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RBC's Golf Strategy

For those interested in RBC’s marketing strategy for golf (especially in light of the story about the potential of the bank sponsoring the Heritage), here’s a reprint of the piece I wrote for the National Post’s golf supplement last year:

Catalyst's Steve Marshman: One of the driving forces behind RBC's golf play

It isn’t a vanity exercise, and it has nothing to do with his personal interest in the game. Instead, Jim Little, Royal Bank’s chief brand and communications officer, explains that the financial institution’s use of golf is part of a strategy for tapping into key markets in the U.S. and U.K., and brands the company with high net worth customers.
“We are the tale of two companies – in Canada we’re almost ubiquitous and we’re almost entirely unknown everywhere else,” Little explains. “We have single or low double- digit awareness in the U.S. and low in the U.K. But the people we want to reach are not those retail people. They are high-end, sophisticated, capital markets, opinionated customers who index perfectly to golf.”
At a time when U.S. financial institutions have come under fire for using PGA Tour golf events for marketing and promotions while also taking monetary bailouts, RBC decided to utilize the sport on multiple levels for promotion.
It began in 2007, less than a year after Little joined RBC from Bell Canada, when the bank snapped up the title sponsorship for the struggling Canadian Open. In the past year the organization has developed a marketing strategy for Canada’s top young pros, and created “Team RBC,” involving relationships with top tour pros with links to different regions in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. The list of players reads like a who’s who of PGA Tour golf, and includes Mike Weir, Stephen Ames, Luke Donald, and Anthony Kim.
The final piece of the puzzle came early this year when RBC announced it would become a “patron” on the PGA of America, gaining access to a media buy that includes the Ryder Cup, the PGA Championship, and the Grand Slam of Golf, as well as a connection to the approximately 28,000 tour pros who work across the U.S.
The approximate cost for the whole package is around $15-million, a figure Little says offers great value for the bank.
“Sometimes you get lucky,” Little says, saying the return on its marketing dollars is two to three times what it spent. “Just as we became interested in writing some cheques around the golf expansion strategy, the properties started costing less. We are fundamentally value seekers. And just like we’ve done in every other element of our media buy in the U.S., you have to think about buying low and selling high.”
Little is referring to the public pummelling some U.S. financial institutions – like Chicago- based Northern Trust – have taken for being involved in golf. On the other hand there is Wells Fargo, which didn’t want its name associate with the Quail Hollow
Championship after acquiring tournament sponsor Wachovia.
One of the key components of RBC’s strategy is Steve Marshman, the managing director of Catalyst Sponsorship Consulting Inc., a sports marketing firm in Oakville, Ont. Though largely unknown to even the golf media, Marshman helped Little find and select appropriate events for the marketing plan.
He says RBC has been prudent in utilizing its assets to expand its brand, especially in the U.S. and U.K.
“Other banks are still advertising, but they aren’t doing things that look overtly offensive like flying in on private planes
and spending time in corporate hospitality,” he says. “I see this as advertising and brand building that is providing an inherent
brand and product benefit.”
Selecting the PGA of America as a marketing vehicle came after the bank considered several other PGA Tour events as options. While the bank has helped revitalize the Canadian Open by improving both the field and the amenities that are part of the tournament, the PGA deal opens it up to commercials during Ryder Cup telecasts in the U.K. and the PGA Championship in the U.S. “The PGA of America opportunity was about looking at the most dynamic spectator events out there,” says Marshman. “And those all happened to be run by the PGA of America. The PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup with its iconic status in the game, to have RBC build its reputation against events like that was really interesting.”
What’s next? Little says all the golf-related deals expire in 2012, including the RBC Canadian Open. He’s confident the
bank will move forward with its golf strategy, unless the current business environment changes significantly.
“We’re in the business of golf marketing to build our brand,” he explains. “We don’t want to feel like we’re so close to this that it becomes about the business of golf. It is about the business of banking as we grow it with golf. Our shareholders want us to choose golf because it is the right marketing vehicle for the brand.”

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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