Queen of the Jungle, Jill Scott, has helped Starling Bank launch their 'Kick On' campaign.

Just seven months ago, we were in the midst of the UEFA Women’s EUROs football tournament. Starling was proudly sponsoring the competition and running fan parties, a first-of-its-kind fantasy football league and a national ad campaign about levelling the playing field for women.

We knew that backing the women’s game was the perfect fit for us. We’re the only bank in the UK to be founded by a woman, and the glass ceiling that women experience in technology and banking is all too similar to those faced by women in football. Our mission, to make money equal for all genders, quickly expanded to creating equality on the pitch, too.

So when the tournament came to a close, after that final, its record-breaking crowd and Chloe Kelly’s winning extra-time goal for England, we developed a major case of the brand blues. After so much progress had been made in women’s football, were these global conversations about to give way to the Men’s World Cup?

We realised that we didn’t have to drop the ball on women’s football because the EUROs were over. We could still keep the conversation about women’s football going.

So we did. We made it our long-term brand mission to help bring about lasting change for women’s football. Here’s how we did it, and my advice for fellow marketers that want to align their sponsorship with their overall mission. 

You don’t always have to shoot upwards

Without an international tournament on our screens, we questioned where else we could support the game. We looked to where it all begins for most players, grassroots, and we now support women and girl’s teams across the UK with a series of grants. We also sponsor up-and-coming players via SportsAid.

The engagement we have with local communities - from parents cheering on the sidelines, to coaches giving up their Saturdays to teach - has really put Starling on the map in regions right across the UK.

The lesson here for marketers? Scaling down the size of your audience can be just as effective as scaling upwards. Don’t underestimate the power of local community engagement, and be ready to adapt your campaign message so that it works cohesively across all channels.

Think outside the (penalty) box

Alongside donations to grassroots teams and players, we’re trying to address the wider issues that prevent women’s football from gaining the glory of the men’s - no matter how small. From our own research, we know there’s a distinct shortage of women football coaches. Girls often play in boys’ secondhand kit. The cost of living crisis is also preventing grassroots clubs from providing women’s teams with equal opportunities.

Our solution? We’ve launched a new grassroots initiative called Kick On with Starling Bank; we’re giving away £200,000 worth of free-kit, coaching vouchers and equipment to established or aspiring women and girl’s teams. We’ve seen first hand that they make a big difference.

What can marketers take from this? Really listen to the community you’re engaging with to understand their problems. Think creatively about simple solutions to their roadblocks, and roll-out that solution at scale to those in need. It shows your community that you hear them. They might just hear you too.

Be authentic through and through

Authenticity is key in brand campaigns. At Starling we’ve raised the bar on what authentic engagement means, ensuring that every layer of our brand mission, and how we’re working to achieve it, champions equality for women.

We’re now a proud sponsor of Southampton Women’s FC. We chose this club because its women’s team have separate sponsors to the men’s (rare) and the players train and play in the same facilities as the men’s team too (also rare).

We also champion brilliant women creatives throughout our work, collaborating with our collective of women producers, photographers and media buyers.

The take-out here? Where you spend your marketing money matters. Change can be made from looking inwards as well as out.

Our mission to change the game for good is only just getting started, and we’re lucky to be supported by an entire business that recognises the importance of our mission and understands that it can’t be delivered overnight.

Disruption is about small steps. That’s how we’re planning to change the game for good - and banking too, for that matter.

Rachel Kerrone, Brand Director, Starling Bank and speaker at last summer's MAD//Fest London, will be writing a regular column for MAD//Insight.