The Right Blend: Great Partners and Relevant Activations Are Critical to Sponsorship Success
With more than 20 years marketing beer and spirits brands, Rene Ramos has worked across every major sports league and notable entertainment property in the country.
His responsibilities include partnerships and brand experiences for Constellation brands such as Corona, Modelo, Pacifico, Woodbridge, Meiomi, Kim Crawford, SVEDKA and High West.
Rene sat down for an All Access Interview with host Jim Andrews to explore selecting the right partnership opportunities, aligning execution to market conditions and what makes an outstanding partner. Below are edited highlights of the conversation.
Jim: We have seen an “arms race” with the opening of new stadiums in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco and other places, which also means a leveling up of the branded destinations within those venues. Your brands are involved in many of those buildings, so how do you ensure that spaces such as a Modelo Cantina or Corona Beach House stands out and lives up to the heightened expectations of fans in these state-of-the-art arenas?
Rene: We have been fortunate to be literally in on the ground floor and tag along for the ride as buildings such as the Golden State Warriors’ Chase Center, SoFi Stadium in L.A. and Allegiant Stadium in Vegas built out their infrastructure.
We are able to talk with them about what we want the consumer experience to look and feel like, what technology enhancements are they bringing in, such as WiFi capabilities, LED or Oculus technology, etc. Then we try to take full advantage of all of the technologies to scale them down and embed them in our areas so that the customer experience is as seamless as possible. With the fans’ expectations set so high by these buildings, the last thing you want is to have a bar with printed banners! You want digital walls, great WiFi access and a super-premium feel.
Jim: You oversee a large portfolio of beer, wine and spirits brands with partnerships that span the country. With such a large pool of potential sponsorship opportunities, how does Constellation Brands approach the sponsorship selection, vetting and acquisition process?
Rene: It’s an arduous process. We focus on how an opportunity will deliver on our brand goals, not just from a national perspective, which is important, but from a local one as well. Our business is a local one. What’s going to differentiate our brands from the competition in a given market?
The answer will be different depending on the market. In L.A., Modelo is the number-one beer; from a dollar share perspective it’s bigger than Miller Lite, Bud Light and Coors Light combined. We take Modelo to market in L.A. very differently than we do in New York, where Corona is still king.
We look at where we stand in a market in terms of our brand development index, our velocity, our distribution rates and where the gaps are we need to fill. Will this opportunity help us fill those, whether it’s sampling, building brand awareness, or giving us something we can take to a large-format grocery store, liquor store or on premise?
Jim: It sounds like it comes down more to “how” you are sponsoring than to “who,” meaning the activations will be what distinguishes between opportunities.
Rene: Of course, we are going to look at relevancy, at which property or partnership will get our consumer excited and make our brand relevant. On top of that, it has to make sense for the brand based on some shared equities so that the consumer says, “I can see why this brand is associated with this property.”
But we also need to understand what programming we are going to get out of it. Is it a sampling play, a general awareness play, a distribution play? Sometimes it could be all of those things, in which case we will prioritize what’s most important.
Jim: You were quoted recently as saying, “Our best partners are the ones that help us evolve our engagement strategy as we activate, constantly bringing new ideas and approaches.” In your selection process, are you trying to determine whether a property will be a good partner down the road?
Rene: It’s absolutely something we take into consideration from the first communication. We try to assess what they understand about our business and how up to speed they are about the market they are in. Are they presenting us ideas we haven’t seen before, or are they offering a copy-and-paste exercise from a proposal they would put in front of any beer or wine brand?
It’s not that those conversations won’t go anywhere, but if we have to put a lot of work into it at first, that’s not a good sign. In that first meeting, we’re going to ask, “Why us?” and “Where do you think we fit in?” We’re looking to see if they understand what our brand is about, what its positioning is, beyond what they see on TV. They should know the activations we’ve done with other partners and bring those examples in.
Jim: What percentage of those first conversations would you say do a good job of meeting your expectations?
Rene: A few years ago, I would have said probably 40 percent, but it’s getting better. I think we’re in the 60-65 percent range now. Properties have gotten better about doing Internet research and looking at our social media feeds to see what we are doing.
I’m also impressed when properties come in with analytics they have pulled from their fan base, either through data, social listening or surveys that show how prone they are to drink our products, etc. If they have those capabilities within their own business, it gives me confidence that they can help with mine.