Mark Cameron, global brand experience director at Extreme Sailing Series (ESS) main series partner Land Rover, breaks down the company's sponsorship strategy to Matt Cutler at this year's event launch.
How did the deal with the Extreme Sailing Series come about?
Land Rover has been involved in sailing since the 1980s, when it sponsored Cowes Week. There has also been a connection between Land Rover and amateur sailors for many years as Land Rovers make good tow vehicles.
About two years ago we analysed our target customers and looked at what they are passionate about, and sailing over-indexes in most of our target markets. We looked at a number of different sports – sailing, rugby [union] and equestrianism – and they all fitted the profile of having strong engagement and passion with our customers. And with sailing, there was an opportunity [to get a sponsorship partnership]; golf, for example, is a sport that a lot of our customers are passionate about, but there weren't a lot of opportunities for us.
So we set a global strategy around sailing, and looked at what the right rights would be globally. We didn't necessarily go out to partner with a global property, however, as we could have encouraged our own key markets to go out and look at local sailing properties and events. But the more people we spoke to, the more roads led to the Extreme Sailing Series.
One of our main ambitions is to grow appeal in sailing, to stop perceptions that it is merely for the elite. The ESS is open to more people than other properties, like point-to-point sailing; it's in a harbour, there's a festival around it, stadium seating, and you get so close you could almost touch the boats sometimes when they go past.
Did you have a strong say in where the new events have gone in 2014 (Saint Petersburg and Sydney)?
I'd say we were instrumental. Russia is a massive market for us and Australia is important. Porto [a 2013 stop that had been replaced in 2014] is a great sailing market but not a big car industry for us, so our influence as a main sponsor means we can work with OC Sport and have a say. We didn't want to just come in on a supplier level, provide a few cars to the teams and sit quietly in the background.
How did you go about activating the partnership last year, starting halfway through the season?
You miss some of the opportunities, like a launch event, and all the buzz around the new series. It was slightly difficult for us because our budget runs with the [UK] tax year, but the ESS is a calendar year, so we weren't quite ready enough on our planning and budgets to make it work from February 2013. But we always knew coming in halfway through the year that 2013 would be a learning year, and we've learnt a huge amount.
In 2014 we're investing a lot more in upgrading hospitality for our guests. A bit like Formula One, you go from venue to venue but you rely on the local organiser for your hospitality spaces, and [the quality] can sometimes vary. This year we have created some of our own hospitality spaces that will travel around with the containers from venue to venue. A lot of our customers are high-end, high net-worth, so they have a certain expectation when it comes to hospitality.
How else does your activation strategy go further than brand recognition through media coverage?
We like to try and build an active product demonstration, and that's something we really started in Brazil last year. So when people come to the venues, they have the opportunity to drive the cars, and in Brazil we had a dirt track adjacent to the harbour where our invited guests could sample the product.
Some venues are smaller and we don't get the opportunity to do that, but when OC Sport goes in and negotiates with cities, they can ask for the things [Land Rover] want with a more detailed brief.
In some cases we may even run three or four-day expeditions in our Land Rovers, either preceding or before the event.
Do you think more major brands need to look at sailing?
You might say I would say this given my job, but particularly for a brand selling to high net-worth individuals, you need to approach your marketing mix differently. I particularly think that for Land Rover in some of our emerging markets where it has a very high premium brand status – it's less about traditional broadcast advertising and more about creating experiences.
The old suspicion with a sailing sponsorship is that it's the project of a company chairman, but 12 months ago I looked at the data, worked with [marketing agency] Mindshare to look at where the spikes of interest are, where the opportunities are versus our rivals, how we could build a presence and what properties were available. We looked at it very scientifically. But I do think attractive global brands like Land Rover have helped [OC Sport] open doors to other brands in other sectors.
Is Land Rover on the lookout for more sponsorships in sport?
Having identified rugby, equestrian and sailing, we don't want to scatter into different sports. The reason why we did the analysis to narrow it down to three areas was because we didn't want to do 20 or 30 different things. And if you compare our budget to BMW's or Mercedes', we just wouldn't get any cut-through.
But we are going to build a deeper presence into those three sports. That's not necessarily looking at new sports, but encouraging our local brands to look at local properties. So if you look at Australia, Land Rover has sponsored the [University of Canberra] Brumbies. And Land Rover in France does quite a lot in rugby and sponsors the Top 14.
There might be some things that come along in rugby sevens that might be some interest to us. Most of what we do [in terms of sponsorship] is in 15s, but I think the future is going to be in sevens, particularly with the Rio [Olympic] Games [in 2016]. If you look at emerging markets [for rugby] like the United States and China, they could be quite successful in sevens, whereas 15s has been traditionally closed to 10 or 12 markets.