With a portfolio that spans professional and collegiate sports to country music and branded entertainment, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Inc. has long used sponsorship to differentiate its brands and drive business results.

DPS this year replaced PepsiCo, Inc. as the official soft drink of the NFL St. Louis Rams and The Coca-Cola Co. as the official carbonated beverage of University of Wisconsin-Madison athletics.

In the email interview below, Cindy Hourigan, DPS vice president of sponsorships, travel & events, marketing capabilities, discusses how the third-largest U.S. soda company has moved beyond pouring rights in favor of ties that support larger marketing objectives and other topics.

On the role of sponsorship at Dr Pepper Snapple Group
Sponsorship plays a critical role in connecting with our core consumers through their passion points such as college football or our tuition program. We want partnerships that enable us to build brand equity, drive retail activation and get our products in the hands of consumers.

On the evolution of DPS’s sponsorship strategy
Our partnership strategy has evolved over the past four or five years.

Coming into this role we had a variety of national and local partnerships. Some were strategic partnerships that aligned with our business objectives, and others were long-standing partnerships that didn’t bring additional value beyond pouring.

We now take a proactive approach to seeking out strategic partnerships. We have integrated ourselves into DPS’ commercial planning process so that our team has a clear understanding of national and local business objectives and key consumer targets. We proactively seek out partnerships that align with those objectives versus waiting for partners to come to us.

We have operating principles in place to ensure that we make decisions that align with our company vision. We evaluate partnerships against a set criteria to ensure that we work with partners that share the same values and equity. We are diligent about evaluating new and existing partnerships against that criteria. We are willing to say no.

On the attributes of a good property
We look for partners who know our business, have strong brand equity, are willing to take risks and genuinely have a vested interest in building strong brands and connecting us with our consumers. They have to be in it for more than just money.

We also seek shorter deal terms. That gives us the flexibility to measure the effectiveness of a partnership and make adjustments prior to signing contract extensions.

On DPS’s core sponsorship platforms
Platforms vary depending on our business objectives. 

Example #1: Connecting with consumers through a national college athletics platform
College football is a perfect platform to reach our core Dr Pepper consumer. We realize that college tuition costs continue to increase, and there are amazing students who want to make a difference but can’t afford the opportunity.

Dr Pepper gives them the opportunity to show their unique one-of-a-kind personality and share how they will change the world. We give the contestants the opportunity to share videos that explain how they will change the world. Those with the most compelling stories have the opportunity to win $10,000 in tuition so they can make a difference and leave their mark.

The platform is extremely powerful as it truly changes people’s lives by giving students a platform to showcase their “one of a kind” passion.

Our relationship with college football has roots in Dr Pepper’s involvement with the Cotton Bowl in the 1930s, but it has really taken off over the past 20 years. We’ve been a part of the SEC Championship Game since its inception in 1992 at Legion Field in Birmingham.

In 1996 we expanded the footprint to include the Big 12 Conference and developed the $1 million consumer giveaway. The football program expanded to include the Dr Pepper ACC Championship Game and became tuition-centered in 2008. We've been involved with the Pac-12 and Big Ten championship games since their beginning in 2011. This year we’re giving away $100,000 tuition grand prizes at four championship games -- ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC.

The campaign is successful because it takes a one of a kind brand like Dr Pepper and drives an emotional connection with consumers by giving them a voice to showcase their one of a kind personality and how they will change the world.

Example #2: Growing DPS brands with the Chicago Bears
We had a huge opportunity to grow our brands in the Chicago market and we identified the perfect partnership to help us accomplish our goals… the Chicago Bears. This partnership is exceeding all expectations as they are a collaborative partner that truly believes in adding value for all.

When thinking of Dr Pepper and how unique and one of a kind it is, there was only one partnership that stood out…. The Bears! They have a strong heritage, loyal fans and committed and passionate people. And that is what makes the partnership work.

We pursued category exclusivity in order to drive the power of our portfolio in the Chicago market. We amplified our partnership by leveraging our packaging assets to drive awareness for the Bears across our strong portfolio of brands like Dr Pepper, 7UP, Sun Drop, Canada Dry, Snapple, Deja Blue and RC Cola.

We then ensured continuity of messaging across all major assets to connect with our consumer. We took our Dr Pepper “I’m a …” campaign to the streets of Chicago to capture Bears fans and drive awareness with a new consumer base. We continued that messaging across all major consumer touch points like in-store POS and local retail promotions.

We localized our national tuition platform during a half-time Monday night football game that gave consumers the opportunity to win tuition.

Our partnership also allowed us to drive trial through events like training camp, family fest and pre-game activities.

We also teamed up with the Bears on something that was important to them…. Bears Care. Through our Bears Care/7UP promotion we created a cents-per-case program that supported women’s health initiatives. That is what a true partnership is about: creating value for both partners.

Pet peeves on working with properties
Partnerships should be exactly that: a true partnership based on mutual respect. Partnerships are like a marriage: Both people have to equally commit to the relationship. Sometimes you have to give more than take.

Communication is key. When something is wrong you have to address it and work to a solution together.

We value partners who are in it for more than just the financial reward, who will work with us to activate the relationship in ways that resonate with their fans and our consumers, who demonstrate that they've done their homework on our brands and business, and are transparent, honest and collaborative in addressing the challenges that emerge.

On the next big thing in sponsorship
Content is key. Leveraging content in a meaningful way. Our consumers are the best content, and sponsorship is great way to capture unique experiences by leveraging consumers and their passion points.

Our college football platform is a great example. We truly want to celebrate the uniqueness of our consumers through their stories. Once we amplify those stories others are impacted. They get attached to the stories, begin to believe, and then want to tell their own stories.

On summing up DPS’s sponsorship program

  • We WIN when we differentiate and take risks
  • Choose your partners well: properties should be innovative, collaborative and focused on delivering value
  • Brands and strong execution equals long-term growth
  • Strategic partnerships are an important tool to help differentiate brands—if done right.