Apr 20, 2009 at 04:53 PM
written by

Going the Distance: John Hancock & the Boston Marathon

For the 24th consecutive year, John Hancock was at the starting line of the Boston Maraton today. That may not come as a surprise given that John Hancock is about as Boston as Fenway with a Red Sox and Gilette stadium sponsorship rounding out all of the home town bases -John Hancock partnership overview. John Hancock's sports marketing director, Deb Maxfield discussed the partnership this morning:

What some may not know is that John Hancock, under the direction of one of sponsorship's most staunch and successful advocates - David D'alessandro - once used its famous signature to save the country's oldest marathon altogether. In 1986, with the Boston Marathon falling behind Chicago and New York and the elite runners looking elsewhere, D'alessandro, at the time a 35 year old marketing exec at the company, convinced John Hancock to pen a $1.3 million dollar check to fund prize money for the very first time. Further showing its commitment to the city's premier event, the company signed a 10 year sponsorship that helped the Boston Athletic Association restore the race's elite status and has since made it possible to grant more than $11 million in prize money since the partnership began in 1986. It wasn't just about the money either, D'alessandro made it his mission to see that John Hancock was helping to lure the very best runners in the world - and to do that he took on a lot of people and politics who were against prize money. "There were the people who wanted us to fall flat on our face, and I couldn't believe how many of those there were," D'alessandro said. Once prize money had been secured, the job was not done. Rumor has it that on that first race morning of the twenty four year partnership, D'alessandro spent the day talking to runners' agents about getting them to participate in the following year's Boston Marathon. While many marketers have no problem making a yes or no decision on an opportunity, few have the ability to look at a "down" property and see the potential for an even greater impact through their participation. This was just the first step in John Hancock's plan to engrain itself in the fabric of Boston and it worked. Had the Boston Marathon not been struggling, the partnership almost certainly would not have gotten the attention it did.

A quarter of a century later, there are a lot of parallels to the current state of sponsorship. Properties are down - struggling to meet obligations, fund operations and prove value to sponsors. Rather than simply low balling fees and demanding more benefits, why not look for ways in which you can use the uncertainty of an event to your brand's benefit?

In an era when financial services companies are "sparing every expense," it's nice to see a company that is standing by their partners during difficult times. Given the history between the two, it would be difficult to conceive otherwise for today's 113th running of the Boston Marathon.

Just like we look at other fans, consumers want to see and feel passion from sponsors that want to share in the experience - even if they are paying big bucks for that right. If you just want to write a check, then media buying may be more your thing.