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Volume 20 No. 42
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The Gatekeepers: Suzy Deering

Executive director of media, engagements and integrations, Verizon Wireless

Through all her years of working in sports marketing, Suzy Deering has developed a few pet peeves. No. 1 among them is the word sponsorship.

“We’re in the partnership business and out of the sponsorship business,” said Deering, who oversees partnerships at Verizon, the third biggest advertiser in sports. “I’m not looking for someone who says, ‘Your logo can be in these 17 places and you’ll have access to tickets.’ We’re looking for engagement and access.”

Suzy Deering
That principle has guided Deering as she overhauled Verizon’s partnership marketing efforts the last five years. When she took over the division in 2007, the company had partnerships with 176 properties around the country. Regional divisions of the company cut many of those deals. “There was no rhyme or reason,” Deering said. “Everybody had been doing their deals, and they were being done at various places in the organization. That really had to change.”

Deering revamped Verizon’s strategy so that all partnerships were managed centrally and the company allowed many of the sponsorships to sunset.

In evaluating new opportunities, Deering says content is king. She points to the company’s partnership with the NFL as an example. Initially, the league wanted to sell Verizon a deal that mirrored its previous wireless category agreement with Sprint, but Verizon wanted content it could own exclusively. The result was a four-year, $720 million deal that gave Verizon subscribers exclusive access to the NFL RedZone channel.

“We flipped the paradigm on its head,” Deering said. “Sponsorships were rights to marks and hospitality and signage. First, for us, is content. All the other elements are important, but they’re not why we’re going to do a deal.”

Deering said Verizon isn’t actively looking to sign any new deals. She anticipates the company will let more of its existing sponsorships sunset and focus on fewer deals with greater reach.

“Less is more because we can be very, very focused and actually accomplish more to leverage what’s in our strategy versus having a bunch of little things hanging out there that you can’t really get behind.”

Strangest pitch received: “I have had people who have told me they have long commutes, and we should sponsor their car to get all the eyeballs on the road.”

Where properties could do better: “First, understanding who they’re going after and have a better understanding of what that brand’s objectives are. Properties now think that we’re still checkbooks. That’s not the case. They’ve got to work harder for the money.”

Where brands could do better: “Brands should stop talking and start acting. They continue to buy what they don’t want. They’re hard choices to make internally. Some may say, ‘That property is so important because it’s X team.’ When you step back and say, ‘What’s it going to get us?’ those are hard choices, and I take pride in making those hard choices and saying, ‘No. You’re not a good fit for us.’”