In light of the recent activity in the category, IEG SR checked in with Andy Allmann, director of national strategic partnerships for Southwest Airlines Co., a company that has long used sponsorship to connect with consumers and support the passion points of the communities it serves.

Below are edited excerpts from the conversation.

IEG SR: Southwest recently closed on its acquisition of AirTran Holdings, Inc. How might that impact your sponsorship activity?

Allmann: We closed the deal May 2, so we are only in our second week. We had one of their marketing folks here today to provide an update on the types of things they are doing.

They have done a fantastic job. Their marketing staff is only about 30 folks and they have built a really great brand. We are excited to have them as part of the family.

The AirTran brand will continue until 2012 at the earliest and I don’t think anything will change in the foreseeable future.

IEG SR: Southwest operates in 37 U.S. markets. Which do you focus on when it comes to sponsorship activity?

Allmann: Some of our key markets include Denver, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area.

IEG SR: Southwest sponsors the NBA Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns and other pro sports teams. How do you typically activate those partnerships beyond signage and ticket giveaways?

Allmann: Last year we focused on customer acquisition, so we ran promotions to encourage consumers to sign up for our Click ‘n Save special offers and Rapid Rewards frequent flier program.

We also use hospitality for our corporate sales group and have an online presence on each team’s Web site. People can click on the team’s schedule page to access the Southwest home page.

IEG SR: Does Southwest have any new initiatives this year?

Allmann: We launched an enhanced Rapid Rewards program on March 1, so we continue to focus on acquiring new members. We also have something else up our sleeve that I can’t announce yet. It’s not necessarily sponsorship related, but we may leverage our current sponsorships to gain some promotional opportunities.

IEG SR: Has Southwest recently entered any new markets? Are there new sponsorships in those markets?

Allmann: Greenville-Spartanburg, South Carolina is one of our newer markets. We signed a new partnership this year with minor league baseball’s Greenville Drive. Last year we signed a two-year partnership with Clemson University.

We partnered with Clemson prior to entering the market. We had some signage at football games, but we couldn’t activate with ticket giveaways and that sort of thing; we didn’t enter the market until March of this year.

IEG SR: Has Southwest signed any other new ties in the recent past?

Allmann: On the national level we have a great partnership with Microsoft. We worked with them on a holiday promotion last December.

We had Santa Claus at 26 airports and customers had the opportunity to have their photo taken for free. Microsoft had on-site kiosks to demonstrate their Photo Fuse software. Our customers loved it.

IEG SR: How did such a non-traditional partnership come about?

Allmann: We have worked with 206, Inc., Microsoft’s Seattle-based agency. We have worked with Levi Strauss & Co.’s Dockers brand, which is another one of 206, Inc.’s clients.

We ran a Father’s Day promotion where we gave Dockers to fathers on our flights. 206, Inc. brought us the opportunity with Microsoft.

IEG SR: Has the increase in oil prices impacted your marketing activity?

Allmann: Yes, we have felt it. We have to make sure what we are doing is the right thing for the right reason.

It’s not that we weren’t doing that before, but you have to take extra precautions. “Do we need to spend this money, and if so, what kind of impact will it have?” It’s not that we’ve slashed our budget, but we need to double check everything to make sure we are doing the right things for the business.