation of the event to move forward. In December 1980 the project was launched.

A marketing programme was launched by West Nally to fund the balance of the Marathon budget. It included the licensing of the bulldog mascot and London skyline official symbol as well as official supplier packages. 22 product lines were licensed, there was an official record “Keep on Running” and an official programme (Click Here to view the original London Marathon Programmeand Click Here to view the Start List) which was sold throughout Britain.

West Nally also organised a Trade Exhibition in the Strand Palace Hotel – a sell out with 20 exhibitors. British Olivetti provided the vital computer technology and Citizen the timing. Hertz Europebecame the official vehicle supplier and St Alban’s based Record Pasta provided the pasta party for the 7,500 runners. Nestle provided black coffee as well as their Ashbourne sparkling water while 7-Up provided the 23 drink stations along the route.

Metaxa, the “spirit of Greece” celebrated the fact that the first Marathon was a Greek affair by sponsoring a mile of the route, dressing it with yellow and black banners. British Airways was the official carrier and Trusthouse Forte the official hotel group. With the Royal Film Performance of “Chariots of Fire” schedule for the next day, 20th Century Fox also became a sponsor and dressed the photographer’s lorry. Finally, Bovril gave everyone a hot drink at the finish.

Mars took over from Gillette a few years later as the title sponsor…..and there have been many more commercial partnerships since.

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