London Marathon runners

Q&A: Why does TCS sponsor the London Marathon?

Image credit: Dreamstime

The London Marathon, which takes place on Sunday, has a new sponsor and for the first time it’s not a consumer brand. Michelle Taylor, head of sports sponsorships for Tata Consultancy Services, tells E&T's editor in chief Dickon Ross that there’s more to the deal than the title branding.

Dickon Ross: For those who may not know already, what is TCS?

Michelle Taylor: TCS is a global IT services and consulting company, so we basically work with our clients around the world to use technology to help innovate and improve how they work and transform their businesses

DR: What does the sponsorship involve, apart from putting your name in the title? 

MT: This weekend, you’ll see that the town [London] is painted in pink, black and white, which is exciting. The true reason we got into this is to build relationships and to showcase innovation. One of the biggest ways we do that is through the race app that allows spectators to connect with their runners. This app has been a game-changer in endurance running, particularly around the London Marathon.

When we were partners in 2020, and the pandemic turned everybody’s lives upside-down, we were able to use our contextual knowledge and our expertise in technology to reimagine what the Marathon looked like and introduce the virtual London Marathon that still exists today. Now we’ve got what we are calling a hybrid app where we are allowing runners from around the world to still participate in the TCS London Marathon this year, as well as participants that will be joining on the ground here in London.

The technology is keeping everybody connected and also creating a more inclusive experience. Previously folks that lived in other places that didn’t either have the means or ability to travel to London couldn’t participate. Now we are excited to be able to be more inclusive in allowing both virtual participation and participation locally here as well.

London Marathon finish gantry

Supporters can use the TCS app to send messages of encouragement to runners that they will see on the overhead digital gantry

Image credit: TCS

This year, stepping up to the London title partner, the other thing we are doing with them is some of the back-end data analytics - the stuff most people don’t see - and that is really helping them capture data and analyse it to really help give the runners and their clients more targeted information and more targeted support. We’re excited about that work as well, even though it isn’t so forward facing. For all companies, the collection of data, analysing it and using it, is certainly critical.

DR: Previous sponsors of the London Marathon have been consumer-facing companies, so this isn’t a really obvious fit. Why is it good for TCS?

MT: I love this question because there is so much heart from TCS that goes into this partnership and sponsorship. The sponsorship comes from a true place of belief in community and in innovation. It’s all the core values that we hold dear in terms of inclusivity, sustainability and, again, innovation that align with the core values of London Marathon Events. We’ve been a partner with the London Marathon since 2016. We’ve invested in endurance running since 2008. For us, the running platform is really an opportunity to connect with people and communities. We really use it to build relationships with our clients, but also with the communities where we work and live.

We love that we get to inspire healthy choices - running certainly does that. A lot of our employees, much like a lot of your readers, probably spend a lot of time in front of their computers each day, so running is really helpful in getting people moving, getting them out in nature, which is good for our minds and bodies. It’s a good platform for driving innovation and it’s an opportunity to showcase what we’re capable of in terms of improving experiences and transforming industries. 

DR: Who are you trying to reach with this sponsorship? Who are the potential customers in front of whom you're trying to place your name?

MT: Our target audience is generally C-suite executives and that generally matches pretty well with the demographics of a marathoner. Certainly, we host a lot of our clients in the event; we invite them to purchase paid runs with us and there’s just a wonderful amount of relationship building that goes into that. The marathon experience is beyond one day. It takes months of training to get there and it's really exciting to see our client partners engaging with their clients, talking about running, sometimes even meeting up to do the runs together. It really is a platform that’s been great for us in terms of building relationships.

Even beyond that there’s a lot of really great stories we get to tell about what we are doing around the TCS London Marathon that help us showcase the power of technology to our clients, maybe non-runners. Maybe they’re not a runner but they see how the race app is connecting people globally around running. They look at that and think "Wow, if TCS can reimagine running, what can they do for my business?"

DR: Is running the new golf?

MT: Yes. We’ve believed that for a little while now. The engagement period is the same: when you do 18 holes of golf, it’s about four hours or maybe a little bit more. To run a marathon takes on average at least four hours. The difference is with marathoning you’ve got about six months of training that go into that as well. The wonderful thing about the marathoning and the running community is that they love to talk about it, they love to analyse their running data, they love to train with one another. It’s very much a community builder and we love that. We love getting our employees active and we love sharing that with our clients in the communities where we work. It’s a great way to open a meeting. If people aren’t marathon runners themselves they know a friend or family member who is.

When you participate in a marathon, it is a transformative experience. You can’t be a marathoner without it impacting you. It physically changes you. It mentally changes you and it becomes part of who you are. So it’s a great conversation opener, a great way of relating to people. Everybody has a story to tell. At TCS we tend to tell a lot of stories about technology, but when you can connect it to the human spirit as well, if you can help can help get someone across that finish line, then there’s something very powerful in that.

DR: The London Marathon aims to be net zero by 2024. Are you involved with that?

MT: TCS has been working with the Council for Responsible Sport for a few years now. We helped them digitise their process for certifying events and supporting events to meet global sustainability standards. You do it by measurement and tracking and all that kind of stuff. We created an app for them that allows organisations around the world to track their progress towards sustainability standards. We’ve been working with London Marathon Events as well and they’re going through the process right now with the Council for Responsible Sport to get certified and measure up, to track their progress and become more responsible. They’re already doing a great job but there is always room to do better.

The biggest carbon impact for most events is the travel. Adding the hybrid feature to the app means people can participate virtually or in person, so it helps to create not just a more inclusive but also a more sustainable event, because not as many have to travel in.

Previous London Marathon title sponsors and their start years

1981 Gillette

1984 Mars

1989 ADT

1993 NutraSweet

1996 Flora

2010 Virgin Money

TCS app participant screen shot

The TCS app displays runner data in real time

Image credit: TCS

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