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Corporate sponsorship changing in Whistler

Nature of marketing relationships is moving away from traditional model



For years, corporate sponsorship in Whistler has been the mainstay of promotion for companies looking to reach a hip, monied market.

But in the post-Olympic digital era many traditional contracts are being replaced by marketing partnerships.

"Marketing partnerships aren't a formalized contract that is signed between the parties, it's more about working collaboratively on particular programs," said Lynn Chappell, Tourism Whistler's partnerships and promotions manager.

Currently the organization is working with a major mountain bike manufacturer on a deal. Chappell didn't want to identify the company on the record for competitive reasons.

"We both identified that we are going after the same target market, we have very similar audiences when it comes to mountain biking ... so we thought it was a perfect synergy.

"They have fantastic reach and at the end of the day Tourism Whistler seeks partners that are aligned with brand but that also have that marketing reach that we're always seeking."

A major sponsor of events in Whistler, Telus has had naming rights on the Whistler Conference Centre for years. Their recent withdrawal from this contract was spurred not by disillusion, but through recognition that other avenues are more useful for reaching targets markets.

A weakened economy also highlighted the need for prudent application of promotional dollars. Telus public relations officer Shawn Hall said the agreement to withdraw was made over a year ago, before the Olympics began.

"We did a review of our sponsorships going back a couple of years and we wanted to make sure we were investing in the right place, where it is going to make a real impact on people's lives, especially young people," said Hall, adding that the telecommunications giant receives over 50,000 requests for sponsorship per year.

"It's consistent with our brand - The Future Is Friendly -to really be focused on the youth and young people and working with them and the Whistler Conference Centre was always a good partner and our commitment to Whistler and the spirit of amateur sport that Whistler represents remains strong so it really was just a matter of making sure we had the right focus with all of our sponsorships."

Hall emphasized Telus's continued commitment to Whistler through its support of the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival, Crankworx, Whistler Blackcomb Foundation, and the Telus Winter Classic.

According to Chappell, the traditional sponsorship model - in which a sponsor receives certain benefits in exchange for a set of deliverables, can be less attractive than marketing partnerships because it is not as flexible in targeting specific markets that constantly change.

"I think the beauty of marketing partnerships is that you can really work on targeted promotions and work on it as your objectives shift and change because from year to year there might be a new opportunity that comes up and it gives that flexibility without that long term," she said. "We'll work with partners such as Nike Golf year after year after year but we're not locked into a multi-year exclusive type of deal."

Tourism Whistler actively seeks out potential partners that fit the Whistler model. Companies that specialize in sport, clothing, and youth culture are especially appealing in the resort as they reflect the same audience that Whistler is trying to attract.

"What we try to do when we're putting together a marketing program or even putting together a proposal is virtually understanding what is the company's priority, what is their target audience, what are the key marketing activities that are coming up and is there a particular experience or product that they are trying to push and then we will try to see if there is any alignment there and if it makes sense for us too," said Chapple.

"But at the end of the day it has to make sense and it has to be a win-win for both parties."

Chappell added that competition for plum sponsors among North American resorts is stiff but that Whistler's solid brand name is an asset in attracting the right business.

"I think post-Games there is definitely a lot of recognition and it's a lot more top of mind as well," she said.

"It has definitely raised awareness and people know exactly who Whistler is."