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When the Canadian Mount Everest Expedition first started to take shape late in 1977, members were not unaware of their role as complete neophytes in the major league world of Himalayan mountain climbing. When they left five years later to tackle the Everest, it was as one of the best prepared, best financed, and best supported of any to attempt the formidable challenge.

Much of this was due to the collective efforts of expedition business manager John Amatt and the support of dozens of Canadian companies, big and small. In par­ticular, says Amatt, it was due to the spon­sorship of Air Canada.

“Air Canada made a major commitment to the climb back when we really needed it,” he says. Not only did this give us the cash we had to have, but also made possi­ble a series of high altitude training climbs around the world. And with Air Canada as an example, we were able to attract the support of many other companies to make the climb possible.”

Air Canada’s sponsorship was received with mixed reactions in the Canadian busi­ness community. In business terms, back­ing a venture that entailed such a high degree of risk and that revolved around a sport virtually unknown across the country was considered innovative by many—and foolish by some.

“But we were pretty sure of what we were doing,” explains advertising director Mike Breckon. “We completed an extensive public survey and found that the interest really was there.  We also had one of the world’s most experienced expedition leaders review the team’s chances and his answer was positive.  Finally, we were satisfied that association with such a daring and completely Canadian endeavour was exactly the kind of promotion we were looking for”

Air Canada, insiders say, was suffering a malady that goes along with being a crown corporation. Despite major improvements and a solid business record among the lead­ing airlines of the world, it was silt per­ceived as being grey, unimaginative and dull. Seeking a major corporate promotion to counter this, the airline’s executive management found common ground in the challenge, the integrity, the team spirit and the courage inherent in the attempt on Everest.

Although the Everest climb offered all the right ingredients — and although Air Canada’s contribution sparked widespread appreciation — association with the climb­ers was not without its perils, The sponsorship expenditure came under unusually severe scrutiny in a deteriorating economic environment; the expedition supporters within the airline were stunned when, immediately after Skreslet’s summit success, they were subjected to a tirade of criticism stemming from employee layoffs.

Frankly,” says Breckon, “If we’d been offered the sponsorship two years later we might have turned it down, strictly for financial reasons. We re-examined our commitment six months before the climb took place, but by that time we felt we were obligated.  If we had pulled out, it is doubtful if the expedition would have ever left Canada and by this time many more Canadian companies were also involved.”

Although media criticism became vitriolic in some sectors, the airline’s decision to stick with the climbers was ultimately endorsed by the people of Canada. An ex­tensive sampling of opinions coast-to-coast after the team’s return revealed that 94% of the general public had been aware of the event, 79% had followed it closely and 52% were aware of Air Canada’s sponsorship. The final clincher was the response to a fourth question which revealed that 68% had considered Air Canada’s sponsorship as being appropriate.

‘Together with other research we conducted, this indicated that we had achieved the objective of helping to present a new image of Air Canada to the public,” says Breckon. It showed that the climb was right for us to sponsor.”

And it showed a large part of the Canadian business community that an innovative sponsorship could have high rewards. And that, says one Toronto management consultant, is almost as good news as the summit success of the climbers themselves.














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