In a world where everyone’s attention is increasingly fragmented and specialized, sports and sports teams remain one of the few entertainment outlets that can bring an entire community together regardless of race, class, gender or geography.
For Prosource, a Cincinnati, Ohio-based provider of office equipment, document automation and business technology solutions, it seemed natural and effective to use sports sponsorships as something of an icebreaker when branching out to new markets as part of its expansion strategy.
“As one of the fastest growing companies in the Midwest, we have expanded our geographic reach significantly over the past five years into Kentucky, West Virginia and Indiana,” said Amy Mersch, Prosource’s marketing manager. “Sponsorships of local sports teams and events in our new markets have been a fantastic platform to raise awareness of our brand and demonstrate our commitment to these communities.”
When Prosource opened up a pair of office locations in West Virginia, the company partnered with Marshall University’s athletics department as something of an introduction to new customers and business partners. In West Virginia and other smaller communities that are borderline obsessed with their collegiate sports teams, this approach to sports sponsorships tends to engender goodwill, familiarity and instant awareness.
“Customer demographics are part of the conversation when we’re considering whether a particular sponsorship opportunity is a fit and whether it will make an impact,” Mersch said. “We have the best chance of creating value with our branding and messaging and fostering connections if it’s the right audience.”
But that doesn’t mean Prosource has forgotten its roots and where the loyalties and passion of its core customers, business partners and employs reside.
The company is a major sponsor of three local major league teams including the Cincinnati Bengals, the Cincinnati Reds and FC Cincinnati of Major League Soccer.
In 2008, Prosource became the official document solutions provider for the Bengals. This high-profile sponsorship has grown over more than a decade. Prosource has hosted Tech Shows at Paul Brown Stadium, bringing more than 300 business and IT professionals to the Bengals’ stadium to expose clients to its brands and equipment.
“This relationship has fueled our brand awareness and engagement and, in turn, we’ve used the partnership to create energy and loyalty to the Bengals brand both inside and outside our organization,” Mersch said.
At these events, Prosource is able to articulate how its lines of office equipment, document management technology and managed IT services offerings can help customers achieve their business goals – all from a familiar and exciting venue that’s about as far removed from a hotel conference room as possible.
“In business, we help organizations both large and small succeed through technology solutions delivered by an unmatched customer experience,” she said. “Similarly, we believe we can make an impact through sponsorships ranging from the major leagues to high school teams, local events and community nonprofits.”
In addition to its relationship with all three major league franchises in Cincinnati, Prosource is also a sponsor of professional auto racing, serving as the official technology provider for Kentucky Speedway, a relatively new (2011) stop on the NASCAR series.
During the NASCAR tripleheader weekend in July, Prosource’s office equipment and technology solutions are used in the track’s administration building, media center, press box, command center and ticketing offices – and all these devices are supported by Prosource service engineers to ensure that operations and communications keep pace with the on-track racing excitement. More than 500 Prosource employees, customers and guests take part in the three-day racing extravaganza.
Prosource is also has a close relationship with the University of Dayton, as part of a 30-year relationship with the Dayton business community.
“Sponsoring the University of Dayton Flyers has given us an opportunity to enrich that relationship, grow our brand awareness in that area, and further our commitment to Dayton’s thriving community,” Mersch said.
Mersch said Prosource is also very active in supporting local high school teams in all of its markets. More often than not, she said, these schools use Prosource hardware, software and other technology solutions throughout their campus to reduce their expenses and improve security.
The company also sponsors numerous charitable sports events and golf tournaments in their communities as well as organizations such as First Tee of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, the local chapter of the international youth development organization providing educational programs designed to build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf.
In its second generation as a family-owned business, Prosource takes a strategic and pragmatic approach toward its sponsorship investments. Mersch said all employees are encouraged to share new potential sports sponsorship ideas and opportunities that “resonate with our customers, our community and our team.”
“We embrace opportunities for local sponsorships to align our organization with causes close to the hearts of our Prosource family members,” she said.
From Prosource’s perspective, any future or existing sports sponsorship deal is viewed and managed as a partnership.
“We emphasize the word partnership because that’s how we do business,” Mersch said. “As a business-to-business sales organization, we focus on building relationships and working with our customers as a strategic partner – not just a vendor.”
While these sponsorship expenditures are part of the company’s overall external marketing budget, the company also views them as part of its internal marketing and employee engagement strategy
“You feel this in our offices as many of our long-term partnerships have become embedded in our company culture,” she said. “Sponsorships drive excitement around the brand within our organization, turning our team members into enthusiastic brand advocates who are excited and proud to work for Prosource.”