A long-term relationship: Cancer Research UK and Tesco

A long-term relationship: Cancer Research UK and Tesco

A long-term relationship: Cancer Research UK and Tesco

With engagement centred on Tesco colleagues, Cancer Research UK’s longstanding partnership with the supermarket giant has now raised over £40m. Sophie Langman talks us through the evolution of this beautiful relationship


Last month, we announced that Tesco has raised more than £40m for Cancer Research UK over the last 16 years, making our charity partnership one of the biggest ever in the UK.


Over £20m of the total has been raised through Tesco’s hugely successful sponsorship of Race for Life, Cancer Research UK’s biggest annual fundraising event. As flagship sponsor, Tesco is integrated into all elements of the event series and has generated income through staff fundraising initiatives, in-store events and donations on products.  


Our partnership with Tesco continues to evolve. I hope by sharing some insight into our relationship, specifically our Race for Life partnership, we’ll help others achieve similar long-standing success.


Developing our partnership


As our partnership and the market have evolved, so have our objectives but ultimately, our aims are to:


  • encourage women to get active across the UK
  • raise money to help fund research and bring forward the day when all cancers are cured
  • engage colleagues and unite them in helping to beat cancer
  • put Tesco at the heart of local communities
  • drive brand awareness and increase brand affinity for both organisations.


In the early years, the partnership focused on raising awareness of cancer to customers and colleagues, and encouraged participation across Race for Life events.  


To achieve this, Tesco undertook national marketing and PR campaigns. In 2003, Tesco funded a television campaign fronted by Prunella Scales and Jane Horrocks, as well as a series of radio adverts.


Over the years, Tesco has also worked with celebrities including Gok Wan, Paula Radcliffe and Nell McAndrew to support PR campaigns, maximising the opportunity for our shared messages to be seen and heard at a national level. As Tesco’s estate has grown, so has the opportunity to promote and celebrate the partnership across Tesco’s own channels from advertorials in Tesco magazine, to sign-up messaging on their self-service tills.


Colleague engagement


Tesco colleagues have always been at the heart of our partnership. Since 2002, nearly 300,000 colleagues have taken part in a Race for Life event.  


2016 marked the 15th anniversary of our partnership, and this offered a unique opportunity for Tesco and Cancer Research UK to not only celebrate this incredible achievement, but also to thank Tesco colleagues for their amazing support over the years. Female colleagues up and down the country were invited to join Race for Life’s ‘Pink Army’ and run, walk, or jog a Race for Life event.


Since the beginning of our partnership, Tesco has encouraged colleague sign ups by covering the cost of entry fees and 2016 was no different.


Colleagues were also encouraged to focus their in-store fundraising around ‘Tesco Turns Pink’, now in its third year. This national fundraising weekend, which took place on 29-30 April, saw Cancer Research UK volunteers and Tesco colleagues come together to raise money and encouraged customers to sign up for Race for Life. Colleagues were encouraged to wear pink and donate £1 to the charity, and to get as creative as possible with their fundraising ideas.


To encourage their colleagues, Tesco runs an inter-store competition with each store submitting images of their activity. The winning stores as selected by the Tesco Community team, win a donation to their store’s ‘Social Fund’ – an existing Tesco initiative to support team building in-store. In total, Tesco Turns Pink raised over £262k in 2016.


2016 also saw the first ever ‘Tesco does Race for Life’ – a bespoke Race for Life event for Tesco colleagues. Over 2,000 colleagues from across the UK came together to take part – and for the first time, men were invited to take part too. Each year Tesco engages male colleagues in Race for Life through volunteering opportunities and in-store activities, and this gave men a chance to fully experience what Race for Life is all about.


Tesco donated £10 for every colleague that took part and a further £2.7k was raised through the sales of merchandise and bucket collections on the day bringing the total to just under £23k. Tesco does Race for Life was a roaring success with unanimously positive feedback from colleagues and many reporting how proud they felt to work for Tesco as a result. Great work!


Evolving our partnership


In addition to our ongoing fundraising with Tesco, in 2012 Cancer Research UK was chosen by Tesco colleagues to be their Charity of the Year. In just one year, Tesco raised £12m, making it the most successful Charity of the Year relationship for both organisations. As well as traditional colleague fundraising, we worked with Tesco to explore commercial opportunities with their supplier network, generating more than £1.6m through cause-related marketing initiatives.


When the Race for Life partnership was renewed in 2015, cause-related marketing became a key focus to support activation of the campaign following the success of the previous initiative. We worked together to engage Tesco’s commercial team and suppliers alike to grow this new revenue stream. Over £218k was raised in 2015, nearly £320k in 2016 and activity is on track to exceed a £500k target in 2017.


Measuring impact


At its core, the partnership between Tesco and Race for Life was, and still is, about enabling customers and colleagues to get active, have fun, help beat cancer and make healthier lifestyle choices in every community in the UK.


Tesco continues to be the most recognised sponsor of Race for Life, regularly achieving more than 80% awareness amongst participants (82% in 2016). 34% of participants feel more positively about Tesco because they continue to support Race for Life and Tesco’s sponsorship of Race for Life also continues to be the most recognised of all Tesco Community programmes (Tesco Community Awareness Survey, 2016).


Tesco’s commitment to Race for Life, particularly from a financial perspective, has helped us grow the event series. We’ve innovated beyond the traditional 5k and 10k events, taking the Race for Life ethos – friendly, inclusive, non-competitive – and creating new events to reach new audiences and further engage existing ones. As a result, Race for Life remains the highest-earning mass participation series in the UK.


As well as helping the series grow, Tesco has supported our wider ambition to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured. Tesco has funded 33 research projects with a focus on early diagnosis and is now funding three projects focused on cancer prevention.


Top tips for partnership success


Both CRUK and Tesco are incredibly proud of such a longstanding and mutually beneficial partnership, and over the last 16 years, we’ve each learned a lot. Here are our top tips for partnership success:


  • An inside-out approach – Tesco’s colleagues are their greatest asset and it’s their incredible support that has helped our partnership be so successful. Not only are they incredible fundraisers but they’re now an unstoppable army of Cancer Research UK advocates too. Be aware of fundraising fatigue though and find fun ways to keep things new and exciting.


  • Evolve – A partnership is never going to last 16 years without constant reviewing and development. Together, we’ve have tested new ideas and have introduced new fundraising initiatives and income streams.


  • Allow time to develop – Truly successful partnerships allow themselves time to lay the groundwork and develop. Similarly, when introducing new ideas don’t expect huge success overnight – look at successes and challenges, learn from mistakes and refine ideas for the future.


Sophie Langman is head of corporate partnerships at Cancer Research UK

Get the latest fundraising advice and insight

Sign me up