A Sweet Content Marketing Partnership: Hershey & the NCAA

During my recent visit to Content Marketing World in Cleveland, Ohio, I had the pleasure of listening to Martin Baker, Senior Manager of Global Digital Content for Hershey Foods, speak about the importance of content partnerships. His presentation really got me thinking about the strategy behind partnering with other complimentary organizations for mutually beneficial content undertakings.

Hershey has been around for 119 years. That’s not an accident. The company has weathered economic ups Chocolate Barsand downs, reached out with a helping hand during some of the world’s toughest times, fended off scores of competitors, and in the process, has grown to operate in 90 countries and boasts net sales of close to $5 billion. Check out Hershey’s history here.

The longevity that the company has enjoyed is due in large part to its focus on strategy. Each decision, whether it is the decision to release a new candy line or to change the technology used in the production process, is based on research and a strategic plan for success. This focus on strategy can be seen in one of the company’s most lucrative partnerships.

Choosing a Partner

It would be ill advised to jump into a partnership with anyone without first conducting some serious research. Not all companies are compatible. Hershey’s strategic approach to developing a partnership and taking care to select the right partner has paid off big time.

After extensive research, the team at Hershey pinpointed the NCAA, the major governing body of college athletics, as the ideal partner. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. The NCAA has the largest fan base of all sports leagues.
  2. It also is comprised of the highest number of female fans, which just so happens to be an important target market for Hershey.
  3. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups were voted as one of the favorite candies of college sports fans.

For these reasons, the team at Hershey approached the NCAA about a content partnership with their Reese’s brand. The two sides devised a plan to bring two of America’s (and the world’s) most well recognized brands together for one mega content marketing effort.

The Plan

“Engagement equals metrics times connection squared,” said Baker, playing on the formula e=mc2, coined by Albert Einstein, “Metrics informs the content you create.”

Based on the metrics and measurements determined through rigorous research, the two sides sat down and hashed out a strategy that involved four main tiers.Reese's NCAA Hub

  1. Facebook
  2. Twitter
  3. YouTube
  4. Reese’s NCAA Hub

The Hub is a microsite that offers a wide array of interactive content to keep visitors engaged and allows Hershey and the NCAA to really entrench their brands in the minds of their target markets.

The teams produced content like a recipe matchmaker and a t-shirt maker. But by far the most popular content on the Hub was a video series that involved campus visits and real-life interactions with students. While the other content was successful, the videos took on a life of their own and blew away expectations.

The Videos

A professional actor was hired to visit different campuses and make Reese’s sponsored videos in which he would interview fans at sporting events, practice with cheerleading squads, and talk to students as they went about their day on campus. The initial series focused on the NCAA basketball tournament, but Hershey and the NCAA have plans to expand the series into the football season, based on its initial success.

The content was shared across social media channels, and as a result, the videos earned 700,000 views in only three months, and 60% of viewers shared the videos. Talk about engagement!

So how can my organization do this?

Now that you are sufficiently excited about the opportunities that partnerships provide, let me leave you with a word of caution. Take the time to conduct some serious research. While the rewards can be great, partnerships are doomed to fail if they are formed on a whim.

Be careful to iron out a steadfast agreement that leaves nothing up to chance. Don’t forget to stipulate how revenue will be divided and how decisions will ultimately be made. There are a number of reasons that partnerships fail, so do your homework and be sure that you go into any content partnership with a solid strategy and every little detail in place.

Anthony Gaenzle – Director of Marketing

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