M&T Bank Gives New Meaning to Community through Partnerships
Jan has led sponsorship for M&T Bank since 2019, having previously worked in sponsorship roles for UBS, as director – head of brand activation & sponsorships, Americas from 2014 to 2019, and HSBC Bank USA and HSBC Private Bank from 2006 to 2014.
Jan discussed M&T Bank’s strategy and objectives for its wide-ranging portfolio, its decentralized decision-making structure, performance measurement and more with podcast host Jim Andrews. Below are edited highlights of the conversation.
Jim: Before we dive into strategic partnerships and sponsorships, why don’t we start with some background on M&T, especially for those who recognize the brand but may be unfamiliar with the company’s heritage, footprint, positioning, etc.
Jan: M&T Bank employs about 22,000 people, has a network of a thousand branches that spans about 12 states from Maine to Virginia and Washington, D.C. At its core it is a community bank that is committed to local businesses and entrepreneurs and having an impact on the communities that they live and work in.
Through our recent acquisition of People’s United Bank, we’ve grown significantly in New England and we are looking forward to having the impact there that we have had across the rest of our footprint.
Jim: When you talk about a community bank, M&T defines communities a little differently than just geography. Can you tell us a little about that?
Jan: At its core from a brand standpoint, M&T is a community bank. We recognized a few years ago that the traditional definition of community, driven by geography and proximity of your neighbors, has broadened. For us, your community could be fellow commuters, small business owners, soccer parents, stamp collectors, lawyers, etc.
So we evolved the idea of “community banking” into “a bank for communities.” You see that reflected in our advertising; and that sense of community is expressed through our tagline of “Together We Can.” We are also quite lucky in our brand that we have an ampersand right in our logo that visually represents togetherness.
In our NFL sponsorships, that concept comes to life through “Football Brings Us Together,” the campaign that wraps up all of our activity with our two NFL team partners (Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills).
Jim: Recognizing that M&T has many different types of sports and entertainment partnerships, what is the strategy behind those relationships? What goals and objectives are you planning to achieve and where does sponsorship fit within the marketing mix?
Jan: Contrary to how some brands may follow their sponsorship frameworks, we have not focused our sponsorships on a few themes or sports. That is driven by our community bank model, which takes the decision-making closer to the region and closer to the communities that we serve. For us, the unifying theme is participating in community rituals, whatever they may be. As a result, our portfolio may be a little more diverse than you would traditionally look to generate.
While sponsorships can and should look to impact the entire sales funnel, we find the most powerful impact for us is the top-to-mid section. If you look at in within the marketing mix model, sponsorships afford us a really powerful, impactful experiential marketing campaign and tool.
We see sponsorship as a discussion between the property rights holder and its naturally attracted audience, and we want to join that discussion. We want to join it authentically as a bank, so we would never speak to a play call or a draft choice. Being authentic to our bank, we want to make sure we add value to the conversation, with conversation being interpreted in its broadest sense. For example, the Ravens have the Ravens Flock, with which they engage in multiple ways: digitally, at game day and a variety of other ways. How do we participate in those engagements by adding value and being true to ourselves?
Jim: Your role must be extremely varied, as you have what I assume are your largest partnerships with the Ravens and the Bills, but then there is all of the activity that is happening locally in different communities. Does that mean you interface with people throughout the bank’s regional and local offices?
Jan: I’ll just take a step back quickly to frame how we set our goals and how that allows us to then have those interactions with colleagues in the field. We have four pillars that we look at: brand engagement, customer growth, community engagement and employee engagement. Those are the guiding principles that allow us to set everything from objectives to activation plans.
Our portfolio has a group of mid-to-large relationships that we centrally can activate to generate the return we are looking for across those four pillars. We also have many smaller relationships with festivals, etc., where the sponsorship investment is in the low thousands or even hundreds of dollars. It’s not feasible for us to be present at all of those, so what we’ve created is a framework to allow the independent M&T Bank decision-makers on those sponsorship to make the best possible decisions for their objectives.
We try to ensure that the sponsorship decision is anchored in what the business objectives are. Any time we have a discussion with those folks, we ask them what the business objective is. Once that is clear, and how our broader marketing team is trying to support those objectives, we can then understand how sponsorship in general could help support those objectives, as well as how the particular sponsorship they are looking at could do that.
We then ask them to self-identify three objectives they hope to achieve so that they can look post-sponsorship and see if they were achieved. They can use that information to inform any renewal conversation, whether it’s tweaking the assets or the structure of the deal, or if it’s a question of not renewing the sponsorship.
Jim: The approach you just described of aligning with properties that are important and relevant to communities certainly has many upsides in encouraging engagement with the members of those communities, but as you mentioned to me in an earlier conversation, the downside can be that there is no thematic connection between a parade in one market versus a sports event in another and a performing arts venue in a third. How do you manage that challenge?
Jan: There are obvious benefits to having a focus that is singular so that different assets can interact with each other. Whether it’s going from pee wee football through to the NFL, those assets can interact. You can take an NFL player to a youth football program. Or you can talk to the support you give on the local level for the development of the sports at an NFL game.
For us, there is a connecting element, which is they are all community rituals. The story that we are telling is that we are part of your rituals. That dynamic is quite common and understandable. It’s not as clean a connection, but we find ways to make it work for us.
Jim: You also mentioned that when it comes to evaluating the performance of partnerships, the idea that each one must earn a return can be tricky in a decentralized decision-making environment, such as you have. Can you first share M&T’s approach to sponsorship measurement overall—what metrics do you look at to determine success—and also discuss its role in a decentralized model?
Jan: Return can have many different facets, so it’s important to understand a few things. First, as a team, we believe in continuous, incremental improvement on all activities. Irrespective of what the actual return is, we see success as long as there is incremental improvement in what we are trying to achieve. That also means we don’t sit on really successful activities; we continuously evolve, which is why we are getting the return we are seeing on most of our partnerships.
I would go back to what I said earlier that it’s of paramount importance that any measurement framework is anchored in a business objective. So there is no singular metric such as impressions generated or brand health improvement; it varies based on specific objectives.
I know there are some brands that focus on certain impacts. There are quite successful ones that focus on TV-visible signage at NFL games, for example, and are really driven by the impressions that are generated by that. For us, it’s one thing we take note of, but it is definitely not the only way we generate value.
Jim: Given the visibility and the amount of investment required, naming rights receive a lot of attention in our business, with continuing debate over their value versus lower-tier official partnerships. M&T offers an interesting study, because you have both a naming rights partnership with the Ravens and M&T Stadium, as well as an official sponsorship without the venue title with the Bills. Can you compare those to partnerships and what they deliver for the bank?
Jan: Naming rights partnerships are a powerful tool in generating significant brand lift. For us, the context of that is really important. Only with the right context will you ensure that the dollars you have to spend—which are quite significant—are placed in the right place. The trade-off decision you are making is should I do a naming rights partnership or should I do a different marketing tactic to achieve the objectives that I want?
In Baltimore, the naming rights partnership made a lot of sense because it was closely attached to an acquisition and it allowed us to have an outsized, immediate impact in the community. So much so that lots of folks in the greater Baltimore area believe our headquarters are in Baltimore when they are actually in Buffalo.
So where are you when you start the consideration of a naming rights partnership when it comes to brand awareness? And where do you want to be? If you look at the Bills, when the naming rights partnership became available after New Era before Highmark took it over, the question for us would be what is the delta we could achieve in terms of awareness? Because it is our home market, we already have significant awareness.
The other point I would make is that while it is an important factor for us and it is really a valuable asset to be a naming rights partner, we generate a lot of value through all of the different activations that we do. In this particular instance, the math doesn’t make sense if you already have significant brand awareness, unless you are trying to fend off a new entry to the marketplace and want to avoid your direct competitor putting their name on the stadium where you sponsor the team.
Jim: Before I let you go, I’d love to talk about one of your other sponsorships with a pretty unique space in New York City, The Shed. Can you tell us about how that sponsorship came about, how you are using it and how the dynamic is different working with an arts and cultural organization versus a sports team.
Jan: The Shed is an exciting project that is part of one of the most significant real estate development projects in the Western Hemisphere in recent history—Hudson Yards.
We came to the sponsorship because M&T Bank is a significant provider of financing to The Shed. So we played an authentic, true part in the creation of The Shed; it wouldn’t be what it is today without M&T Bank. So that’s a really powerful storytelling tool and a really exciting thing to say in a market like New York City.
The Shed also allows us to connect with and be the convenor of discussions with nonprofits and other organizations. For example, we connected an organization in the Bronx called DreamYard—which collaborates with youth, families and schools to build opportunity through the arts—to The Shed. To be part of the democratizing of access to the arts—both the consumption and the creation of art—is really exciting.
The arts world, contrary to the sports world, has a little bit of a stressed relationship with corporate underwriters, but The Shed is really innovative and a fantastic partner in finding ways we can authentically join that particular conversation.