We’re a couple of weeks on from England winning the women’s Euros and it still feels good, right? That tournament was a celebration of everything football should be about – large passionate but friendly crowds, exciting football from England, and a win. What’s not to love?

In 2020 Weetabix did a deal with the FA to sponsor the Weetabix Wildcats – a grassroots girls football program for 5-11 year olds.  As part of that deal we were also designated official cereal partner to the men’s and women’s senior England teams.

And so, Alex Scott’s comments after the final whistle last Sunday struck a chord with me:
“I’m not standing up...in front of sponsors anymore begging for them to get involved in the women’s game, because, you know what? If you’re not involved then you’ve missed the train, it’s finally left the station & it's gathering speed.”
Alex Scott, 31 July 2022.

I can’t say we got in before women’s football was big, but whilst we may not have been the earliest of early adopters, Weetabix were ahead of many other brands in seeing the opportunity.

So, I thought I’d share the story and some of my learnings from the 6 months it took to get that deal done.

Phase 1: What are you trying to achieve?

We had one very clear objective in our brand plan for a couple of years – sustainable, profitable penetration growth. All our briefs laddered back to that. Whether it was our evolving media strategy or the braver approach to social media that led to the Beanz on Bix tweet in February 2021.

But we had to convert our 97% prompted awareness to sales more effectively.  And to do that we needed a world class activation plan that was aligned to something bigger than Weetabix, which would allow our retail partners to activate in store during key trading periods, improving the brand’s visibility.

Phase 2: Assess the options

We had a load of responses to this visibility brief from our media agency (Dentsu), creative agencies (like Frank, BBH and Twelve) and a sponsorship intermediary (Get Me Media). Each was assessed on its scale, and whether it would excite the retailers, shoppers and colleagues.

But the idea that really excited me was the Wildcats opportunity presented by Get Me Media.

Phase 3: The sell in

I’m a football fan. A Crystal Palace season ticket holder for over 30 years, but I had to temper my enthusiasm and be objective in my assessment and recommendation to the business. I was asking for a lot of money and a relatively long-term commitment.

So, my pitch to the business became about the numbers (I even took down the signed Palace shirt that hangs on the wall behind me on Zoom calls and replaced it with a signed Bobby George shirt).

Numbers like: the scale of the opportunity, data on how our shoppers viewed a partnership between Weetabix and football, whether an on-pack promotion featuring the prizes we had available improved purchase intent, what volume we needed to sell to break even and what I thought a realistic upside would be.

The reality is that, at that time (way back in 2020), the men’s game had more universal appeal with the British public – even amongst the women we asked in our research. The retailers were also more excited about the prospect of having men’s players on pack.

Weetabix, though, were much more excited about the opportunity to fuel the development of grass-roots girls’ football and be a partner of the women's game.  Both are more "on brand" than the men's game.

In fact, the men’s team posed a reputational risk to a brand with family values like Weetabix. And as if to prove that point, on the week of one of my board presentations, Harry Maguire got himself arrested and put in jail on a Greek island. Unhelpful.

Phase 4: The implementation

So, I eventually managed to get the deal signed off internally, after months of going back and forth with the board.

But I had no idea how all-consuming the implementation would become for my team. From the 65 page contract with the FA, to the negotiations with all the other UK&I national FAs (we needed to replicate the England deal across all the nations), to the retailer sell-ins, to the monitoring of what feature space we had secured. The activation and amplification of the sponsorship is more important and harder work than getting the deal done in the first place.

Phase 5: The results

We monitored the performance of the activity from the moment we started to sell it in to retailers. We pushed hard for the feature we needed to meet our original objectives.  We pushed hard to support that space with our sharpest promotions. We knew that by improving our visibility in store we would grow our penetration.

And in the promotional period of the men’s Euros we secured 4 times the level of feature that we had achieved in previous years. Which converted to a penetration gain of c380k additional shoppers in the same period.

Phase 6: On to the next iteration

All successful sponsorships take years to cement. But it takes creativity and resilience to keep faith with something that no longer seems like new news to your colleagues and retail partners. We had to remind the business that this is still a huuuuge partnership that many other brands would love to have in their armoury. So, we had no time to celebrate our success, we had to move on to the women’s Euros activation and convince our sales colleagues and retailers to support the brand activation again.  

So, what were my learnings?

• Have a clearly defined objective and assess any opportunities against it

• Be ready to have your resilience tested

• Bring facts to the debate

• Once the deal is agreed, the work has only just begun

• Start thinking about the difficult second year quick!

Gareth Turner is the former Head of Marketing at Weetabix, where he oversaw the long-term brand strategy for the nation’s favourite cereal.  He has over 23 years’ experience working within food and drink and has also had the pleasure of leading the marketing for household name brands like John Smith’s, Bulmers, Lurpak, and Arla in local and global roles.  Now Gareth runs Big Black Door, a marketing consultancy which offers senior marketing leadership experience to businesses who want to supercharge their growth.