Inside the Strategy and Execution of 3M’s Global Partnership Program
Kady joined podcast host Jim Andrews to outline how 3M’s diverse portfolio achieves multiple objectives, including growth and awareness for the company as a global leader in science and innovation. Below are edited highlights of the conversation.
Jim: It would probably be helpful to start with sharing the big-picture perspective on 3M because it is such a multi-faceted company, and then it would be great if you could drill down and tell us about global partnerships and your role, and what those partnerships are intended to accomplish for a company as diverse as 3M
Kady: As you mentioned, 3M is a diverse global company that helps support sustain a safe, sustainable, healthy and bright world for everyone. They say you are never more than three feet away from a 3M product, and I think it’s actually closer than that.
I truly learn something every day when I come to work. It is a truly innovative and outstanding company. Everything we do here starts with our purpose, which informs every decision we make, whether from a strategy standpoint or a partnership.
That purpose is to unlock the power of people, ideas and science to reimagine what’s possible and improve lives. We’ve been doing that since the early 1900s. We have over 85,000 employees and four different business groups.
We have our healthcare business group, which is everything from when you go to the hospital to oral care when you go to the dentist to purification. We have our transportation and electronics business group, which is films and graphics, so when you are driving and you see a truck wrap, that’s a 3M product. It also is everything from EV to virtual reality.
Third is our safety and industrial business group, which includes safety tapes and adhesives that are used to build airplanes and other things. And last is our consumer business group, which is our smallest business group. This is the B2C group and how everyone knows us, for Post-it notes, Scotch tape, Command hooks—all the products you use in your home and office. We are a very complex, diverse and innovative company that is in the midst of spinning off our healthcare business group and creating two world-class companies.
To answer your second question regarding our global partnerships, we partner with organizations that have the same shared values and purpose and that are aligned to what we do at 3M. We look to leverage our science—whether that be our people, our technologies, or our innovations—to help our partners solve world problems. And within those partnerships we look to build emotional connections with our different audiences and amplify our brand purpose while connecting with our key stakeholders throughout that process.
Jim: When we spoke prior to this, you mentioned that a focus for 3M was integrating product or technology into partnerships. Do you have an example or two of how you have done that?
Kady: The Minnesota Twins as we were coming out of the pandemic came to us as they were trying to bring people back to Target Field safely. (And that’s how we want our partnerships to start—with a conversation about a problem and how 3M can help.)
We were already doing that for businesses returning to work, as well as in education, airports, etc., so we created a Return to Play campaign with the Twins using 3M products and solutions to create a clean and safe environment throughout the ballpark, enabling better communication, sanitization and safety.
Teaming up with the Twins as their official science partner was a win for both parties, as it added credibility for the Twins as they went to market to bring fans back to the stadium and, on the flip side, it was important to us at 3M to authentically tell that brand story throughout the stadium, on TV and on social and digital media.
Jim: With hospitality and client entertainment playing such an important part for the B2b aspects of 3M, could you share some of the things you have done in that space that have been particularly effective or that your most proud of?
Kady: When we look strategically at our partnerships, they have to account for three things. Number one is to accommodate our current and future customers. Number two is to activate different products, as in the Twins example. Number three is to be able to amplify our brand story.
So when we look at the first of those three, it’s important for us to be able to create business-building activities through different hospitality experiences and really strengthen the relationship with customers—driving growth with current customers and prospects.
One example of how we have done that, in the context of taking advantage of big events that come to Minnesota (We are headquartered in St. Paul.), was in 2022 when the NCAA Women’s Final Four basketball tournament was held here. It was a great opportunity for us to talk about and drive awareness of Title IX and support women throughout our organization, as well as activate our brand.
We worked with our women business leaders to bring in women customers for a four-day program that included business meetings focused on how we could grow together, as well as outside speakers talking about women in business and leadership.
Jim: That’s an example of how a program like that could be offered anywhere at any time, but by combining it with the Women’s Final Four, it adds another level to the experience. The guests you are inviting are busy managers and executives who are invited to many different functions, so being able to add a sports or entertainment piece to that can make all the difference.
Kady: You’re exactly right. You have to create that hook to get them to spend a day or two with you.
Jim: 3M is a title sponsor on the PGA Tour, with the 3M Open. The tour has experienced a great deal of change this past year. How did the new structure, with Designated Events for the first time and a top 70 cutoff instead of the top 125 qualifying for the FedEx Cup playoffs, work out for you and the 3M Open? Were there any changes to how you activate that event as a result?
Kady: For the 3M Open, the changes that the PGA Tour made to the schedule really strengthened our field for the tournament this past July. We had our strongest field—meaning the most top 20 players participating—since the partnership began in 2019. There were a few players on the bubble, like Justin Thomas, who committed to the 3M Open in 2023 to get into that top 70. I’m not sure Justin would have been here otherwise. I’m sure we will see more of that in 2024 and beyond as it is a priority and goal for these professionals to make it into the FedEx Cup playoffs.
The downside is that the players are committing later, as they wait to see where they are in the rankings, so it can be harder to market some of those iconic names to drive attendance.
Overall, our partnership with the PGA Tour has been great for 3M. We continue to grow the tournament and drive more dollars for charity. It’s a partnership that allows us to connect with a variety of key stakeholders, whether it’s our customers, our community, our partners, or our suppliers. We are able to drive our brand story as the title partner and engage with our employees also, which is very important. And in the past five years we have been able to give over $8 million to the different communities where we live, work and play.
Jim: How does 3M determine whether partnerships and activations are successful? Do you have a standardized approach to evaluating performance?
Kady: We do. We have a diverse partnership portfolio, so there are different prioritized metrics within each partnership. It’s very important that we have a strategy for each partnership that will lead to the goals we have set and measuring the different KPIs. We recap every partnership to understand the impact of each one on our objectives and goals and the ROI it is delivering.
That allows us to optimize the different assets in each partnership and reevaluate each year. It informs the renewal discussions when the contract term comes up and we look at how everything fits into our overall portfolio strategy.
Whether it’s measuring brand impact, familiarity and favorability or sales growth with our customers, or the cost, reliability and trust of a partner, all of those different metrics are important to us. We also work closely across the enterprise with our business leaders to ensure that we are aligned with and meeting their business goals and objectives. Those may change during the term of the partnership as well.
Jim: I’d like to address a little bit of the “mechanics” behind your partnerships, in terms of what the organization looks like: Do you have a global partnerships team reporting to you? How do you handle vetting and selecting opportunities, managing and executing the programs, etc.?
Kady: I have a fantastic global partnerships team that drives value for our brand and our businesses. They manage and execute the majority of our partnerships. We do work with some third parties, but mostly it’s done in-house. Above and beyond our team, we work cross-functionally—whether that is with our public affairs organization, our brand team, our comms team, our sustainability team, our 3M Gives foundation. It is a true team effort, including with our business leaders on how we engage with customers and making sure we are meeting their expectations and their goals.
As we look at adding new opportunities to our portfolio, we look for global partners that complement our existing partnerships and ask what key objectives they can help us reach. We also look at where is the white space where 3M can authentically play and share the story of science and innovation. We don’t want it to be crowded.
We look at six separate criteria in evaluating partnerships. Number one is brand fit: Does the partner align with 3M’s purpose? Is it best-in-class, respected and trusted? Number two is the brand role: Are there meaningful ways for 3M to implement our products, our technology and our solutions into an event or venue and activate those different properties?
Number three is audience alignment: Is it U.S.? Global? Does the partner reach our different key stakeholders? Number four is brand amplification: Is there an opportunity for 3M to stand out against our competitors and other companies? Is there white space and does the partnership have ample media and digital opportunities for us to leverage and tell our best brand story?
Number five is the hosting component: Will the partnership provide us with those “under the ropes” experiences where we can bring in our large customers and have those business-building opportunities and discussions with them. Number six is the structure: Does it enhance our current portfolio or is it something we are already over-indexed in? Are there different moments where we can activate throughout the year, or is it just one event? What is the investment needed? We talk about investment into the property, but how much do you need for activation?
A lot goes into vetting new opportunities and as you can imagine we get new ideas across our desks every day, but it’s important to look at these six different criteria.
Jim: There is one partnership in your portfolio that is truly unique and that is 3M’s status as an international partner of the Nobel Prize organization. Can you tell us how that partnership came about and what it does for the company?
Kady: It predates my time at 3M. I’ve been here for nine years. It’s a great partnership. They really share our vision of improving lives around the world. It gives 3M the opportunity to honor the major advancements of humankind and science through the iconic brand of the Nobel Prize.
We host a series of Nobel Prize dialogues around the world and those change year to year in five different locations. It gives us a chance to connect with our customers globally.
And on the other side of that spectrum we look to support the next generation of innovators and scientists, so we host the 3M Young Scientist Challenge in partnership with Discovery Education. It’s a yearlong science-based competition for grades six through eight. This year we had over 2,000 entries.
The participants submit a video with an idea and judges select ten finalists. Those ten are each connected with a 3M scientist who mentors them over the summer, which is a differentiator between this and any other competition. Our scientists help transform the idea from a concept into a prototype. The finalists are able to demonstrate many of the characteristics that 3M values, including intelligence, curiosity, collaboration and resilience. This year the winner invented a compound-based skin-cancer-treating soap.
Our finalists have gone on to give Ted Talks and file for patents. Some of them have made the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, etc. So those are two very innovative science-based partnerships that 3M has with very different approaches.
Jim: You started your career on the event side of things, working as a tournament and customer events manager. Any advice to those folks currently in similar roles who aspire to one day oversee a major partnerships program like you are doing now?
Kady: I started my career on the agency side, working for Pro Links Sports and had the opportunity to work with many different companies to bring their brands to life, whether it be through a PGA Tour golf tournament or the Pillsbury Bake-Off.
I learned so much from so many different people by asking a ton of questions: What is your purpose? What is your objective? What do they love about their role? What is challenging about it?
Building those connections is so important along the way and it really provided me invaluable insights into what I wanted to do for my career and defining my career path. It’s important to figure out and understand your “why” and what you want to do for your next step.
The second thing I would say is to learn to play the game of golf! I started in ninth grade. I was fortunate enough to play in college. But you don’t have to be good. Just know the game and it can be such a valuable tool for expanding your network personally and professionally and forging strong relationships.
On the professional side, the game has opened so many doors for me to connect with a wide range of individuals. I think about how hard it is to get a 30-minute meeting with a CEO in an office, but you are able to spend four to five hours with these types of executives on a golf course. That’s invaluable. It’s a great way to meet people, get to know them and see their true character.
At 3M, I encourage women to play the game and not turn down that customer scramble invitation. Right before the pandemic, I created the Get Golf Ready program with two other 3Mers. We provided 20 minutes of networking with other women and brought in key executives to speak about career paths, and the hook was bringing them out to a golf course and having a woman instructor teach them the game and the etiquette so they could take advantage of opportunities in the future.