In late 2001 Ernst & Young was asked to sponsor a four-year traveling tour of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. For the first time in its history, the Hall of Fame was taking a large number of its treasures out of Cooperstown, NY for a “road game.” The Baseball as America tour would be the first exhibition designed to showcase the link between baseball and American culture – diversity, innovation, and teamwork. The tour would travel to 10 major museums across the country.
The Hall of Fame had never partnered with a corporate sponsor and sought to team with an organization that would embody many of the same values they felt were integral to the history of America’s Pastime. Ernst & Young immediately saw the synergies. Said James S. Turley, chairman of Ernst & Young, “Our firm shares so many of baseball’s values, especially leadership, teamwork, diversity, innovation, opportunity, and performance excellence. In sponsoring the Hall of Fame’s creation and tour of Baseball As America, Ernst & Young is helping to ensure that these values—along with the remarkable artifacts that represent them—will be celebrated and cherished as never before.”
Despite the fact that the Ernst & Young brand is not associated with the game of baseball, as consumer brands like beverage companies or even credit cards might be, the firm hit a “home run” with its sponsorship – connecting with clients, employees, media and the public during a year where baseball umpires were probably thought of more highly than accounting firms.
In the wake of the Enron/Andersen scandal, the core values that make Ernst & Young a unique company and one of the “Best Company’s in America to Work” (Fortune magazine) needed to be communicated to its employees, clients, and even the media in as many innovative ways as possible. While the firm was already a sponsor of the PBS series Great Performances, as well as the United States Ski team and a number of major business events – like the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, sponsoring the Baseball As America tour offered a distinct opportunity to highlight the core values of the U.S. firm in a way that might readily connect with employees and other stakeholders.
The challenge and opportunity was ensuring that Ernst & Young’s sponsorship of the tour would be more than just “writing a check” and would offer elements that would involve its people and clients.
Recognizing the impact the national tour could have, Ernst &Young immediately developed an integrated communications team consisting of internal communications, public relations, marketing, advertising, customer relationship management, and of course the sponsorship team.
The objectives of the team were to:
· Leverage the themes of the tour as a platform to illustrate the core values of the firm – both to internal and external audiences.
· Reaffirm the firm’s role as a leader in the professional services industry.
· Connect with clients and other stakeholders in a fun and entertaining way.
· Strengthen the firm’s reputation as one of the best places to work in America.
· Protect and enhance the firm’s reputation.
To achieve the objectives listed above, the firm’s integrated communications team, and a team of regional marketing and communications practitioners developed a multi-faceted plan to be executed nationally. The plan was designed to build immediate excitement for the sponsorship; create visibility for the firm; drive visitors to the first exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History and other stops in the tour; entice museums in other major markets to sign-on for the exhibit (while 10 cities were planned for the tour not every city was booked); and involve as many of our people and clients in the tour’s festivities.
Since a tour like this had never happed before, Ernst & Young wasn’t sure what to expect and there was little time to conduct primary research before making a decision to accept the sponsorship opportunity.
While Ernst & Young had sponsored many art exhibits around the world, this was by far the largest scale museum sponsorship the firm had ever undertaken. From prior experience, the firm knew that sponsoring a museum exhibit was a risky venture and that it was easy for the firm’s name to get lost in the din and excitement of the tour. Since the Baseball Hall of Fame had never allowed its artifacts to leave Cooperstown we felt the odds were high that the firm’s name would be overshadowed by the mystique of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
On top of that Ernst & Young learned that several major media outlets had formal and informal policies of not mentioning the name of sponsors of museum exhibits. Further, in reviewing news releases issued by several of the museums to which Ernst & Young knew the tour would be headed, it discovered that the museums would likely not go out of their way to highlight its involvement in the tour.
In fact, Ernst & Young soon learned that the American Museum of Natural History didn’t even want its name to appear on any signage at a press conference to announce the tour’s opening. However, based on feedback to internal communications with employees Ernst & Young sensed that it had a “hit” on its hands and just needed some strategic “base running” to bring it all home.
The count was full, the bases loaded, and Ernst & Young’s management team was not prepared to see itss attempts at meeting our objectives strike out. So, Ernst & Young got out some pine tar and prepared to “swing for the fences.”
In preparation for an aggressive and multi-faceted communications program, the team:
· Contracted with several Hall of Fame players to serve as spokespersons for the firm’s sponsorship.
· Designed a series of print advertisements announcing the firm’s support of the tour
· Developed core messages for the firm’s chairman and executive leadership to emphasize the connection between baseball and Ernst & Young’s core values.
· Created co-branded material to support the tour, including baseball hats; balls, jerseys, etc.
· Drafted an introductory letter from the firm’s chairman that would appear in a book about the tour.
· Built pages on both our external and internal web sites
· Drafted a media kit featuring a firm backgrounder, sponsorship news release, a fact sheet on previous sponsorships, and bios of our leadership team.
· Produced b-roll footage highlighting artifacts that would be part of the tour and Ernst & Young’s sponsorship.
Ernst & Young’s internal communications culture had long been based on voicemail. So, it knew that the best way to get the message out to all of its people was through the voicemail system. However, Ernst & Young wanted to be sure to capitalize on the fun and excitement of this sponsorship. The team worked with the Hall of Fame to produce a one-minute voicemail from the firm’s chairman and Hall of Famer Yogi Berra – complete with fan noise and an organ playing Take Me out to the Ballgame.
As expected, the voicemail reached every employee in the U.S. firm and was a huge success. As the tour progressed, a second voicemail featured St. Louis Cardinal great Ozzie Smith. That voicemail aired the day that Smith was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Both voicemails underscored the connection in shared values between the game of baseball and Ernst & Young.
Several pages on the firm’s Intranet site were dedicated to the sponsorship of Baseball as America. At this site the people of Ernst & Young would find a message from the firm’s chairman announcing why we felt this was such a meaningful sponsorship for the firm, details about the tour, ideas for local events when the tour hit their market, feature stories about baseball and the tours, discount ticket information for employees and their families and more.
To allow employees to connect with the nostalgia of baseball and the tour, Ernst & Young worked with the Hall of Fame and outside vendors to build the Ernst & Young Baseball As America online store. Here, employees could purchase tour merchandise like classic replicas of team jerseys, for themselves and as client gifts, at a steep discount. To build additional pride in our connection to the tour select pieces of employee merchandise contained a modest sized Ernst & Young logo. Baseball caps, emblazoned with the logo for the tour and the firm, were given away to many employees at firm events.
In each city (the tour has reached three so far) one day was selected for employees to view the exhibit with their colleagues and families. Employees were also offered discounts for future tickets so that they could return to see the exhibit again with friends and family and, especially, clients. Separately, to kick off the tour, a day was held in the firm’s café in New York to allow employees to have lunch (hot dogs from the nation’s most famous ballparks, popcorn, etc) with Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson and Larry Doby.
A mailing of the tabletop book Baseball As America was sent to senior executives at a large number of Ernst & Young clients. Several copies of the books were autographed by Hall of Fame players.
Museum Gala Event: In each market, a gala event was set aside for celebrities, the media, public figures, Hall of Famers, and Ernst & Young clients to attend. These events (which featured baseball food like hot dogs and beer) were a huge success with clients and competition for the limited number of tickets available was high.
A customized ad was designed to emphasize the firm’s connection to the tour. The ad ran in The Wall Street Journal and several daily newspapers in cities where the tour would take place.
Ernst & Young worked with the public relations team at the American Museum of Natural History to secure media attendance for the news conference that would kick-off the tour. More than 100 media attended. To ensure that Ernst & Young’s involvement in the tour would be “picked up” by television news coverage we produced a 90-second VNR, which featured “sound bites” from Hall of Fame players Joe Morgan and George Brett, and the firm’s chairman Jim Turley. The packaged aired 119 times reaching an audience of over 5 million. An audio news release was also produced using comments recorded from the players. The ANR was aired on over 1,300 stations and reached nearly 3 million people.
To secure coverage in business media, Ernst & Young approached national media outlets to cover the tour from a marketing perspective. The first success was a five-minute interview on CNBC’s Power Lunch. Ernst & Young arranged for Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey and former Kansas City Royal George Brett to appear as guests. The segment featured significant mentions of the firm’s sponsorship and further underscored the core values we believed the firm shared with baseball.
In addition to the results listed above, the coordinated communications helped drive: Near 100 percent awareness of the firm’s sponsorship of the tour among Ernst & Young employees; more than 1,000 media placements, so far, with a reach of impressions in the millions; more than 500 Ernst & Young clients have attended Baseball as America events, thus far; and public attendance at the exhibits in the tens of thousands.