Thomas B. Shepard, Visa International's new executive vice president of global marketing partnerships and sponsorships, said the company is winnowing its list of cobranding partners, jettisoning relationships that are not paying off in favor of those that are.
"We saw a large explosion of cobranding programs" in the '90s, he said. "Now that's been distilled to those that have the highest-value proposition to cardholders."
He would not name the organizations Visa is actively courting or has dropped but said the cobranding program now focuses on "the airlines, the hotels, and a few key retailers." One criterion is "that members can customize all the offers and programs," he said.
Mr. Shepard, 47, was promoted to his current position last month.
Since 1997 he has been in charge of cobranding partnerships and managed contracts with such entities as the Olympic Games (which Visa has sponsored since 1988), United Airlines, Yahoo Inc., and, most recently, Imax Ltd.
Visa is pushing partnerships with entertainment companies, Mr. Shepard said. "We realized looking at our strategy that we could do more in the cultural and entertainment aspects of life."
The association recently landed contracts with the Toronto Film Festival, the Guggenheim Museum in New York, and BMG Entertainment. In addition to cultural capital, Visa pays attention to brand popularity and sales volume. Prospects do not have to be global, but "that's what our focus and mandate is," Mr. Shepard said. "We don't treat everyone, honestly, the same way. Some partners get preference."
Mr. Shepard predicts that reward programs in time will move to the smart card format and thus boost a technology that has failed to gain ground in the United States. "It's smart card technology where loyalty programs will eventually reside," he said. "But having worked on these things, I can tell you they take time."
In his new role Mr. Shepard also oversees Visa's sports sponsorships, most notably the Olympics. Visa International will be a sponsor of the 2002 winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and the 2004 summer Games in Athens.
"We have the jewel in the event world in the Olympics," he said. "We've certainly helped the Olympics movement gain more credibility in the eyes of consumers."