Call it sponsorship’s version of manifest destiny

Frontier Communications Corp. is dialing up sponsorship to build its profile after acquiring Verizon Communications, Inc.’s wireline operations. The $11 billion acquisition—which closed in April—gives Frontier more than 3.2 million new customers in California, Florida and Texas.

The telecommunications company had a presence in Northern California, a small presence in Florida and no presence in Texas prior to the acquisition, making the need to promote the Frontier brand paramount in the new markets.

But the acquisition presented a marketing challenge: promoting the Frontier brand in the three new markets as well as the 26 other states the company operates in.

“We serve 29 states, not 50. It’s challenging to do brand marketing when you only serve a portion of the country,” said Cecilia McKenney, Frontier Communications executive vice president and chief customer officer.

McKenney used Frontier’s partnership with University of Connecticut athletics and IMG College as a roadmap. The executive credits the year-old sponsorship with driving engagement with both residential and commercial customers.

“We had conversations with IMG about the power and efficacy of brand partnerships. We mapped out IMG assets in our footprint, and there were some powerful college institutions that were available.”

Those conversations led to partnerships with nine schools: Duke University, Central Michigan University, Florida State University, Marshall University, Miami University (Ohio), Ohio University, Texas Christian University, University of Notre Dame and West Virginia University.

The schools provide access to more than 25 million fans, said McKenney.

Seven of the schools are located in Frontier’s marketing footprint, while two (Texas Christian University and Notre Dame) are adjacent to its operating territory.

The level of each partnership varies, said McKenney, noting that the Notre Dame sponsorship is limited to ads during radio broadcasts while seven schools (Central Michigan University, Duke University, etc.) afford branding on coach’s headsets.

The provider of phone, Internet, satellite TV service and digital protection solutions also partnered with two other IMG properties that support the company’s “Rural America” positioning: Brad Paisley’s Country Nation College Tour and the Professional Bull Riders.

The Brad Paisley tour will visit select IMG College schools this fall while the PBR affords a tie-in to various events including the Frontier Communications Music City Knockout in Nashville, Tenn.

While McKenney was initially concerned the PBR might have an overly male audience, IMG shared data that showed a fan base 56 percent male and 44 percent female. Data showing the PBR’s growing attendance and TV viewership helped seal the deal.

“Those statistics were compelling to test the waters.”

Frontier’s Sponsorship Objectives
Frontier is using sponsorship to accomplish four primary goals as part of a three-year strategic plan to build the Frontier brand.

Customer and community appreciation. Frontier uses sponsorship to reward customers and prospects, with the ultimate goal of differentiating itself from competitors. Case in point: The Brad Paisley concerts are free to students and other fans.

“Free tickets is a huge differentiator,” said McKenney.

Activate the Frontier brand through “loved” institutions. The company looks to engage customers and prospects via college sports and other properties with strong fan affinity.

Drive acquisitions and conversions. Frontier activates sponsorship to gain new residential, commercial and government customers.

The company looks to accomplish that goal with activation programs ranging from branded products to client hospitality. For example, Frontier hosts clients at a bar on the stage at Brad Paisley concerts.

The company also is exploring business opportunities with sponsored schools.

Build relationships with prospects & existing customers. Sponsorship provides Frontier a platform to entertain customers and prospects in a unique, one-of-a-kind setting.

“It’s not just a nice dinner,” said McKenney.