Partnerships drive Office Depot business

Office Depot gets local attention on a national platform as NASCAR, Roush Racing sponsor

Office Depot gets local attention on a national platform as NASCAR, Roush Racing sponsor

As Office Depot mapped out its corporate sponsorship plan last year, the company decided its next alliance would have to satisfy a specific list of objectives.

Those goals included getting the brand in front of its primary audience - small-business owners and staff - year-round, and generating brand support in key markets.

The office supplies retailer met all of its goals through two partnerships. The first was as the official office products partner of NASCAR, and the second was a multi-year agreement to be the primary sponsor of Roush Racing's number 99 car driven by Carl Edwards.

"We diligently researched NASCAR and found out what type of reach and audience it had, as well as its fans' purchasing patterns," explains Brian Levine, senior director of PR and internal communications at Office Depot. "The union also had to allow for significant reach, be relevant to target customers, bring equity and value to the brand, and excite and motivate [staff]."

Fifty-one percent of NASCAR's 75 million fans say when they buy a NASCAR sponsor's product, they feel like they're contributing to the sport, according to research from James Madison University. These fans are also three times more likely to purchase the products of NASCAR sponsors than non-sponsors.

Office Depot's NASCAR and Roush Racing sponsorships are part of a marketing overhaul that began in 2005. The company wanted to shift its strategy from sponsoring local sports teams to creating a year-round national marketing platform. It sought to shift its marketing dollars and focus on a national sporting event that also had local relevance, says PR manager Mindy Kramer.

The decision to pursue NASCAR stemmed from the coming end of Office Depot's Olympics sponsorship. The company wanted to get away from doing one-off sponsorships and focus on ongoing, year-round relationships, Kramer adds.

"With NASCAR, we can activate the sponsorship across all media and channels," Levine says. "It appeals to all core customers: small businesses to national accounts. And we can do it year-round.

"The sponsorship also allows for very integrated marcomms programs," he adds. "We can do things through traditional ads, but we're also able to activate it in stores and with in-store events and promotions. We tie in vendor activities, too."

Levine says the sponsorships can be promoted online with e-mail blasts and on a Web site created specifically for the partnerships that contains links to NASCAR and Roush Racing.

After the first year of the sponsorship, NASCAR awarded Office Depot its annual marketing excellence award. Andrew Giangola, business communications director at NASCAR, points out two sweepstakes promotions, in particular, conducted last year and aimed at small businesses.

"The Official Small Business of NASCAR" national promotion offered companies a chance to hold claim to that title. The winner attended a race and had the company's logo placed on the Office Depot car during the event. The winner also got the chance to meet Edwards and use the NASCAR logo on business cards.

The "Let's Go Racing" program was run on a local level in 10 race markets. It awarded small businesses the opportunity to become sponsors of a particular race.

Aside from promotional purposes, the sponsorships opened the door to partnerships with other Fortune 500 companies.

"It's done joint promotions with other NASCAR sponsors, such as 3M and Sharpie, that have produced significant sales increases," Giangola says. "There's more Fortune 500 corporate involvement in NASCAR than any other sport, and Office Depot has done a good job of building relationships with those companies."

Levine says both sponsorships have helped drive brand awareness and increase sales in race markets and in stores "where we have appearances and other events."

Media relations efforts, both on and off the track, have also helped promote Office Depot's relationships with NASCAR and Roush.

"We utilized key races to disseminate Office Depot news through timely press conferences," Levine says. "We also branded the at-track media centers to establish our presence in the sport and to develop relationships with key press. We provide them with pens, paper, and supplies."

The sponsorships and programs have gotten coverage in sports publications, as well as such outlets as Time and The New York Times. Levine says this has raised awareness for Office Depot and its marketing efforts in a business context.

"We're making it bigger than just a sports story - it's also a marketing and business story," Levine says.



Office Depot

Steve Odland

Delray Beach, FL

Revenues and latest earnings:
$13.5 billion for fiscal year 2004. Q3 revenues for fiscal year 2005 were $3.5 billion, up 5% compared with Q3 of 2004

Staples, Office Max

Key sector trade publications:
DSN Retailing Today, Stores, Fortune Small Business, Retail Merchandiser

PR budget:

Marketing Team:
President of North American Retail, Chuck Rubin
SVP of marketing, Tony Ueber
Director of sponsorships, Lynn Connelly
Senior director of PR and internal communications, Brian Levine
PR manager, Mindy Kramer

Marketing Services Agencies:
PR: Edelman, Stanton Crenshaw, Burson-Marsteller
Marketing and sales promotions: Wunderman
Advertising: The Kaplan Thaler Group

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