[A blog from the vault]

1,ooo,ooo spectators.  50,000 runners.  26.2 miles.  5 boroughs.
1 massive logistical coordination.

When you think of the novelty of an event like the New York City Marathon, you might think of the aforementioned statistics.  You might think of moments or people you observed at certain landmarks.  You might think of sponsors like ASICS and TCS who’s logos were co-branded on every piece of  commemorative gear.

Or if you’re a marketing nerd like me, you might think of thoughtful sponsorship alignment that defines the service of a brand.

2012 was supposed to be my year of the NYC Marathon but was unfortunately cancelled due to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  Fortunately, the NYRR (New York Road Runners) granted all registered participants a guaranteed default entry for 2013, 2014, or 2015.  2015 was the year I elected and the 45th  New York City Marathon did not disappoint.

I was blown away by the massive coordination between the New York Road Runners, city officials, sponsors, port authority, and city transit who all play an integral role that allows this event to be amazing year after year.  Runners from all over the world were spread throughout the city, and the majority would take the ferry or bus to Staten Island where the race begins.

While there are several accounts worth noting, the one I will share was the sponsorship alignment of UPS.  Upon arriving at Staten Island, runners were herded onto buses which would transport participants to the starting corrals and bag drop off.  This is when and where UPS was strategically positioned.  “Logistics” is a buzz word for the brand and that’s what the New York City Marathon is, one massive logistical coordination.

But UPS wasn’t all things to everyone.  They were specific to one particular need of the event… to consolidate and organize each participants personal belongings (at the start) and ensure those items were waiting for them at the finish line.

Runners would consolidate their belongings into plastic bags which were labeled specifically to each bib number.  UPS trucks were backed into the parking lot, side by side, so all you needed to do was take your bag to the truck assigned to your bib number, hand it to a volunteer and they would file it.

Once all runners have left their corrals and have officially embarked on their 26.2 mile bucket list journey, the back roller doors closed and the items were transported to Central Park where they await the finishers.

Contrary to traditional marathon etiquette I decided to bring my smart phone and snap pictures along the way.  My favorite marathon moments were crossing the Staten Island bridge, running through Brooklyn, taking a selfie with the NYPD, and soaking in Central Park.  I would finish the race at a modest 4 hours 42 seconds.

After my finisher photo was taken, I continued down the road to grab my post-race goody bag which contained a banana, a protein drink, Gatorade, water, and a handful of other snacks.  The march through Central Park continued until we arrived at the echelon of UPS trucks that transported our belongings from Staten Island.

The most beautiful thing about this sponsorship for UPS is it’s what they do day in and day out.  Coordinate, consolidate, commute and deliver.  They didn’t need to invest in any sort of special signage, packaging, or messaging.  All they needed to do was simply show up and do what they do best.

How can we emulate UPS when it comes to brand positioning and strategic alignment?  A few insights that come to mind…

  1. Identify a baseline need for an event and make a list of companies who service that need.
  2. Ask  yourself if your product or service is one that aligns with the values of the sponsor and the demographic they serve.  Prioritize.
  3. Prove that you’ve done your homework and schedule a meeting.