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Barbershops, dog groomers and candlemakers… how Liverpool’s Vista partnership is spotlighting local businesses

Marketing and design firm Vista and English soccer giants Liverpool have been working together to highlight local businesses across the city. SportsPro speaks to those behind the deal about how they are bringing greater attention to those in the community.

24 February 2023 Josh Sim

Liverpool FC

Among the usual sights and sounds you might find at Liverpool’s training ground, a barber shop chair and the buzzing noise of a razor wouldn’t be considered ordinary.

Nor would the sight of defenders Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez giving a fade haircut, with both razor and comb in hand.

But over one afternoon eight months ago, the duo and former teammate Sadio Mané were put to work, tasked with giving a haircut to a customer of Iddy’s Barber Shop. On this occasion it was the shop owner himself, and not Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp, providing encouragement on the sidelines.

The collaboration came about as part of Liverpool’s partnership with design and marketing firm Vista, which specialises in promoting small businesses. Rather than using the multi-year agreement to promote its own work, Vista has teamed up with the English soccer giants to highlight local companies all over Merseyside, as well as rewarding their various owners.

A clear goal from the outset

For Vista, the partnership is another step towards its goal of becoming the ultimate marketing and design partner to small businesses, a mission it plans to accomplish by providing a range of digital and design services through its VistaPrint brand.

“We really are looking for initiatives and activations that allow us to spotlight small businesses,” Claire Reynolds, Vista’s marketing director for Northern Europe, tells SportsPro. “And sports partnerships are a key activity from a global perspective that we engage in. We really challenge ourselves to redefine the role of sports partnerships.”

Already a partner of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Boston Celtics for the last two years, Vista was eager to work on a similar collaboration with a UK-based sports team. Its work with the Celtics included providing help to more than 280 small businesses based either in Boston or the wider New England area through media exposure, offering grants and community service programmes.

While the appeal of partnering with a club the size of Liverpool might be obvious, there were several reasons that made the Premier League side a good fit.

“Football is a sport that’s extremely engaged with across the small business community, online, in person, and on TV,” Reynolds continues. “Liverpool was a very natural club for us. It’s a club with huge scale, it’s got global reach, which supports our global ambitions.

I think the key for us is that it’s a club with a huge community tie and an awful lot of authenticity, which was very important to us when identifying a club that we wanted to work with.

Claire Reynolds, Marketing Director for Northern Europe, Vista

As a longstanding soccer institution, Liverpool have been widely known for the close bond that exists between the club and its local community, so the opportunity appeared to make a lot of sense.

“From the early conversations, there was a clear alignment between pieces [that] focused on the community,” Liverpool commercial director Ben Latty adds.

“For us as a club, it’s really important that we work with partners that align with our values, and community is a big part. I think that aligned with the fact that this is a partner that brought different ideas to the table. It was perfect for us to partner with Vista.”

Getting creative

As part of the partnership, Vista and Liverpool have teamed up to produce a range of marketing initiatives designed to highlight several small businesses.

Some of the key pillars of the sponsorship have previously been applied by Vista to its collaboration with the Celtics. This includes the ‘Small Business of the Match’ programme, which Reynolds says makes a “significant impact.” It involves using Anfield’s LED signage at home games to advertise the smaller businesses alongside the club’s other sponsors. The business owners, meanwhile, are invited to the stadium’s Legends Lounge for the game, as well as being gifted personalised shirts.

In addition to using more traditional marketing platforms, such as in-stadium LED signage and billboards across the city, as well as providing financial grants, Vista has also ensured that the creation of engaging digital content is a priority.

This has been brought to life through the ‘Work Experience’ video series, which invites the club’s players to participate in and experience working life within the various businesses that are part of the initiative. As well as inviting Iddy’s Barber Shop to the Reds’ training ground, another video features first-team players Kostas Tsimikas, Kaide Gordon and Caoimhin Kelleher being put through their paces in dog grooming at the DogOne Groomers parlour.

It’s not just the men’s players that are involved either. For International Women’s Day last year, members of Liverpool women’s team were asked to choose their favourite female-owned small businesses to spotlight.

Latty explains that the players have been keen to get involved because they know the goal of the content is to help generate awareness for local businesses in Liverpool.

“That’s an easy ask for us to give to them,” he says. “It’s important for us, plus it creates great content that fans love to watch. This all highlights the local business, but also Vista as well.”

How the businesses are chosen and benefit

Choosing the likes of DogOne Groomers and Iddy’s Barber Shop has not been by accident. Reynolds reveals that Vista takes into account the business’ staffing size and its financial circumstances, while also trying to pick out a range of enterprises hailing from different industries that have a large scope for both fan and player engagement.

“This is a key element of the partnership,” she begins, “and where we really leverage that relationship with Liverpool to understand their family and cite their local community knowledge so that we can identify businesses that are going to resonate and have that impact and interest.

“When we identify businesses for Small Business of the Match and when we’re working on the billboards to support, we do that through a nomination process. We’re really trying to build up that community of small businesses so that people are more aware of what Vista can do and how it is supporting small businesses.”

Those who have been chosen have benefitted hugely from the campaigns. One barbershop, which was featured at Anfield, reported an increase in customers last May, as well as a surge in downloads for the appointment app needed to make bookings. The two subsequent months were the busiest the barber had ever experienced in seven years, delivering a 20 per cent increase in bookings.

Similarly, a candle shop business that Vista and Liverpool worked with also saw its social media following double as a result of being featured as part of the partnership.

Aside from generating activity, the help provided has been appreciated by business owners, who have been hit hard by both the Covid-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis.

“We get really nice anecdotal feedback from the businesses about the kind of emotional impact that it’s had,” says Reynolds. “They really enjoy the day and the opportunity.”

Local businesses advertised at Anfield have reported a boost in trade (Image credit: Liverpool FC)

Why the partnership works for Liverpool

Liverpool are traditionally known for partnering with premium global brands renowned around the world. Latty explains that the “different ideas” Vista brought to the club, specifically the singular focus on smaller-sized local businesses, make this sponsorship stand out.

“We encourage the use of this partnership to local and small businesses, which is not something we’ve really ever done before,” Latty admits. “That was a big decision for us. We’re always about protecting our IP (intellectual property) and brand, etc.

“I don’t think we’d ever find a partner that comes in and does very similar activations to Vista, that wouldn’t be right. They’ve certainly owned the local business activation, it’s something that’s worked very well and has received great feedback from fans.”

The Reds were recently awarded a British Standards Institute (BSI) certificate in recognition of their sustainability work. They are the first Premier League club to receive the accolade, which acknowledges that Liverpool plan, manage and deliver with consideration for environmental, social and economic impacts.

In keeping with those efforts, Latty points out that the Vista partnership aligns perfectly with the community pillar of ‘The Red Way’ sustainability initiative.

“When you look at the communities angle of this partnership, it ticks all the boxes for us,” Latty continues. “This has put the LFC community, the local community, but also communities home and away in the spotlight. That’s something that’s really important for us as a football club.”

We wouldn’t be anything as a football club without the local community and our fanbase.

Ben Latty, Commercial Director, Liverpool

“So actually having a partner that comes and highlights local businesses, which we do our best to look after as well as a football club, is the perfect match.

“Clearly this is about promoting Vista, but the fact that we’re promoting local businesses around the area, but also overseas as well, is really important for us.”

Future goals

While plenty of work has been done already during the short life of the partnership, Vista is keen to further its efforts by providing local businesses with more support, especially in the difficult current economic climate.

“We’ve made a tangible difference to 36 businesses so far, and we really want to build on that,” says Reynolds. “So just continuing to make that difference, support the businesses, and help them to thrive.

“Particularly as the environment gets more and more challenging, I think just more support, more spotlighting small businesses, and just continuing to build that story.”

That point of view is shared by Liverpool, who are keen to continue working with Vista to support local businesses going forward.

“I’d like to see more of the same, but equally we aim to try to be as flexible as we can with our partners,” Latty adds. “The activations we’ve done so far have been based on Vista’s objectives and their plans as a brand. If that continues then great, we’ll do more of the same, we’ll try to change some things, we’ll try and do things better.

“Equally, if their objectives change, then we’ll move with them as well. The more we can do with the local community and promoting local businesses, but also promoting Vista and their business, feels like a good recipe for success from our perspective.”

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