“The actual doing enables us to communicate with more credibility and more emotion for the brand.”

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Joris Hermsen
Senior Sponsor Manager ABN AMRO

What is the idea behind the ABN AMRO sponsor strategy? And what is the relationship between storytelling and story doing? Joris Hermsen, senior sponsor manager of ABN AMRO, tells us all about it in a new section entitled Words of Wisdom, in which we give the floor to prominent marketers and communication professionals about the media landscape and the role of brand activation.

What is your mission?
‘I want to “sell pleasure”; I want our sponsoring to bring a smile to people’s faces so that they will associate ABN AMRO with fun and positive feelings.’

ABN AMRO’s sponsoring slogan is: Partner of the Future, supporting individuals and organizations in talent development. How is this role in society defined and carried out?
‘We try to be there for people who demonstrate talent and ambition. On the one hand, we do this through existing sponsorships, by providing talents with substantive coaching by leading lights in the fields concerned and guiding them on their way from talent to professional. In addition, we have launched the Talent Central programme, an initiative for athletic and cultural talents. This programme makes no distinction between tennis players and violinists, or badminton players as the case may be; everyone who has a special talent is encouraged to register for the annual programme, which provides a wide variety of workshops and sessions that will help them to develop their talent. By disseminating the content collected through the programme to the rest of the Netherlands, we can ensure that everyone benefits. In this manner, we endeavour to inspire people to make the most of their talents.’

Could you please give us a concrete example of how this role is fleshed out?
‘The sponsoring of the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam is largely inspired by Partner of the Future. The campaigns around the tournament, which reserve a central role for the ball boys and girls, moved away from a box office focus to embrace pure talent development instead. Our sponsorship enables us – in conjunction with leading tennis stars such as Richard Krajicek and Esther Vergeer – to give talents a real boost. This helps us to give Dutch talents an opportunity to talk and train with the world’s top tennis stars. The initiatives prove that we put our money where our mouth is when we say that we encourage people to be the best that they can be.’

Initiatives to make customers’ lives easier and more convenient, without making a direct profit yourself, can also be regarded as a useful role in society for a bank. Is this something you leverage?
‘A perfect example is Tikkie, the app that allows people to send payment requests to friends and family over WhatsApp. This app does not generate profits for us right now, but we nevertheless provide this service because it meets a need in society. It enables us to make payment requests easier for people.’

What is your view on doing versus telling?
‘Sponsoring has become much more than spending money in exchange for exposure. Talent Central allows us to make a difference and to contribute to improving the perception of our brand as a bank. ABN AMRO is the bank for people with ambitions who want to live life to the fullest. You can send this message out into the world on a billboard, but you can make a much stronger point by proving it. By doing this, we are building up a case that people will actually believe, which in turn reflects positively on us.’

‘The actual doing enables us to communicate with more credibility and more emotion for the brand.’

The 44th ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament is now behind us. What is your first reaction thinking of this edition?
‘It was wonderful, a great success! For me, this was the 5th edition. Compared to previous years, it was beautiful yet again, particularly because the vibe was so great. Many of the matches were absolutely thrilling to watch, and the eventual winner, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, was the talk of the town. For us, there were three dimensions to this success as the campaign around the ball boys and girls proved successful, the visitors had a marvellous experience, and the tournament was widely covered in the media.’

What makes this tournament unique?
‘What makes it unique is the extremely good cooperation between AHOY and ABN AMRO. We have been working together for 44 years now, and this is reflected in every aspect. Together, we are a well-oiled machine. In addition, for us as a service provider, this is an important platform to meet and engage clients. This is the only venue in the Netherlands that I can think of where we can welcome 16,000 of our most important clients within the span of one week and to which everyone loves to be invited.’

Is that also one of the reasons for ABN AMRO to sponsor an event? The fact that it allows them to communicate about something other than ‘tedious’ banking while at the same time associating their name with something that many people love?
‘Establishing and maintaining relationships is essential. Communication about sponsorship has taken on an entirely different meaning with the rise of social media. In hockey, for instance, we see that the cooperation with the clubs becomes increasingly important. They can tell the stories for us, as a result of which they generate a much greater impact and reach a much larger audience. Each club can tell a different story. These partnerships are key to achieving a high media value among the target audience without having to free up an enormous amount in additional budget resources – a win-win situation. We make sure that the stories are told and the messages are conveyed in a very appealing way, and they disseminate them among their own target audience and followers.’

What are the most important lessons you can share with us?
‘Content from sponsoring, in my case sports content, yields more emotion for the bank. As it is athletes who are telling the story, the content gains in appeal and credibility. This produces positive engagement and a much higher quality in reach of the targeted audience. Furthermore, we keep brand awareness and the association with sports at the desired level through shirt sponsoring and boarding.’

What is your golden tip for activating brands?
‘It has to be sincere and it has to be in line with the vision the organization embraces. You have to tap into the right channels to be able to spread your message among the target audience you want to reach.’

Interview by Thijs van Schothorst (BrandBase)