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CNO Changes Course with Monumental Marathon Sponsorship Deal

Indianapolis Business Journal, June 02, 2016

By Anthony Schoettle

CNO Financial Group Inc. announced Thursday it has signed a three-year deal to be the title sponsor of the fast-growing Indianapolis Monumental Marathon.

“This is a game-changing partnership for us,” said Blake Boldon, Monumental Marathon executive director.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but sports marketers estimated it to be a six-figure annual deal.

“Indianapolis is a major market and this is a growing event, so I would be surprised if this deal wasn’t at least in the low six-figures,” said Jim Andrews, senior vice president of Chicago-based IEG, which tracks and provides information for the sponsorship industry. “If the event operator is sophisticated and the sponsor gets access to participant data, it could be as much as a high six-figure deal.”

CNO will get signage at the race’s start/finish line as well as along the course, on the race’s web site and in its marketing materials, according to officials from both groups. CNO has pledged to provide at least 2,000 volunteers for the event, and the company will pay for the entry of 50 of its employees to participate.

The annual event, which takes place on the first Saturday in November, this year has 15 sponsors, including Franciscan St. Francis Health as the presenting sponsor. This year's event will have budget of just over $1 million, Boldon said.

“We’re growing pretty significantly,” Boldon said. “We’ve doubled our budget in the last four years.”

CNO, which had no previous involvement in the Monumental Marathon, is the first company to have the naming rights for the event, which began in 2008 and has grown into the state’s largest marathon.

Already one of the 20 largest marathons in the country based on the number of finishers, Boldon said this deal will allow his staff to more aggressively promote the race in and out of state and offer enhanced services for entrants.

In 2015, the IMM had 4,027 finishers, up from about 1,100 in 2008. The event's half-marathon had 7,332 finishers and 5K had another 2,507.

The title sponsorship deal comes a year after the not-for-profit Monumental Marathon signed a deal to become part of a series of marathons known as the USA Today Sports Active Alliance presented by Mazda, and acquired another fall marathon, the Indianapolis Marathon, held near Fort Benjamin Harrison. Monumental Marathon officials decided to discontinue that marathon but continue the accompanying half-marathon.

The deal also marks a sea change for CNO, which until now has primarily promoted retail brands Bankers Life and Casualty, Colonial Penn and Washington National Insurance Co.

“With the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, we want to build the institutional brand as a good community citizen; a company you can invest in and a company you can work for, then tie that back into the retail brands,” said CNO Financial CEO Ed Bonach. “Hopefully this will help people think of us more broadly.”

That strategy is a departure from 2010 when CNO was emerging from financial difficulty. It changed its name from Conseco and made a push to market its retail brands. That included changing the name of the Indiana Pacers’ arena from Conseco Fieldhouse to Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Back then, “We wanted to flip the page. Conseco had a cloud over it,” Bonach explained. “We wanted to tell people ‘we’re not your father’s Conseco. We’ve repositioned the company.’ To get the most value, we wanted to put the focus on retail rather than institutional.”

The post-2010 strategy was aimed at building the customer and agent base for CNO’s subsidiaries, Bonach added.

Bonach calls the Monumental Marathon deal “the next phase” in marketing for the Carmel-based company.

He said the new campaign is aimed at current and potential investors, customers and employees.

“One of the things we are now starting to step up is letting people know that CNO is a good company and a good corporate citizen, and that we are a family of brands,” Bonach said.

Bonach compared CNO’s “family of brands” strategy to that of Procter & Gamble.

Marketing the family of brands concept started recently at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Bonach said, adding that over time that message could also be conveyed through the Monumental Marathon.

CNO officials decided to incorporate the Monumental Marathon into its marketing strategy because “health and wellness is something that is really important to the company,” Bonach said.

“We really like that they are becoming more than just a marathon,” Bonach said. “They have other [shorter] races and they are expanding into other health and wellness programs with outreach and education. They’re also working with youth on things like diet, fitness and overall wellness. We want to be a part of that.”

The race’s new logo will be unveiled at a ceremony on Monument Circle on Thursday night immediately following the Monumental Mile, a race held each June downtown by the IMM organization. Also at the ceremony, the IMM will donate $110,000 to the IPS Education Foundation, $25,000 to the Simon Youth Foundation and $15,000 to Teachers’ Treasures.

Boldon promised this won’t be the last time the Monumental Marathon will be in the news this year.

“I think we’ll have more exciting announcements this summer,” Boldon said.