Should Marketers Be Taking a Pass on Hard-hitting Sponsorships?
As a healthcare marketer, you wear many hats. One is “generate brand awareness.” How and where you choose to elevate your brand — including sponsorships — is a reflection of your organization, your audiences, a strategic analysis of pros and cons, and shifting societal perspectives. So when Children's Health of Texas put its name on a high school football stadium, the sponsorship raised some eyebrows.
Football is a huge part of life in Texas. Having grown up there, I understand the proper construction of a three-day weekend: Friday is high school game day, Saturday is for college, and Sunday/Monday is pro-ball. Putting your brand name on a stadium is a marketer's dream. I’ve had that dream, too.
A few years ago, the decision to put a healthcare brand on a football stadium wouldn't have attracted much attention. Since then, however, the connection between football concussions, traumatic brain injuries, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has become clear. The NFL uneasily acknowledged such a link in 2016. Other studies have shown that younger players are also susceptible to brain injury from contact sports at the college and high school levels. And parents are paying attention. The National Federation of State High School Associations reports participation in high school football has declined by 6.1% over the last decade, even as participation in other sports has grown. Other studies show even sharper declines in participation in youth football. Some of the decline is attributable to rising parental awareness about the link between hard-hitting contact sports and CTE.
So is this where a children’s healthcare brand should invest $2.5 million for a title sponsorship?
I am certain the decision to brand a football stadium was made with the best of intentions. It's a high-visibility play, intended to create an affinity for the health system among parents as it expands its footprint. But in addition to securing eyeballs and mentions, brand placement is also about telegraphing organizational values and being mindful about clinical evidence. Will this sponsorship be paired with an equally visible effort to educate the public about how to minimize concussion risk?
To be sure, football is not going away. Athletes who excel at it become local celebrities, can get into stellar college programs and even dream of being in the NFL. Those who choose to play it should be able to do so. Brands associated with it, and other sports, often do well by association. But this is a tricky landscape for healthcare marketers.
Societal norms evolve. What would have been an easy decision a few years back may no longer be your best fit for a multi-year contract, moving forward. Ideally, brand placements position your organization as an exemplar of heightened conscience, as well as enduring core values. Only time will tell if the decision by Children's Health of Texas struck the right balance with its audiences.
As you evaluate contract renewals or new sponsorship agreements, look beyond the sheer number of eyeballs who might see your brand. There are many ways to draw those eyeballs to your organization.
A marketer’s job is not to seize upon a high-profile promotional opportunity just because the cost-per-impression pencils out and you have the budget. The job is to choose sponsorships through a strategic lens.
Sponsorships, especially title sponsorships, should be chosen in the context of longer-term societal shifts and the values of the workforce in your organization — especially in healthcare.
Michael Crawford became interested in healthcare listening to the conversations around the patio table as his parents and their colleagues talked about work. For the past 30 years he's used his marketing expertise to help medical groups, hospitals and health systems connect with consumers, physicians, employers, brokers and health plans. He advocates for a strategic approach to marketing, audience-based communications, coordination between marketing and customer service functions, and early inclusion of the marketing discipline when planning services. His work has earned more than a dozen awards over the past few years. He’s no stranger to healthcare reorganizations or healthcare reform, from the failed effort during the 90s to the implementation of the ACA to today’s efforts at repeal. His blog, Healthcare Marketing Survival Guide, offers advice for B2C and B2B healthcare marketers trying to chart their course during uncertain times. Connect with him via LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter @health_crawford.