88 Marketing is a boutique agency with 40+ years of experience from the property side of sports. 88 Marketing brought on Trak to better manage their sponsorship operations; helping navigate Alaska Airlines’ sponsorship strategy as well as validate and forecast partnership results in the midst of unprecedented challenges. Here’s how they did it and their recommendations to industry peers moving forward.
After years of experience on the property side with the likes of the Los Angeles Dodgers, L.A. Angels of Anaheim and AEG, Jason Klein (Principal) and Sabrina Higdon have built up the 88 Marketing agency (“88”) around its primary client Alaska Airlines (“the Client”).
As experts in sponsorship and navigating the property landscape, 88 has helped the Client grow its footprint through partnership strategy and tactics executed across the sports and entertainment landscape in the western U.S. with many flagship partnerships like the one with the Portland Timbers featuring the jersey front placement and their famous Million-Mile Sweepstakes with the Mariners.
Very familiar with the challenges of the spreadsheet-centric “old fashioned way” of sponsorship management, 88 brought on Trak Software in December of 2019 to accomplish more, collaboratively, on behalf of the Client. 88 was in the process of implementing Trak when the pandemic put a near screeching halt to normal operations in not only sports and entertainment, but also the travel and airline industries. Here is 88 Marketing’s take on the landscape and their experience working with Trak during one action-packed year.
Higdon’s role is the day-to-day operations, management and organization of the work involved on behalf of the Client. Higdon coordinates creative tracking and documentation involving 6-7 “monster spreadsheets” and a clogged email inbox and has found it to be super-inefficient. As a limited access “Collaborator” via a property Trak had partnered with, she was made aware of a better solution with her Trak experience.
Higdon came from the sales side of the sponsorship business. “When I was in the sales world, I tried every type of software available and from the sponsorship perspective, nothing ever tackled all the needs as effectively as Trak does. Just because it is so tailored to the sponsorship world” Higdon described. “Clients retain us to help ensure that property partners are delivering on sponsorship expectations and are providing the data and performance metrics necessary to validate the relationship.”
“Get me out of the spreadsheet hell” by partnering with Trak.
“One centralized location can help us collaborate easier than ever. We couldn’t always find each other’s files,” Higdon said while describing the creative, contracts, sweepstakes rules, etc. that they are always having to sort through and noted constantly having to be in reactive mode. “Just being able to track everything in one place is super valuable.”
Klein’s motive in signing on with Trak was to streamline things and make day-to-day operations more efficient.
“Whether we had the Client’s support or not, it was still worth it to invest in it on our own and we were hoping the Client would see the value in it over time. We had confidence that if it changed our lives for the better, then the Client would feel the positive impact as well.”
With the financial impact the pandemic had on the Client, 88 was tasked with saving as much money as possible in 2020. They worked with property partners to come up with a plan for contract deferrals and reductions.
Klein said they had zero intention on using Trak for 2020 COVID planning, but “pivoted and negotiated with all the partners based on the impact the pandemic was having. We worked with Trak to customize our experience based on the unprecedented circumstances...we dug in and Trak was great in helping personalize and configure it on the fly!”
Klein described how, in Trak, the 88 team was able to add a monetary value for every single asset, as well as the impact the pandemic was having on each asset, which rolled up into a comprehensive overview of the property and partnership.
“When we went to reconcile with our partners, we showed up with data and science behind us to help us explain it to validate our position. We used the same information to negotiate the economics of the deals...we knew the value of these assets and, in most cases, were close to what the properties determined.” Klein describes how “working with property partners became easier as each side showed up to collaborate, creating objective negotiation levers for us to realistically apply the results. All of the information was at our fingertips”.
Throughout these conversations with property partners 88 displayed Trak and the consolidated valuation data.
Moving into 2021 with Trak customizations in place, and the pandemic continuing to affect partnerships, 88 could easily adjust formulas based on revised schedules, attendance, etc. to project respective values. “We combined the art and science, and specifically the data science part with Trak”,
Klein emphasized how beneficial it was to have Trak going into the pandemic, citing the Client did great things with their MLB partnerships. Despite the pandemic, they were able to accomplish their objectives with successful promotions because of how much better coordinated they were.
“The clubs and the Client had fewer internal resources to work with. Leaning on Trak to help will increasingly take more of the burden off of their plates as play resumes”.
Even though they did not have a lot of visibility into Trak initially, the Client team thought 88 “were magicians'' when they could nearly-instantaneously answer result-based questions. This functionality became invaluable and was an integral part of important, strategic executive-level conversations.
Notably, there is more client visibility into the benefits of Trak and the capability to compare the sponsorship impact vs. traditional or other media/advertising mixes in addition to alleviating headaches and bandwidth struggles the brand team is facing.
Before Trak, 88 was creating slides and spreadsheets for each partnership to present results to the Client, but it was very hard to translate and compare. Now, Trak puts sponsorships on a “level data playing field” for clients and is organized to meet each clients’ specific needs, enabling better decision making for all parties.
Klein describes Trak, like other systems, as only as good as the information put in it. Towards the end of 2020, he went on to say,
“we’re trying to catch up and pull together the end of the year recaps. It’s really frustrating the last few days to get data from the properties with disconnected information... we’re getting completely different and conflicting information. From partners, it’s the constant translation we have to do this time of year.”
Recaps have been a mainstay, but largely haven’t changed much over the years despite escalated needs from brand clients to better justify the performance and results of sponsorships. These recaps, which traditionally have been check-boxes and primarily consist of proof-of-performance photos are “mostly worthless...they don’t take on the topic of how this year’s partnership impacted your business.”
Conversely, Klein describes that some property partners leverage 3rd party technologies or research companies’ findings to convey resulting values. Klein cited that these properties often aren’t comprehending the clients’ needs when doing so: for example, what was the earned media value and how many impressions resulted. This can be just as frustrating as the inconsistency in numbers reported.
This constant translation game can lend itself to much interpretation. Trak is now helping to streamline data reporting and look at properties’ results side-by-side. Properties are trained on how to input their data directly into Trak on a rolling basis. Team partners are encouraged to do so regularly to avoid assets showing ‘zero’ value.
Klein suggests properties incorporate a similar approach, and obtain metrics with the understanding of what their partners need. Comprehensive, qualitative performance data, instead of only proof-of-performance-centric end of season recaps.
The 88 team stressed the impact they could have had with Trak during their respective time on the property side, and the value of having information readily available to stakeholders. They cited how Trak makes it easier to develop a narrative around data and provide applicable results in a single location all while sparing them a lot of stress and headaches along the way.
“It’s tough, it’s a double-edged sword. We need more resources and the ability to invest in outside help, but it’s just not there economically. Unfortunately, due to the impact of the pandemic, many properties have downsized spreading themselves very thin. Some properties have two people managing 100+ partners in addition to new business efforts.”
When it comes to limited fan attendance, Klein cites the approach as different for many properties. When it comes to providing value to sponsors, TV-visible signage is not the only answer. There is a fine line between adding inventory, and adding to the clutter. Inventory rates can take a resulting hit. It takes creative thinking to come up with social, digital and content inventory that engages fans and adds value.
In terms of results, Trak helps properties to better understand, tabulate and communicate key data points such as impression numbers, sweepstakes entrees, social engagement, etc. “We can see the total number of impressions from the sponsorship portfolio. It’s a significant number in the hundreds of millions of impressions and if you want to peel back the layers, it can show the overall impact from each property and even each asset... the client understands impressions, because it’s in their media language.” Earned media is another key metric Klein mentions is important for properties to provide. These data points allow for apples-to-apples comparisons and the value of each sponsorship to shine.