How Danone is Building a Brand Partnership Strategy from the Ground Up
Kieran Foley is Danone’s first head of strategic partnerships across media, sports, TV, film, content and entertainment. He joined the company in 2019 having sponsorship experience with two international telecommunications companies, as well as having founded and led the Caribbean Premier League, a franchise-based professional cricket league in the West Indies.
In his All Access Interview with host Jim Andrews, Kieran shared the world’s largest public benefit corporation’s fresh take on sponsorship—including its objectives and what benefits it is looking for—and offered advice on how marketers and rights holders can ensure fair market value for both parties. Below are edited highlights of the conversation.
Jim: You are in an enviable position of essentially building a partnership strategy and program from the ground up. Can you give us a sense of what’s new at Danone, what you are working on now, and where you hope to take the program?
Kieran: Danone of course is a massive global food company, very well known for our sustainability stance and the fact that we are the largest B Corp. in the world. We also have many brands that are familiar to consumers in North America in the yogurt and plant-based beverage categories.
Often, consumers don’t link the brands with the global company that’s behind them, and even though we have strong brands that individually work extremely well, there is great strength to be had in the overall house of brands, as Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo and Kellogg’s have shown.
Danone has been in a unique situation of walking the walk, in terms of living our “One Planet. One Health” manifesto but not talking the talk and telling everyone who we are and what we’re doing. So one of the things that is key for us in our sponsorships and partnerships is how we engage and interact with them so that they know who we are. Given that, it is very important that our partnerships and activations are grounded in being authentic and relevant to who we are.
And in that sense, the partnership opportunities that approach us need to understand who we are and what we need rather than just what they have to give us.
Jim: That is good advice, and I should point out that you have spent a great deal of time in the sponsor’s chair, but also have extensive experience as a rightsholder seeking to secure brand partnerships—even founding one of the world’s largest professional cricket leagues. Having been on both sides of the table, what other advice would you give to rightsholders on how they can ensure their offerings are relevant to brands?
Kieran: It starts with doing your homework and having the market and consumer intelligence that makes your offer more than a pitch that talks about how many impressions you can generate. How is that relevant to the company and its consumers? I want to hear about your positioning within your sport or whatever arena you are in, and what value the company or brand can bring.
I get a lot of proposals that have really good benefits, so my challenge is determining what makes sense for Danone. The property that says, “This is what makes sense for you, this is why, this is how you could position it.”
Jim: Are there specific assets or benefits that Danone is looking for?
Kieran: We need to program through three core tenets, with the first two supporting the third one. First, how can Danone avail ourselves of your media program? Second, how can we avail ourselves of your content? Third, is there a clear path on how we can leverage that in promotions, either trade or shopper. That third piece, the commercial benefit, is critical. If media and content generate a billion impressions, I’m still going to ask whether that was commercially relevant, and did it move the dial. Any pitch should demonstrate how those dots connect.