Where Everybody Knows Your Name

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Naming rights to stadiums, events and other venues is becoming a popular publicity effort among credit unions-but there's more to it than simply buying the rights and slapping the name on a new sports arena.

Take it from one credit union that has gotten its moniker onto a variety of venues which is cautioning that without careful analysis and planning, naming rights aren't an automatic win.

One of ESL FCU's biggest coups is getting its name on the region's annual air show.

"This is a great brand fit for us. It's a family event. It's the largest weekend event in Rochester in the summer," said ESL's Roger Rassman. "It's huge. We get lots of impressions."

Scoring the air show was the culmination of years of getting the ESL name out as a strong community partner.

"We've got a great relationship with the producers of these kinds of events, so we often get the first shot at the naming rights when these opportunities open up," he said, noting that Tops Supermarket had been the naming rights sponsor of the air show up until a few years ago. "It's something that has progressed over time. We work with the people who own these events to provide volunteers. It's more than just writing a check; we offer them tangible help by getting our employees to volunteer. Event managers get to know you as a reliable resource, and then when the window opens they come to you."

When the CU chooses the right event, finding volunteers isn't a problem. "We needed 200 volunteers for the air show. People to take tickets, sell brochures. When the call went out for volunteers, it filled up in a half hour. They'll be at the airshow wearing their ESL T-shirts, volunteering, but they'll also have some time to enjoy the air show, too."

But while the exposure may be noticeable, how does a credit union measure return on the investment?

"When you try to measure something like this, you have to do it in the context of impressions. It's not like doing a loan promotion and tallying how many loans you made," Rassman explained. "You know how many people you reach with television and radio, for example. When you compare how many people you reach when you have the naming rights to something like the air show and compare how much it costs to do, it's a no-brainer. This is so much more efficient than running regular advertising. This is about positioning and brand reinforcement."

But credit unions must pay attention to how they choose what will be carrying their name.

"It has to be relevant to the brand. In our case, we want to target families and children," he related. "It could be a really huge event with the opportunity to make lots of impressions, but if the event isn't in line with the brand positioning statement you're trying to make, it's no good."

Similarly, there can be issues of reliability. "We wouldn't want to do a rock concert, for example," Rassman offered. "We almost did it once, and it bombed on us. The concert was canceled because they didn't sell enough tickets. It was a real fiasco for us. Now we shy away from things like that because they're unpredictable."

What To Keep In Mind

Rassman said the lifespan of a branded event is longer than the event. "Really, most of your benefit comes before the event even happens, it's the pre-promotion benefit," he commented. "You want to make sure you're in on that because then if it rains or something like that, it doesn't matter in terms of your investment, because you got your value before."

Among some of ESL's other efforts:

* ESL Sports Center-a building where families and kids go to skate, play ice hockey, etc. The credit union has had its name on the building since 1998.

* ESL Day of Caring-this is part of the United Way's fundraising campaign. "That's a beauty for us," Rassman offered. "There's a lot of emotional attachment to the brand. It's a one-day volunteer event with 800 different projects. It's the largest one-day volunteer event in the country."

* ESL Jefferson Awards-a syndicated national program that recognizes "unsung heroes" in the community.

The key to success in all of these is that they all "make sense" with ESL's brand. "Make sure your activities are grounded in your corporate strategy. Understand what that partnership will do for the credit union, which is often intangible," he noted.

And when an opportunity is offered, don't reject it out of hand if the price tag is too high or there is some other logistical problem. As long as it makes sense with your brand strategy, it's worth seeing if there's a way to restructure the sponsorship, he advised.

"I think sometimes when other credit unions get solicitations from non-profits, they just say yes or no based on the proposal that is sent to them," Rassman suggested. "Instead, we look at it, and if wee need to change it, we make a counter offer. In some cases, we've tweaked a proposal, sent it back and it's bounced back five or six times until we're able to find a proposal that works for everyone. Remember, these charities would rather get a 'yes, but...' than a 'no.'"

For example, when a local hospital was looking for a $100,000 charitable donation, ESL knew it couldn't afford to just fork over a check for $100,000. Plus, it wanted to get some bang for its buck. "We offered to be a name sponsor for a gala and give them $20,000 a year for five years," he explained. "They got their $100,000-just not all at once-and we got our name out there. Everyone wins."

In fact, Rassman stressed the importance of never just writing a check. "Get involved with the promotion, don't just write the check," he said, noting that often the charities are as happy to get volunteers as they are to get money. "Get your employees involved. We have found that our employee love doing it. They are excellent ambassadors of our brand. Our providing them with ways to give back to the community is actually perceived as a benefit of sorts, it's a source of employee pride."

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