By Geoffrey Precourt
The criteria for sponsorship engagement at Xerox are simple and un-duplicable, according to Christa Carone, the brand's Chief Marketing Officer.
The company has had a series of successful partnerships. These have included a Sting 'Symphonicity' concert tour with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the United States Tennis Association and Arthur Ashe Kids' Day, the University of Notre Dame's athletic programs and New York City's Citifield baseball park. Cirque du Soleil will soon be added to the list.
For all partnerships, Carone told an audience at the 2011 IEG Return on Engagement: Sponsorship's Impact on Business conference in Chicago, Xerox needs be able "to put a check mark" next to each of these four boxes:
- Create an opportunity to bring the Xerox brand to the marketplace in a "big, noticeable" way.
- Allow Xerox the chance to "build a strong relationship with a property". In other words, the road to sponsorship runs both ways: "We are a business-to-business company," Carone said. "And our whole sales strategy is built on the fact that we help business behind the scenes so they can focus on their core competencies. We ask the question, 'What can we do to help you make your business more successful?'" If the projected partner can't come up with a strong answer, "It's not a good fit."
- Provide a disruptive way to activate the program with "innovative ways that can bring [the sponsorship] to life".
- Provide a "VIP experience" - a means to surprise people (most specifically, clients and potential clients) with "superior hospitality".
In 2008, when Carone assumed the top Xerox marketing job, "a call came in from one of the members of the company's sponsorship group. Her exact words were, 'There's a lot of buzz on the team because we know you're not a golfer. And we're guessing that means we're pulling out of golf tournaments.'"
And, with that one call, it became clear that Carone - and Xerox - needed a sponsorship strategy that went beyond the personal interests of the CMO. ("If not," she added, "we would have had nothing but Little League baseball and little-girl gymnastic tournaments.")
To build "competency" in the company, Carone said, Xerox needed additional expertise to move from just hospitality events to brand-building partnerships. That demand brought her to MEC Access, an agency specializing in global sports, entertainment, and cause sponsorship programs. And, at MEC Access, she not only found a service supplier but a new head of Xerox experiential marketing. "We went external, grabbed one of their smartest people," and set up an internal process - "a very disciplined approach" that was grounded in the four criteria of partnership.