Leslie Withoft, director of sponsorships and event marketing, Farmers Insurance
Farmers Insurance didn’t create a sponsorship department until 2008. In the five years since then, the company has gone from having no real presence in sports to sponsoring a PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines and golfer Rickie Fowler; Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 5 car and driver Kasey Kahne; and AEG’s planned NFL stadium in downtown Los Angeles. Leslie Withoft, who has been at Farmers since 1988, is responsible for overseeing the company’s sponsorships as its director of sponsorships and event marketing.
What makes for a good pitch is looking for those interesting angles: something more than a ticket package and media dollars.”
Evaluating deals: We have to look and see if it’s a fit for the organization: If it marries up to something that fits for us culturally, if it fits with something from a national perspective, if there are opportunities to activate on a local level with agents.
Understanding return on investment: That is the magic, and it’s extremely difficult to prove in sponsorship. When you’re talking advertising, there are definitive ROI numbers. With sponsorships, we’re doing digital, social media, at-track events; right now, there’s no set measurement. Everyone is trying to tell you they have a proprietary formula to measure that, but nothing’s been proven out.
Different with insurance: We’re trying to put systems in place to track people all the way through. That’s tough to do when you sell a service. It’s not like tracking Pepsi products or oil filter sales. It could take six months to sell [an insurance] policy. We try very hard to figure out a way here from our corporate offices to help our agents in the field.
A good pitch: It’s about unique ways to engage with consumers and fans. I’ve seen pitches where they put the wrong names of companies; they just give you a PowerPoint. We’ve had other insurance companies put in rather than Farmers. People have to really look at the marketplace and determine new and unique ways to activate the sponsorship. Tickets and hospitality aren’t unique any more; it’s “How can we make your organization stand out? What are important objectives to you?”
What makes a good endorser: It’s someone who is a good role model. You look at Kasey [Kahne]. He’s passionate about his sponsors. He’s well-respected in his sport. He’s a team player who’s respectful and dedicated to what he’s doing. You know what he’s going to do. You see some athletes and you don’t know what they’re going to do.
The state of NASCAR: There’s been a lot more talk about NASCAR today. NASCAR’s done a good job of telling its story. A lot more of my peer group have been talking about the races and watching the races. As a sponsor, I’m excited about the results we’ve been seeing. Our results with our program have been good. We’ve gone heavy on a digital perspective.