Video Series: Q&A with SMS Thought Leaders Megan Sheffield & Kristina Pantalone

In preparation for their exciting SMS session “How Partners Cross the Finish Line Together,” Paula is joined by two industry leaders who have mastered developing and executing a successful partnership. Megan Sheffield, the Senior Marketing Manager at Amazon who heads up branding and sponsorships for the outdoor and sports retail categories. She’s worked with the Trailblazers and X-Box before her journey to Amazon. Also joining the conversation is Kristina Pantalone. Kristina serves as the Marketing and Sponsorship Manager for Boston Athletic Association, organizers of the prestigious Boston Marathon and Annual Community Road Races. Before Kristina joined BAA, she would work at Fenway Sports and also with the Boston Red Sox.

Paula Beadle: As you know, one of the hot topics at the Sponsorship Mastery Summit is around closing the gap between the experience that brands and properties have and working together. I would love to have each of you share what has the other person done and your work together to close that gap? Megan, do you mind if we start with you, can you just share with us, how has Kristina ensured that you’ve had a positive experience?

Megan Sheffield: Yeah. Fortunately the entire pitch and, negotiation experience with Kristina and the BAA was incredibly positive. You know, as you mentioned, the Boston Marathon is the most premier race in the world, and it’s rooted in such a deep history with sponsors. Kristina and the team are so nimble, they were super flexible. They really cared. You catered to every element of the agreement that hit the elements that we were really focusing on for the year, and they had some, yeah, it’s a fresh kind of approach, you know, to every single element that they brought to us. So really throughout the whole experience, each milestone is really positive.

Paula Beadle: Kristina, I know in January, Amazon was named as the official retailer of Boston Marathon and then the marathon of course moved to a virtual event. And so, can you tell us more about how your virtual event is working?

Kristina Pantalone: Certainly, I mean, when we announced the cancellation of the in-person event and then pivoted to the virtual, you know, we really adopted that sentiment of if you can’t join us, then you know what, we’re going to Boston to the world. So we’ve really kept that in mind as we’ve developed some of the key elements that you’ll see in a couple of weeks, certainly as we approach race week. Back in July, we opened up registration for what we’re calling the 124th Boston Marathon virtual experience only to those original athletes who had registered. So a little over 31 K thinking maybe 10 K would participate, but then actually as it turned out, you know, as we kind of pivoted with Amazon a little bit on our strategy here, and the introduction of how can we incentivize athletes to sign up and help them, we came up with an idea of incorporating your pre-race box, which would have all the training necessities. And we said the first 15K to sign up will receive one. And I think that was a big part of the success of what we saw from a registration standpoint, because we hit 15K within a couple of days. And then just to really compliment the race. Yesterday, we announced the launch of the 124th Boston Marathon, virtual experience app. It will provide a runner’s tool kit, which includes a customized bid, which they would have received, in Boston with their number, really downloadable, cheer cards and certain finish lines and mile markers and break tapes so that, their friends and family can support them.

 We also have a spectator tracking. So, athletes can share that tracking link for the loved ones to follow them. And it actually will show where they would be in comparison to the marathon course. They’re audio cues that if you’re running with the app, you’ll hear, you know, we have the Boston Symphony Orchestra playing the National Anthem, and then we have encouragement, from athletes like Des and Meb, who are well known in the industry. And then we also have some clips of the crowds cheering. So really again, emphasizing bringing that Boston experience to, to the world, to each athlete.

Paula Beadle: Can you tell us a little bit about how, your partnership with Megan and with Amazon, shifted from the live experience to the digital one?

Kristina Pantalone: Digital integration was really a top priority. I will say candidly, you know, I love conversations like these because it really forces us as an organization to continue to think outside the box. Certainly no pun intended. We want to be more innovative, with emphasis on really expanding our brand beyond just race week. Right? We want to be known for more than just a one-day event. And while we did have a lot of components of that. It was all going to come, culmination at our FanFest, which is an in person three-day event on race weekend. So, we really just had to shift that latter part a little bit, but I think overall, a lot of the core components we were able to keep. And then, I will note that the pre-race kit and post-race box, was a new idea. And that really, I feel like is the differentiating factor.  

Paula Beadle: Megan, did you have any hesitancies about your partnership as it moved from live to digital?

Megan Sheffield: None whatsoever. I mean, I think, you know, as Kristina kind of laid out, there were so many things that they were prepared to come to the table with for runners and sponsors. So it was this awesome list of what do you guys want to be a part of? And so we were, in a really great opportunity to kind of pick where our brand could add value to this virtual experience. And the race kits were just obvious fit. Because, you know, getting delivery process is what we do best.

Paula Beadle: That’s awesome, Kristina. going back to a question that I asked earlier, can you share with us something that Megan did that helped the two of you work really well together and close that gap so you were really on the same page?  

Kristina Pantalone: It really, you know, it’s been one of the better, early on partners. You would think she’s been part of our sponsor family forever. So, I can’t pinpoint one thing, but she’s been so supportive all along the way, especially as you can imagine, the uncertainties that have come this year and really been flexible and that’s all we can ask of us as partners, especially starting off with us, what a year to start?

Paula Beadle: Megan, how did you integrate into some of the digital assets that Boston Marathon had available?

Megan Sheffield: We had a little bit of a hurdle in front of us, right? Cause we went from this very digital platform where a lot of our elements were going to be integrated in Boston, but in a very digital kind of Amazon way to a physical box. And so I think for us, it was about kind of how to bridge that gap and create a digital experience around the physical box itself, which I think we’ve done a really good job of so next week runners will their boxes, with the QR code there that takes them to this awesome tier video that you just put together. It’s a really premier kind of digital, VIP experience.  

Paula Beadle:Megan, what’s one piece of advice that you would give to a brand?  

Megan Sheffield: Yeah, I would say, you know, it’s been overplayed a lot, but we’re in the same boat nobody’s getting ahead of anybody else, and it’s kind of a waiting game right now. I think, you know, we are going to all get together at some point again, someday in the future, but until then. I mean, how are there meaningful ways that you can be involved in communities or in virtual events? And I think that was, you know, exactly what we kind of tackled with the BAA this year is, how can we give back to the community in a big way? How can we still support these runners? So that’s really, our focus is I’m looking for those additional opportunities where we can be a part of something bigger and help in some way.

Paula Beadle: Thank you so much. Both of you can’t wait to see you on the 24th.



About the Summit: Sponsorship Mastery Summit will take place virtually and in select cities September 23rd and 24th, 2020. SMS is a powerful and immersive experience specifically for sponsorship sales leaders representing universities, parks and recreation, tourism, sports teams and events, fairs and festivals, venues, arts and cultural organizations. Attendees will collaborate with thought leaders, hear from big brands, exchange ideas and leave with best practices, actionable tools, valuable resources and new connections. Participants will attend interactive workshops, industry forums, big idea roundtables, and networking events. 


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