The culmination of a first-year sponsorship campaign by professional services firm Aon left pro women’s golfer Carlota Ciganda in tears at a press conference last week.
With her parents in the audience, the 29-year-old golfer from Spain took home a prize of $1 million for winning a season-long sponsorship program uniquely developed by the brand. Dubbed the Aon Risk Reward Challenge, the season-long competition rewards golfers who exhibit strategic decision-making skills, and in doing so highlights parallels between business and golf.
What was bigger than the hefty check, though, was the powerful message Aon communicated surrounding equal pay for men and women. As a part of a multi-year deal, the amount of prize money and the campaign itself were exactly the same for both the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour and the PGA Tour.
Andy Weitz, CMO of Aon, sat down with Evan Vladem on behalf of Chief Marketer to discuss how the campaign was developed, how it performed in its first year, and the wider message the professional services firm sent out.
EVAN VLADEM: Aon just culminated the first year of the Aon Risk Reward Challenge. How did you see the opportunity to actually create your own award within professional golf?
ANDY WEITZ: It all started with the audience we were trying to reach. We wanted to reach a more strategic buyer, change perception, evolve how we’re seen in the marketplace. We asked, ‘how do we reach that really busy, time-poor leader?’
We found they were passionate about golf, they made time for it, they played it and they consumed it. The question then became, how do we break through the clutter? How do we talk about Aon in a way that engages them and changes perception of the firm? For us, it was really about driving an understanding of how Aon is evolving and how we create value for our clients.
EV: With so many pieces to engage consumers and a competition with the pros, how did it evolve from there?
AW: We focused not just on a tournament sponsorship, but how we could tell a story over the course of a season—one that’s authentic, that fits into how broadcasters, fans and players already talk about the game. For us, that was ‘Risk/Reward.’ You hear it all the time.
For Aon, that’s a natural fit because that’s how we create value for our clients. We help them make better decisions. That’s how a caddy advises a player. He helps him or her make better decisions during a moment that matters most. We grasped that concept and we ran with it.
We loved that natural connection and then we figured, let’s not just tell the story through signage or brand work, let’s actually integrate it into broadcast and do some storytelling.
EV: Talk to me about the channels Aon hit with the campaign. How did engagement and performance look?
AW: We have three categories we pay the most attention to. First is storytelling, second are events, and third is what we call memorable moments.
From a storytelling perspective, we had a broad-based content strategy that was anchored in broadcast but also supplemented through social media channels where we could target audiences and bring them back to this idea of Risk/Reward by highlighting the holes on the LPGA Tour and PGA Tour each week. Throughout that, our key messages were around associating Aon with insight through data and analytics. We were able to actually measure a considerable uptick in association with Aon among that target audience over the course of the season. We succeeded in shifting perception, which we think is really powerful in terms of measuring the impact of storytelling because that helps us create conditions for growth.
Secondly, we looked at who we could host. We have all these great events over the course of the entire season, not a single tournament, where we can bring clients and prospects together and empower our local leaders through the PGA Tour and LPGA Tour stops to actually tell the story for us with the backdrop of golf. We can measure the amount of revenue we’ve hosted, we can measure from a pipeline perspective, how that’s matured, what we’ve retained, what’s rolled over. Finally, memorable moments, which for both colleagues and clients are really important. The idea that we can create access in and outside of the ropes with our ambassador program and the broader Aon Risk Reward Challenge program that we can’t do otherwise. That’s really paid off. You can’t measure it as quantitatively, but the stories, the anecdotes, the experiences have been exceptional.
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EV: Sitting here now and reflecting on the first year, what was the biggest take away?
AW: We’re most proud of the equal prize money.
The idea that we’re offering the men and the women the same reward for the same basic execution, if you will. That has paid off in ways we never could have anticipated, both in terms of the pride within our firm about that decision and the earned media we’ve seen where people have commented, ‘Explain to us how you made this decision, explain why it’s important to your firm.’ It’s given us an additional platform to tell this story on.
EV: That’s huge—the conversation of men and women pay, especially in sports. You made it even. Talk to me about that decision as a company.
AW: We actually took the concept separately to both tours in parallel and basically agreed that we were going to do equal prize money across both. For our leadership team, it was never really a question. We knew that if we were going to do this, we had an opportunity to make a statement and at this point it felt like the right thing to do. We try to live our values at Aon and this was a great example to do just that. I think our colleagues have been really inspired by that.
EV: With everything going on in the world and where we’re at politically, tell me about the power of that message and feedback.
AW: Our decision to award equal prize money on the LPGA and PGA Tours has been uniformly positive. It’s a decision we made almost two years ago now in the planning process. It was one that arguably was made well before this issue became the important hot topic that it has become today. For us, it was just kind of fundamental to our values and it’s played out in a way that it’s benefited the program. I think we’re most proud of the way our own team, our colleagues feel about that decision.
EV: You have so many activation points on the ground today. You have ambassadors, you have the TV, social, digital and on-site. What do you think is the most powerful for Aon?
AW: It’s tough to say which channel has been the most effective, because I think the value of the program is in the multichannel approach. Every moment we create throughout the course of the golf season we view as an opportunity to tell the story again and again through multiple channels.
I think what’s been most measurable has been the broadcast integration because we can measure the audience that’s watching and we can, over time, sample that audience to measure a change in perception. All of that is also reinforced by social media and how we can target that audience. The great thing about this is, the golf season goes basically all year. It has its peaks and valleys, but we can use those different channels.
Our ambassador program has been fantastic in personalizing that story and allowing us to work with leading PGA and LPGA players to kind of bring it to life in a way that really resonates with both the avid fan and the average fan who maybe is more the business person that we’re trying to target.
EV: How did you approach each ambassador and choose who’s going to be part of your program?
AW: We built some criteria that we wanted to use as guardrails for making those choices. I think first and foremost, we wanted a diverse international group of ambassadors. We also wanted players who were beginning to incorporate data and analytics into how they made decisions because we knew they’d be more comfortable telling the story we wanted to tell. We also wanted players who had a great relationship with their caddy so they could share anecdotes and insights, windows, if you will, into how risk-reward comes to life.
Finally, we wanted players who had a team, who felt like it wasn’t just them and all about them but it was about who they surrounded themselves with, their advisors, if you will, which goes back to that parallel we’re trying to draw between what happens on the golf course and what happens in the boardroom. And the idea that Aon should have a seat at that table in the boardroom advising our clients, just like that team is advising those players.