Struggling to get sponsors to step up activation? A growing number of properties are finding success by hosting partner marketing awards.

Looking to add excitement to its sponsor summit and encourage partners to increase activation, Canada’s Whistler Blackcomb ski resort in late 2012 added partner marketing awards to its two-day corporate partner summit.

“We wanted to create excitement about sponsors activating their partnerships at the resort or taking Whistler Blackcomb into the market,” said Maja Ronneberger, Whistler Blackcomb’s manager of strategic alliances and partner marketing.

The awards encourage friendly competition between sponsors by providing an opportunity to stand out and be unique, she said.

Whistler Blackcomb announced the awards as part of its Dec. 5-6 corporate partner summit at the Roundhouse Lodge on the top of Whistler Mountain. Whistler presented the awards at the conclusion of the first day of the meeting.

Whistler distributes seven awards including Best Activation, Most Innovative Activation and the Best Bang for Your Buck award.

The resort added two new awards at the 2013 summit: Best Co-Promotion between Two or More Sponsors and Best Summer Activation.

The resort launched the Best Co-Promotion award to encourage sponsor cross-promotions—a practice that can add value for sponsors and provide incremental exposure for Whistler—while the Best Summer Activation award is designed to encourage activation during the resort’s off-season.

The awards have resulted in new activation programs.   

For example, the Best Co-Promotion award prompted Avis, GoPro and GMC Canada to team up on a promotion designed to promote the scenic drive from Vancouver International Airport to Whistler Blackcomb. The video featured GoPro-sponsored Olympic athletes Julia Murphy and Davey Barr making a trip to the resort in a GMC vehicle rented from Avis.  

The video—captured by the two athletes on a GoPro camera—highlighted key points of interest along the drive and summer activities at the resort.

“The idea was sparked from the Co-Promotion awards,” said Ronneberger.

The three companies created the video to change perceptions that the drive to Whistler is difficult, said Ronneberger, who posted the video on YouTube and the “Getting here” section on the resort’s web site.

Whistler may add new awards going forward, she said. One potential award: Best Social Media Activation.

“Partnerships continue to change, and marketing as a whole continues to change. We’re trying to push the envelope and be innovative in different ways to get our partners to keep Whistler Blackcomb top of mind and be more innovative in regard to partnerships as a whole.”

Not every sponsor received an award, said Ronneberger, noting that the resort works with roughly 20 partners.

Partner marketing awards must be authentic to be successful, said Cullen Maxey, executive vice president of business operations with the MLB Arizona Diamondbacks, which recently wrapped up the third iteration of the team’s Most Valuable Partner Awards, an awards ceremony modeled after the Academy Awards.

“If you‘re not sandbagging  the awards to appeal to large corporate partners, and you make it real where activation is clearly expanded and everyone is learning in a unique, competitive festive environment, most valuable partner awards are amazingly effective.”

The Winners of Whistler Blackcomb’s Partner Marketing Awards
Awards Winners
Best Summer Activation
Best Activation at Whistler Blackcomb
GMC last year offered free shuttles to downhill mountain bikers in the automaker’s new Yukon SUV as part of the GMC Base Camp activation program. Riders also were given free lift tickets to Whistler Mountain Bike Park.

GMC brought its activation team to Whistler the following weekend to provide complimentary shuttle service to the Whistler Mountain Bike Park as an air-conditioned alternative to riding the chairlift.

General Motors Canada
Most Innovative Activation
The newspaper activated Whistler Blackcomb with an interactive touch screen kiosk that featured breaking news and a souvenir photo booth.
The Globe and Mail
Best Bang For Your Buck
Captain Morgan spiced rum ran the Captain’s Table program around which Captain Morgan and his Morganette’s distributed samples and offered photo opportunities at après ski events throughout Whistler village.
Best Employee Engagement Activation
Credit card company activated its partnership with a program that incentivized Whistler Blackcomb employees to encourage guests to pay using their American Express card.
American Express
Best Integration of an Athlete
The three companies produced a video that showcased two Whistler Olympic athletes making the journey from Vancouver International Airport to Whistler Blackcomb.
AVIS, GoPro and GMC
Whistler Blackcomb Foundation Award
Telco activated with the Birdies for Bucks program at the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation’s Telus Golf Classic tournament.
Best Co-Promotion Between Two or More Partners
The apparel and fabric companies received the award for their integral involvement in the Arc’teryx Deep Winter Photo Challenge presented by GORE-TEX, an annual sell-out event.
Arc’teryx and GORE-TEX