In May 2002, ACE Limited, a leading global insurer and re-insurer, became a Gold Level sponsor of Team Dennis Conner and its yacht, Stars & Stripes, scheduled to compete for an America’s Cup position in New Zealand in October. In July, Gavin Anderson & Company (GA) was commissioned by ACE to develop a marketing and communications plan maximizing ACE’s sponsorship with the goal of supporting ACE’s established brand equity in the U.S. while raising awareness of the ACE Group of Companies in New Zealand.
GA researched and developed a philanthropic component with the sponsorship that would distinguish ACE from other corporate sponsors, underscore ACE’s philanthropic mission and maximize its visibility in both key markets. Coincidentally, the qualifying rounds for the America’s Cup were being held simultaneous to the World Firefighters Games in nearby Christchurch. The 2002 Games, deemed “The Memorial Games,” were dedicated to the memory of the New York City firefighters who lost their lives on September 11.
However, due to a lack of funding, only two NYC firefighters were registered to attend. With less than three months to spare, ACE established a fund to ensure that New York City would be well-represented at the Games. Thirty NYC firefighters traveled to New Zealand as guests of ACE, stopping in Auckland to cheer on Team Dennis Conner on their way to compete in the Games.
The program encountered several challenges. Firstly, ACE was determined to differentiate itself from companies implementing one-dimensional sports sponsorships, making it imperative for GA to identify opportunities that would broaden the program’s scope without losing sight of the initial sponsorship. In addition, with the one-year anniversary of September 11 only weeks away, the initiative was competing for media attention in a crowded space with journalists inundated with firefighter stories.
Media’s increasing reluctance to cover corporations associated with the New York City firefighters resulted in the need to ensure ACE was positioned as a “good corporate citizen,” versus opportunistic and self-promotional in light of September 11. Moreover, coordinating the event and travel logistics for thirty NYC firefighters’ trips proved to be challenging, with a great deal of the program’s success depending on their cooperation, and ability to act as spokespeople for the sponsorship. Many of them had little or no media or business experience.
Additionally, the predicted economic downturn would likely heighten regional media attention surrounding the America’s Cup and could consequently drown out any attempts to publicize ACE’s program. Lastly, the World Firefighters Games were scheduled to begin October 26, leaving the GA team with less than three months to develop and implement the plan.
The program also presented unique opportunities. Although the ACE brand is well-regarded within its business-to-business industry, ACE had limited brand recognition within the consumer community. The NYC firefighter program presented an opportunity for the Company to raise consumer awareness of its ACE brands in preparation for a potential move into the consumer insurance space. The program also provided an opportunity for ACE to connect with its employees through incentive programs around the sponsorship, as well as enhance its client/broker relationship-building efforts.
GA utilized its network of affiliates and global offices to research the perception of the ACE brands in New Zealand, as well as charity initiatives that could enhance the Company’s America’s Cup sponsorship. According to the research, the ACE brand lacked a local profile, most likely because of its focus on building its non-consumer business. The research also noted that an economic slowdown was predicted. Considering that events such as the already-popular America’s Cup would drive considerable revenue to the region, and therefore was being covered heavily by regional media, ACE needed to differentiate itself from the other corporate sponsors if it wanted to build its brand locally.
The team also researched and identified local charities that could tie into ACE’s sponsorship of Team Dennis Conner, most notably the Royal New Zealand Coastguard Federation, Surf Life Saving New Zealand and the World Firefighters Games.
Regarding a potential sponsorship of NYC firefighters to the Games, research indicated that the Games, dedicated to firefighters who died on September 11, were taking place during the America’s Cup qualifying races, and to date, only two NYC firefighters were registered to attend. Additionally, three pieces of the World Trade Center were being sculpted into a permanent on-site memorial with a dedication ceremony scheduled to precede the opening events.
Third party research also strongly supported the integrated program. According to a 2002 Cone Corporate Citizenship study, more Americans than ever reported making investment, purchasing and employment decisions in favor of companies that support community needs. Additionally, an overwhelming majority of Americans said they preferred to find out about corporate citizenship activities from a third-party source, particularly the media.
As the World Firefighters Games leveraged the patriotism of Stars & Stripes while underscoring ACE’s philanthropic mission, and brought a relevant news hook to the sponsorship, ACE solidified its funding of thirty NYC firefighters to the World Firefighters Games. The objectives were to maximize ACE’s corporate sponsorship of Team Dennis Conner; raise awareness of the ACE brand in the U.S. and New Zealand among brokers and clients, media, business and consumer communities; support and stimulate new business development; encourage and motivate employee interest and participation; and raise the visibility of senior ACE executives in the U.S. and New Zealand.
GA developed a multi-faceted program including aggressive media outreach and event execution that would broaden awareness for ACE in the U.S. and New Zealand before, during and after the firefighters’ trip to the World Firefighters Games. GA used a wide range of strategies to support the program including leveraging employee incentive programs to build loyalty and inspire motivation; using the timing of events and sponsorship—especially with regard to its proximity to September 11 and the America’s Cup qualifying races—to capture media coverage; leveraging ACE’s executive travel to the region to broaden awareness of ACE’s senior management team; using media and broker events to build relationships in New Zealand and the U.S.; as well as creating pitch strategies to generate a buzz around the trip to the Games in order to build brand awareness for ACE that would resonate well after the firefighters’ return home.
In early August, with little time to spare, GA finalized the participation of thirty firefighters and secured an official nod from the FDNY deputy commissioner and Mayor Bloomberg for the firefighters’ participation in the program. Days later, GA conducted a get together, providing the firefighters with briefing materials on ACE, Q&A surrounding the trip, and coaching with regard to potential media inquiries during the program. GA also orchestrated the group’s travel logistics and registration for the Games, and acted as the group’s primary point of contact for questions.
GA coordinated client and broker relationship-building events in U.S. and New Zealand, including an August send-off party for Team Dennis Conner in Newport, Rhode Island, officially announcing ACE’s funding of the firefighters. The event was attended by ten NYC firefighters, as well as local dignitaries and locally based brokers and clients. Additionally, the GA team facilitated an event in Auckland during the qualifying races to introduce ACE’s select brokers to Dennis Conner and the NYC firefighters.
GA’s aggressive media strategy sustained momentum from the launch of the program in Rhode Island, through the firefighters’ return home. GA used unique media strategies to ignite interest of the NYC firefighters and ACE’s sponsorship of Stars & Stripes to secure coverage both in the U.S. and New Zealand.
GA staged media-worthy events both in the U.S. and New Zealand. For example, the basketball team received shooting tips from the New Jersey Nets at the Nets training camp media day. Also, upon their arrival, the NYC firefighters were greeted by the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Maori, who welcomed them with a tribal ceremony. At the World Firefighters Games, a sculpture made of pieces of the World Trade Center was dedicated, with NYC firefighters playing a role in the ceremony.
GA capitalized on ACE’s management’s rare visit to New Zealand to entice journalists to speak with key ACE spokespeople on business initiatives in New Zealand, broaden awareness for the brand, and position ACE’s core values as exhibited by the program.
GA leveraged the background of individual firefighters to interest journalists in human-interest stories around the sponsorship. For example, Steve Maly had formerly worked in the banking world, but became a firefighter as he felt it was more worthwhile. Additionally, he was the only NYC firefighter competing in the “Toughest Firefighter Alive” competition.
GA used the timeline of events, including the firefighters’ departures and return home to create timely news hooks. For example, the firefighters training at Chelsea Piers in preparation for the games, as well as their return with medals in numerous sporting events.
Additionally, GA ensured photos and b-roll were fed to both markets throughout the program to ensure maximum coverage.
In recognition of the one-year anniversary of September 11, following the send-off event, the GA team ceased media outreach until October 1. This strategy also shielded ACE from any media coverage which could portray the company as opportunistic by trying to secure coverage in light of September 11.
To leverage the sponsorship internally, ACE initiated an employee communications program providing employees with a chance to win a trip to New Zealand in conjunction with the launch of ACE IQ, ACE’s Intranet site. Additionally, daily commentary and photography were fed to the Company’s Intranet from New Zealand, including coverage of the employee contest winners, the racing action, and the firefighters’ daily competitions.
 To date, the program has generated new business development opportunities in the U.S. and New Zealand totaling $160,000/year.
Media placements of the Team Dennis Conner sponsorship and NYC firefighter funding was covered in outlets including Good Morning America (“Window”), CBS1 (feeding over 60 stations nationally), NY1 (running dozens of times throughout the day), WB11 Morning News (10 minutes of coverage), two New York Newsday placements, and coverage on numerous television, radio and print outlets in New Zealand.
The broadcast, print, radio and website coverage for the four-month program equated to roughly $464,432 in total ad value.
Coverage of ACE’s sponsorship of Stars & Stripes and its funding of the New York City firefighters trip to the World Firefighters Games reached an estimated global audience of +21,353,800.