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Expanding the Boundaries of Sponsorship

[fa icon="calendar'] May 9, 2011 8:12:58 AM / by Bahar Gidwani

How the Catlin Group Turned Climate Change Research Corporate

By Bahar Gidwani

4684077396_510fdf97e8 Catlin Group Limited is a major UK Insurance company ($4B of premiums written, 600 people, HQ is technically in Bermuda).  A few years ago its CEO, Stephen Catlin, was considering how best to boost his company’s visibility.  Apparently, he considered sponsoring a sports team (a fairly standard practice among large companies) and then decided instead to sponsor an Arctic research trip:

“There is a wide range of activities that companies like Catlin can sponsor, ranging from sporting events to artistic performances,” says Stephen Catlin, CEO of Catlin Group Ltd. “We believe that by sponsoring the Catlin Arctic Survey, we are making a contribution to the understanding of climate change, one of today’s most important issues both for the insurance industry and for the planet as a whole.” 

I only recently heard about the Catlin Arctic Survey—which has been generating great information about the Arctic ice cap for several years.  However, there are more than 25,000 mentions of it on Google, and a wide variety of social organizations have supported this effort.

In our system, Catlin gets a pretty average rating.  A quick check of their disclosures (they have a small section of their web site devoted to CSR issues) show they filed a public CSR report in 2010.  They have a code of ethics and have invested in employee development.  They disclose some aspects of management compensation and made about £800,000 of charitable donations to community groups.  Catlin is a member of Business in the Community (a UK group that is somewhat analogous to the US-based Business for Social Responsibility) and participates in ClimateWise (a group of UK insurance companies that cares about climate change).

However, Catlin has not committed to the UN Global Compact, has not joined Carbon Disclosure Project, and has not adopted the reporting guidelines suggested by the Global Reporting Institute.  In other words, it is a good citizen, but could do more.

Still, the smart decision to sponsor a high profile project has probably added more to Catlin’s brand than putting its name on a soccer stadium or putting its logo on the sides of a racing sailboat. The cost was modest—less than £3 million.  The logic was good—an insurance company should be interested in a project that could help us all better predict climate change. And the opportunity to participate as a partner with multiple advocacy and activist groups (otherwise prickly and suspicious) should keep Catlin on the “good list” for a lot of people.

Of course, some of the coverage has been quirky. You can read articles about why lacy underwear has become part of the expedition’s equipment or how members of the team prepared to swim to the North Pole.  However, on balance, Catlin has probably done well on its investment—as Queen Isabella did by supporting Christopher Columbus and Lincoln Ellsworth did by supporting Arctic and Antarctic exploration (Ellsworth had a mountain range named after him!).  I hope their success prompts other companies to consider shifting some of their sponsorship budget into activities that will help further social, community and environmental causes.

Bahar Gidwani is a Cofounder and CEO of CSRHUB. Formerly, he was the CEO of New York-based Index Stock Imagery, Inc, from 1991 through its sale in 2006. He has built and run large technology-based businesses and has experience building a multi-million visitor Web site. Bahar holds a CFA, was a partner at Kidder, Peabody & Co., and worked at McKinsey & Co. Bahar has consulted to both large companies such as Citibank, GE, and Acxiom and a number of smaller software and Web-based companies. He has an MBA (Baker Scholar) from Harvard Business School and a BS in Astronomy and Physics (magna cum laude) from Amherst College. Bahar races sailboats, plays competitive bridge, and is based in New York City.

Inset photo courtesy of Polar Cruises. 

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[fa icon="comment"] 1 Comment posted in Bahar Gidwani, Carbon Disclosure Project, CSR, UN Global Compact, Uncategorized, Business for Social Responsibility, Business in the Community, Catlin Arctic Survey, ClimateWise, Global Reporting Initiative

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