How Content Marketing Plays a Key Role in Aon's Manchester United Deal

With Brand Awareness Up, Aon Now Tries to Explain What It Does

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Aon is sponsoring Manchester United jerseys during its off-season games.
Aon is sponsoring Manchester United jerseys during its off-season games.

When Manchester United dismantled the L.A. Galaxy by a score of 7-0 on Wednesday, its players donned jerseys with the logo for Chevrolet, which this year displaced Aon for that real estate.

For Aon, having that prominent space gave it a major boost in brand awareness. But a new partnership with the famed club will go even further in answering the big question challenging the company's marketing department: What, exactly, does the company do?

That's why content marketing is a key component of Aon's eight-year, $240 million sponsorship of Manchester United that was signed in April 2013.

"Without content marketing, we can't explain what we do," said Phil Clement, Aon's global chief marketing and communications officer.

Business-to-business marketers like Aon are embracing various forms of content marketing, from producing articles and videos for their own sites to working with publishers to create and run so-called native ads, which seek to mimic editorial content.

A full 75% of b-to-b marketers told Ad Age last year that they plan to increase their content marketing budgets. A recent Forrester study, however, showed that more than half of b-to-b marketers believe their efforts in this space are only somewhat effective.

To understand why Aon feels the need to explain itself, go back to 2009 when the company announced a four-year, $130 million deal to appear on Manchester United jerseys -- commonly referred to as "kits." (That arrangement ended this year when Chevy's deal started.)

The initial four-year placement created an "explosion in brand awareness," according to Mr. Clement. Last year, the company signed its current deal with the soccer club, giving Aon naming rights to the team's practice facility and putting the Aon logo on the team's practice kits and making it a presenting sponsor for off-season tours, including Wednesday's match in L.A.

"If you look at emerging markets, kids 8 years old to 19 will all be thinking of Aon as a big important company," Mr. Clement said. "More people on the planet recognize our brand than don't," he added. "They just don't know what we do."

So, what does Aon do? It's not an insurance company -- a common mistake, according to Mr. Clement -- though it does act as an insurance and reinsurance brokerage. The publicly traded company also offers risk management to clients, human resources and outsourcing solutions. Its employees number around 65,000 and it reported first quarter earnings of $325 million from $2.9 billion in revenue.

As part of the content marketing push, Aon created an online hub that explains how six services it offers -- talent, health, risk, retirement and data and analytics -- relates to Manchester United, an Aon client. The section on talent, for instance, features interviews with the team's staff, including Kath Phipps, the receptionist at the Aon Training Complex who has spent the last 45 years with the team.

People from across various departments at Aon have a hand in producing the content, including its marketing and PR teams, as well as external PR agencies and outside writers it hires.

"Content is in the middle of every marketing function," Mr. Clement said.

But producing content is only one part of the overall effort. "Once you solve the content problem, you have a distribution problem," he said. "Build it and they will come is not a good strategy in content marketing; you have to focus on distribution as much as the creation."

The company is not necessarily trying to explain itself to children in developing nations. Instead it's using a combination of social media and direct distribution through seminars and traditional public relations, for instance, to target a specific audience: Customers who follow soccer.

"There's not a lot of reason to go to the Aon microsite if you're a fan," Mr. Clement acknowledged. "But there are a ton of reasons to go if you're an HR professional or risk manager."

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article mispelled Phil Clement's last name as Clemente.