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Volume 26 No. 175
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Catching Up With Sun Life Financial Senior VP, Head of Marketing & Strategy Priscilla Sims Brown

PRISCILLA SIMS BROWN began her career as a reporter and producer for San Francisco’s KQED-TV and Chicago’s WMAQ-NBC. In ’91, she joined the investment management division of Lincoln Financial Group in Boston. While with Lincoln Financial, Sims Brown closed the company’s 21-year, $139.6M deal for the naming rights to Lincoln Financial Field. Sims Brown joined Sun Life Financial in ’09, assuming the role of Senior VP and Head of Marketing & Strategy. In ’10, she closed the company’s $37.5M, five-year deal for the naming rights to Sun Life Stadium. Sims Brown recently took some time to discuss her news media beginnings, her passion for community outreach, and her current role with Sun Life.

Q: Favorite sport and team?
Sims Brown
: I live in Philly, I work in Boston and we put our name on the stadium in Miami, so I’ve got nowhere to go but down on this one. I’ll say my favorite sport is squash.

Q: Favorite Philly restaurant?
Sims Brown: Cafette, it’s a little restaurant in Chestnut Hill, Pa.

Q: Favorite gadget?
Sims Brown: I have two iPads, two iPhones and a BlackBerry, but I think it’s my Kindle. That’s the one I read the most on. I get all my news on it.

What has it been like to go from reporting the news to making news?
Sims Brown: It gives you a unique, sort of outsider’s view -- particularly of companies. I was doing business reporting and to go from that to being on the inside, you always maintain a little of, “What’s in like for those looking in?” I think that’s a bit of an asset to me as I think about our business -- to think about how customers, stakeholders and shareholders are thinking about the business.

Q: What’s your perception of news media?
Sims Brown: It’s changed a lot. I think news media is different depending on the news entities you’re talking about. I still have a real healthy respect for trade and print publications in general. I think some are more real news and others are less real news. I think it’s hard for the average person to distinguish sometimes.

Q: What’s your perception of social media?
Sims Brown: I’m really excited about social media because it gives people the ability to drill down deeper. I think also the interactivity of it, the fact that anyone out there can make the news these days, and anyone out there can tell the story is a tremendous step forward for us. I think it actually is going to bring communities together. It will continue to make this big world smaller and that’s exciting.

Q: What’s the one thing you think the Sun Life Brand should stand for in consumers’ minds and why?
Sims Brown: The two most important things are that we bring people insight, something a little bit different, something that helps them manage their lives a little bit better. The second thing is I think we bring a level of integrity that is differentiated. We saw it through the first part of the financial crisis and it continues today, Sun Life won’t always sell you the cheapest product, we’ll sell you the product that makes the most sense for the investor and for our shareholders.

Q: What advice would you give to NFL marketing departments as we approach the beginning of the regular season following the lockout?
Sims Brown: Fans will come back to the sport just as long as the sports are really about the game. Now that that’s all behind us, let’s just move forward and focus on the game and good, healthy competition. We’ve been through labor disputes before, we’ve come back and I think we will again. I think [marketing departments] are reaching out to their communities more; you’re seeing more of the human side of teams. They’re doing nice things for the fans as well -- making it easier to come to a game, making the game more fan-oriented. I think it’s focusing on the game, less haggling over the business aspect. It’s keeping the news focused on athletes and the competition.

Q: You’re on the boards of numerous community service organizations, is there one cause particularly near to your heart?
Sims Brown: I would say it’s At Risk Youth. The fact that we have over 50% dropout rates in some of our urban centers is to me appalling. It just doesn’t make sense for the richest nation on Earth. It’s really inexcusable at all levels. We have put a lot of focus on a program we call “Rising Star” that seeks to highlight the organizations and the kids that are doing something to mitigate this problem. So making stars out of kids that come out of difficult circumstances and are thriving. That’s what we try to do with this program by awarding them grants and recognizing them in real fun and special ways.

Q: Do you think teams and athletes do enough to give back to the communities in which they exist?
Sims Brown: Some do. Some stand out as extremely giving and recognizing that it benefits everyone. They see it as a responsibility not as a handout. I’m especially impressed with certain teams and certain athletes. I absolutely think the Dolphins care a lot about the community they’re in and they do a lot in South Florida. Venus and Serena [Williams] are certainly doing quite a lot.

Q: Finish this sentence: Naming-rights deals valued at millions of dollars are best for brands …
Sims Brown: Looking to reach out to individuals, that have a retail component, and that need to increase name-awareness. I also think that naming rights alone are not as beneficial as true partnerships. In the olden days, you stuck your name on something or you haggled over signs and player appearances and that was it. I think naming rights today make the most sense for organizations that can align the business strategy a little deeper than that and find themselves doing much more than just putting their name on something.