Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sponsors, Start your Activation!!!

I was up and down the east coast a little this week for business, a couple client meetings and then a day at the main office to give a presentation to our executive committee. Had some bad news for them, our clients weren’t as happy with us as we might have hoped they would be. If our clients aren’t thrilled with us, then we as a company become stagnant, merely treading water. Marketing only succeeds in getting new clients to replace the old as the old walks out the door. Revenues are flat and employees stay in the same positions on the org chart – the most junior person today is the most junior person a year from now and that is lousy for morale.

We don’t have a problem getting new clients, but we have a little bit of a problem keeping them happy and thrilled with us. Thrilled happy clients are the best ones to have, not only do they stay with you but they also find ways to spend more money with you and they can become advocates for you in the marketplace. They say good things about you to their professional networks, and sometimes even better than that. When the right client (Client X) decides to co present with you at the right conference (Everyone was there!) the phone starts ringing off the hook with other potential new clients who want a piece of the action that Client X had. Workload and revenues surge, employees are added, new laptops are purchased, money is invested back into new technology and the new products that technology creates generates even more revenue. All a result of Client Advocacy which is a goal of any client focused company.

As I was in the car service from our Stamford, CT office heading back to my favourite airport in the whole wide world, NYC LaGuardia, I looked out the window and said to myself “Hey that’s Danica!”. Yes indeed there she was, street side on Washington avenue, or at least a cardboard POS display of her in her new black and orange Boost regalia. Danica has done something similar to what my company hopes to do. She has reached a point in her sponsor relationships called – Sponsor Activation.

Sponsorship Activation occurs when the sponsor begins to move beyond just being content that their name is on the side of a car while fans in the stands and those watching on television see their car go by over and over and over again for a 2 hour stretch on a Sunday afternoon. It happens when sponsors begin to actively use the driver, team or series in wider marketing campaigns - In commercials, in Store signage, on product packaging etc. The benefit of an active sponsor is that their use of your driver, team or series in their marketing plans has coat tails, namely free advertising. Sponsor Activation is very similar to Client Advocacy in that a stakeholder’s good will advances the cause of the service provider.

nascar has been living the dream here for over ten years now. In part that is how it exploded into popular culture. Happy sponsors became activated sponsors and soon nascar was everywhere and not a penny of it was being paid for by France money.

For the most part over the past few years, most Indycar sponsors have been relatively passive. There’s been some activation on a small scale. This year you have seen Sarah Fisher cutouts at some Dollar General stores and an on-line contest that features Sarah. This is a nice little deal for everyone involved here but the reach is small. You have seen larger than life size images of Marco hanging from the ceiling at Meijer stores (in 5, not 50 states) and you have seen Marco shaving in a Gillette ad with a cutaway shot of a race car turning a corner. Unfortunately, neither of these mentioned Marco or the series, so if you didn’t know already, then you didn’t know.

There are several sleeping behemoths in the IndyCar sponsorship stable, if the league as a whole (office, teams, drivers) can move two or three of them towards activation it would be a boon for the league to rival the loss of Tony George’s checkbook.

Those sponsors are:

  • Target – The second largest retailer in the country, whose demographics and brand characteristics all scream smart sexy and cool. Target has not done much with Chip’s drivers for several years now, heck the toy sections don’t even have the Hot Wheels versions of the Ganassi cars (for the record, Meijer does have the die casts for Marco). But if the rumors are true about Danica then we could potentially see activation like this series has never known. Even given the tackiness of the Boost campaign and lingering effects on what “Danica” has come to mean for branding advertisers, Target would be silly not to use her. Because they have her, they would certainly use Dario also (As for Scott – his job is to just win races and keep Chip happy). Activation benefits could include in store signage across the nation, Danica and Dario fashion lines and potentially placement in television campaigns that reach across a viewership spectrum far wider than Versus or Sunday afternoon on ABC. All this would introduce the drivers, the league and the 500 to an audience who doesn’t know or who may have forgotten what this is all about.

    McDonald’s – The largest restaurant chain in the world sponsors Newman Hass Lannigan racing and In particular, has Graham Rahal with golden arches on the side of his car. If he can continue to improve and win races on a regular basis, Graham has the opportunity to be what junior is to nascar. He is smart, well groomed, polite and from all accounts a good citizen. As an activation partner, the ceiling here is a little lower with MCDonald's, but still a presence at the largest restaurant chain in the country has its benefits. It seems like there has been a trial balloon for this already. The upstate NY locations issued 200,000 commemorative cups with Graham on the side in the weeks leading up to the Glen. Imagine that similar campaigns preceeded the series to every stop on the schedule next year. All the sudden it becomes easier to sell tickets, because more people know about it. Imagine if a similar cup was issued nationally for the month of May. The 500 is back on peoples’ awareness radar and the event could see increased viewership. NHL would be wise to find a second driver who would either appeal in Canada or Brazil next year for the same reasons.

    Izod/Macy’s – A prominent fashion apparel provider distributing through the largest midscale department store chain in the country. So far, from what I have seen this relationship has included new skivvys for msrs Barnhart, Angstadt and the Versus tv crew, a Billboard in time square (which I forgot to look for this week) and a bunch of spots during the race telling us they are here with the series. I have taken the time on a couple occasions to looks for RHR or league related POS at Macy’s but have seen nothing. RHR in a recent blog on mentioned that IZOD has some big plans for next year, hopefully, that involves moving the relationship out into stores and into other advertising vehicles. nascar may have Walmart shoppers in the bag, but a new set of potential advertisers opens up to the league if the league can claim that IRL viewers shop at Macy’s and Target. Upscale and Cool is hotter than, well, Walmart.

    Honda. While Honda has been the sole engine supplier, created an unbelievably reliable powerplant and sponsored aspects of the series and its events, it has never tied it’s involvement to an actual production vehicle. For those of you who are old enough to remember, when Honda first entered F1 ~20 years ago with McLaren, they did it for just that reason. The Acura NSX was due out and they wanted to link its heritage to that of a winning race car. They haven’t done it yet with IndyCar and it seems that there is some apprehension to do so. Part of the delay with the new car for 2011/12 seems to be an impasse over engine format. Honda wants to retain the current V6 with some mods and other potential partners (Porshe/Audi/VW and Fiat/Alpha Romero) pushing for an in-line 4 cylinder design. It seems like Honda does not want to start from scratch with the risk of missing the spec. On the other hand, the other suppliers want to be able to tie their participation to an actual production vehicle. It is much easier to credibly link to a production vehicle if the engine is the same format, which in this case, would be true for the inline 4 but not a v6 from any of these suppliers. I am not certain the nameplate needs to stay Honda, it could be switched to Acura, given the apparent imminent decline of the ALMS. For various reasons (not all racing) I think the league would be thrilled to have Acura, Porshe/Audi and Alpha Romero as the engine suppliers going forward.

Hopefully as sponsorship silly season descends upon us, we can hope for not only more sponsors to be involved with the series, but for deeper relationships and activation from those that are already here.

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