Open Activation

It is now a widely accepted truth that sponsorships only work if they are properly activated, so when Pilsner Urquell struck a deal to sponsor the Open Championship it was only the start of the story. Over four days in the summer, a year’s worth of plans were executed.

29 August 2012 Michael Long

It is 2.45pm on Friday 16th July 2010 and, thanks to brutal winds gusting around the Old Course, there is a rare lull in proceedings at St. Andrews. It is day two of The Open golf championship, the third Major of the season and perhaps the most prestigious event in the sport’s busy calendar, and play has been suspended, with winds so strong that balls are moving around on greens. As frustrating as it is for players and spectators alike, the delay does offer an unexpected break from a very long day of golf. Play began at 6.30am and, thanks to what turns out to be a suspension lasting some 65 minutes, will not finish until well after 9pm. The break in play sees some players ferried back to the clubhouse in official vehicles; others, like the particularly relaxed Dane Thomas Bjorn, are happy to simply doze off in the rushes. Spectators, meanwhile, take the opportunity to gain sustenance without missing any key shots, many immediately heading for food and drink vendors dotted around the most famous links course in the world. By the end of the day some 14,100 pints will have been sold to on-course spectators, all of them Pilsner Urquell. As the official beer of The Open, the brand, a member of the SABMiller brewing family, is the only one sold on the course. But sales are just one element of Pilsner’s sponsorship activation, which centres on client entertainment over the four days of the tournament. The break in Friday’s play saw the majority of the brand’s 75 guests return to the tented hospitality village set up by the Royal & Ancient (R&A), the tournament organisers, to house key sponsors, suppliers and partners, to continue to enjoy Pilsner’s corporate hospitality experience. Friday’s guests are a diverse band, made up of Pilsner employees from key markets, clients, media and consumer magazine prizewinners. Overall, the company will entertain 200 guests over the course of the four-day tournament; for the 480 staff involved, either in the tented hospitality area or as vendors out on the course, it is a much longer week, with some arriving as early as the previous Sunday to set up. “This event plays a significant role in our annual brand calendar,” says Joanna Botwood, Pilsner Urquell’s general manager and the host of the company’s hospitality offering at The Open. “It is an enormous undertaking to ensure a consistently premium experience.” It is, though, a relatively new experience. Prior to 2009, the R&A did not sell the oncourse pouring rights to alcoholic brands. When it decided to do so, Pilsner – a brand well known in parts of continental Europe but not yet at the same level in Britain – moved quickly to secure a three-year partnership. St. Andrews was the second year of Pilsner’s deal, the brand having debuted at the Turnberry event won by Stewart Cink 12 months earlier. “Pilsner Urquell is an official partner of The Open,” Botwood explains. “We are their exclusive beer supplier for the event. We actively support the hospitality at the event. We also have global rights to communicate this exclusive partnership across our key markets.” Very much in the mould of fellow SABMiller brand Peroni Nastro Azzurro, Pilsner Urquell is a quickly developing product. Sales increased by some 20 per cent in 2009, impressive against the backdrop of a global economic crisis. The Open is the brand’s primary global sponsorship and, as Botwood, taking a few minutes to relax in the Pilsner hospitality area late on Friday afternoon, explains, not something the company has entered lightly. “We were looking for a long term global sponsorship property for Pilsner Urquell – something that would emulate our brand values and elevate our global scale. The Open Championship is the first original Major and Pilsner Urquell is the first original pilsner. Thus, it seemed like a perfect marriage.” Botwood adds that the company examined the merits of other sponsorships before settling on The Open. “There are many sports that are fitting with our target audience, and events that would leverage our global awareness. However, the opportunity with the R&A is uniquely fitting with our brand objectives.” As with any such sponsorship agreement, Pilsner’s deal for The Open works on multiple levels, something reflected in the way the brand activates its deal over the four tournament days. “Consumer awareness of this partnership is a key objective for Pilsner Urquell,” Botwood explains, pointing out various public beer tents around the course where Pilsner was the only alcoholic beverage available as well as underlining the wider approach towards building the brand. “Therefore our brand plans across our global markets include material that It is now a widely accepted truth that sponsorships only work if they are properly activated, so when Pilsner Urquell struck a deal to sponsor the Open Championship it was only the start of the story. Over four days in the summer, a year’s worth of plans were executed. Open activatiOn By David Cushnan FeatURe | SPONSORSHIP 14,000 pints of Pilsner Urquell were sold at The Open on Friday 16th July 2010, but activation was every bit as important as sales to the company SportsPro Magazine | 97 communicates our relationship with the Open Championship. We have tactical consumer promotions, advertising, glassware [a range of Pilsner branded merchandise was launched to assist in the sponsorship activation] that leverages our association with this property. “Equally,” she continues, “incentivising and educating our key customers is a priority. The event itself provides a unique hospitality opportunity to have direct dialogue with our customers and build those relationships.” In order to properly activate its sponsorship this year, Pilsner decided to take over a section of the famous Gleneagles resort in Perthshire. Around an hour’s drive from the Old Course at St. Andrews and the nearest airport in Edinburgh, the hotel is regarded as one of the premier golf venues in the world. The strategy is simple: give key guests and clients a full golfing experience. A day’s hospitality at the tournament is coupled with 18 holes at one of three championship courses at the venue that will host the 40th Ryder Cup in four years time. The hotel, a classically Scottish venue owned by Diageo, also provides the ideal location for welcome dinners over the four days of the event, on the eve of each group of guests’ visit to St. Andrews. A measure of the detail that goes into the project is that the helicopters and executive coaches, used to transport guests to and from St. Andrews each day, are Pilsner branded. Branding is everything. Hiring a brand ambassador is another key activation technique that Pilsner elects to utilise. Tony Jacklin, the amiable Open champion of 1969, fits the bill almost perfectly. A natural raconteur with huge knowledge of the game – on Friday afternoon he is able to provide Pilsner’s guests with a first-hand insight into how players would be coping with the suspension in play by drawing on his own experiences – the Englishman is, according to Botwood, an ideal choice. “Tony Jacklin is a legend in golf,” she says, after the 66-year-old completes a brief question and answer session with guests. “He’s also very familiar with St. Andrews’ Old Course; therefore it was a very relevant and credible choice for us this year.” Once the tournament is over Botwood and her team are tasked with evaluating the value of the sponsorship to the brand, a review that she concedes is “notoriously difficult” to complete. “It is vital to define a very clear set of objectives in order to be able to measure its success within the marketing plan. Our objectives are not volumes driven, nor consumer footfall. We want this relationship with the R&A to help build our brand equity long-term. Therefore it is important that we generate awareness of this partnership to consumers worldwide. “We’re delighted with our partnership with the R&A to date,” she adds, as guests begin the journey back to Edinburgh. “It is clearly a mutually beneficial relationship for both parties, which makes planning and execution so much easier. I would hope to speak for both parties that this relationship is for the long term. Our planning for 2011 is already well underway.” “incentivising and educating our key customers is a priority.” Pilsner Urquell ambassador Tony Jacklin 96 2010 11 David Cushnan {filedir_26}SportsProMag_issue27_96-97.pdf [8078] [sportspro_november_2010] SportsPro November 2010