Six Sponsorship Activation Lessons from The Northern Trust

This past weekend I had the chance to attend The Northern Trust PGA TOUR event in Jersey City, and as I am prone to do, I couldn’t help keeping track of the sponsor activations taking place. Some were more effective than others, and each brand definitely had different goals for their sponsorship assets. This is why it’s so critical for each of them to really understand the full scope of their assets and make sure they are all utilized appropriately

Looking back at my experience, here are six key concepts from the most effective brand activations that really resonated with me:

1. Participation

When at a golf tournament, play golf! There were a LOT of putting contests, which came as no surprise – make the put and win a prize! Bonobos nicely integrated their multi-colored putting green with displays of apparel worn by the pros. 

Several booths tried to put different spins on their games, my favorite of which was a skee-ball style chipping contest, which seemed like a perfect fit for the event given New Jersey’s love affair with skee-ball. United even had the option to get your swing analyzed (more on that later). Whatever sport you are activating at, use that as the basis for fan participation and it will definitely drive more traffic to your location!

2. Swag

Sometimes swag can get a bad wrap, but that’s only when it’s executed poorly. I saw some solid giveaway items around the course, including golf balls, cooling towels, and sunglasses, all of which were quite appropriate for this event. There were still a handful of random koozies and keychains that will mostly end up in the trash, unfortunately. If you’re going to do a giveaway, don’t make it an afterthought – invest a little more, identify the right fit, and get people excited about your swag.

3. Health

When you expect to spend hours outside in the sun in August, you better be prepared with sunscreen, but it does wear off and many people simply forget altogether. This is where the event’s health partner, MD Anderson Cancer Center, steps in with sunscreen available in countless locations throughout the course. I particularly liked their topical branding around “There are no mulligans for your skin” to really emphasize the importance. If health is part of your brand focus, finding a way to help support the health of the guest in attendance is a perfect plan.

4. Hospitality

I couldn’t keep track of the number of sponsored hospitality areas across the course. Some were open to the public, some were open to all brand customers (e.g. MasterCard cardholders), and of course, plenty more were credentials-only access. I was able to pop into a couple, and each was clean and well catered with plenty to drink, including specialty drinks unique to the event. For a large outdoor event like this, having indoor (i.e. air-conditioned), catered hospitality is a must.

5. Giving Back

You can never go wrong using some aspect of your on-site activation to give back to the community. I saw this done very well by United Rentals with their Birdies for the Brave Patriots’ Outpost – a special access hospitality area for the military and veterans. 

They even provided a private viewing area right next to the green for any combat wounded attendees. 

If you have a particular charity partner or initiative that is important to your brand, think about the best way you can make it an organic part of your activation efforts.

6. Data

You didn’t think we were going to skip our favorite topic, did you? 

Almost every main on-site activation contained a fan data collection component. The most common approach was an opt-in form before a fan could participate in that booth’s specific contest. On this note, I’d like to give GEICO an extra plug – their form provided explicit opt-ins for receiving future communications which defaulted to no. Yes, this means they have less people to email today, but the ones that said yes will be much more engaged and likely to transact. 

Another approach I liked was Avis. My colleague was looking to pop into one of the many hospitality tents (see item 4 above), and noticed that Avis was providing access to anyone who downloaded their mobile app. Clearly this was a key objective for their partnership, and providing hospitality was an enticing way to encourage downloads. 

Closing Thought:

My favorite overall activation of the event was by United. They really nailed both the participation and data collection elements, and it showed based on the active line they had whenever I walked by. Rather than a basic putting green, they offered a complimentary video analysis of your golf swing. Now this will not resonate with all attendees, but that’s actually a good thing. Their platform was focused around golf-centric vacation travelers, so for this audience, the value proposition of a swing analysis is quite high! 

Now I expected the video to be run through some automated package, but in just over 24 hours, I got this video back in my email with a real human feedback and digital annotations (yes, you can make fun of my swing if you like!).

Whether you are on the property or brand side of a sponsorship deal, hopefully some of these concepts can help as you brainstorm the design of your next on-site activations.  

Update: Just got my first Bonobos email based on my opt-in at their activation. It was well personalized based on the event and had a good offer and call to action.

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