NOWADAYS TELEKOM MALAYSIA BHD (TM) has a much more focused approach to sports sponsorship.
The new game plan, which is fairly revolutionary, was set in motion by Datuk Rozalila Abdul Rahman after she became chief marketing officer in early 2010.
Prior to that, TM was sponsoring “anything and everything,” she tells StarBizWeek.
Among others, the telecommunications giant had been sponsoring the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) Super League for a few years when she joined it.
Rozalila turned a challenge into an opportunity for rethinking the sports strategy. There was a window of three to six months to renew the Super League rights and FAM was exploring various models, with other marketers also interested to bid.
TM learned that one potential sponsor was going to bid at three times higher than it was. For TM, the price was too high; it then began to review its sports strategy.
TM had an internal brainstorming of nearly a month and worked with its sports marketing agency Sportswork and advertising agency Astana International to “sharpen our position in the sports space” where not many telcos were active.
“We needed to be smart on how we took this sponsorship forward to ensure that Malaysians would remember TM first when we sponsored a sports property. Eventually the space would be very crowded with more and more advertisers coming in and it would be very difficult to differentiate ourselves,” she says.
At the end of 2010, it dawned on TM that Malaysia, which would go for the London Olympics in 2012, had a good chance of winning at least three or four medals. These were among the seven sports being contested in the Olympics, including football.
“We then said that rather than betting on one sport, it would be good to bet on all seven; we knew if we just bet on one, we would not have anything to fall back on if we lost in it,” she says.
TM made a conscious decision to flip its sports sponsorship the other way around by partnering with the National Sports Council (NSC) and giving recognition to the fans themselves via Team Malaysia.
The end of 2010 also saw Harimau Malaya win the biennial Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup and the TM marketing team took note of the energy and passion of the football who roared and waved all kinds of placards and banners with slogans like Tanah Tumpah Darahku.
“We also took a cue from the Olympics in China where we looked at all their creative (ads), which were very motivational. It's about the many citizens of China supporting the country,” Rozalila recalls.
“So we turned it the other way around and said it was about time that Malaysian sports were being supported by Malaysians. Nobody had actually done that. A lot of marketers, when they took up sponsorship, either sponsored the athletes themselves by paying a huge amount of money, or the team.”
The next step was to have something tangible as a reference point whereby Malaysians could say they have a piece of the passion. That's where the Team Malaysia orange panthera jersey, worn by the national athletes, came in.
“We did a quick dipstick study on the interest level for the panthera jersey among Malaysian sports fans. We were pleasantly surprised because they said the stripes symbolised passion, energy, bravery, fury, fighting spirit, etc,” she says.
TM asked the NSC to have also the rights to sell and merchandise the jersey under its campaign, Besides the symbolism of the stripes, the orange colour also happens to be TM's corporate colour.
The jersey has a three-tier pricing. At the TMpoint outlets, it goes for RM79.90. Online, one can get it for RM69.90. When TM has big on-ground events such as football matches and the SEA Games, it would sell the jersey for RM60 each. The jersey is also one item that can be redeemed for under the company's loyalty programme, TM Rewards.
“We're selling the jerseys as part of our commitment to the NSC, which receives a percentage of the sales proceeds as funds for the development of sports and the athletes,” Rozalila says.
Currently the jersey is available at 36 TMpoint shops, mainly located in the Klang Valley. TM plans to expand the sale to more TMpoints in other parts of the country, starting with market centres; but Rozalila says even in the Klang Valley, it is in high demand.
“Even though it is not sold in certain outlets in other parts of Malaysia, we will always bring this jersey when we have on-ground events. We have sold more than 20,000 to date,” she adds.
TM also gives special privileges for people who wear the jersey. Among others, it has created Team Malaysia zones at strategic locations in stadiums for key matches.
TM also sent about 25 Team Malaysians to the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia, even paying for accommodation, via a contest.
As TM has the rights to the panthera design, it intends to introduce spin-off products featuring the design. These include back-to-school products such as stationery items.
Rozalila declines to reveal the sponsorship cost with NSC, but notes that for “roughly the same amount of money” that it took to sponsor FAM's Super League, TM actually gets three sponsorships: its partnership with the NSC (sealed April 2011), rights to the Team Malaysia jersey, and a partnership with the Olympics Council of Malaysia because of the Olympics.
For both FAM and NSC/Olympics, TM is sponsoring for five years as it wants to align them to maximise on the whole sports sponsorship.
“The FAM sponsorship is aligned to our Manchester United (Man U) sponsorship. We use Man U as a standard seal of football,” she says. TM's sponsorship with Man U will last till the 2015-2016 English Premier League (EPL) season.
Yesterday saw the start of the second season of TM-sponsored football reality show Mencari Ramli on TV3. Mencari Ramli (which refers to a TM TV commercial in which a Malaysian named Ramli becomes a Man U player, hence making his dad and the entire nation proud) began as a 15-minute segment on TM-sponsored Kaki Bola on TV9.
While the first season saw participants chosen from the under-16 students at the Bukit Jalil Sports School, this time the youths are being selected from nationwide auditions. The three final winners will get to participate in a two-week coaching session at the Manchester United Soccer School and get a three-year scholarship to study at Frenz United Football Academy in Pahang.
The top two season one winners − Muhammad Ariff Farhan Md Isa and Adam Nor Azlin (both 17) − appear in a TV commercial that is a follow-up to the first TV advertisement featuring Ramli. The duo is seen searching for the Malaysian football star in Manchester, but while they find other Man U players like Nemanja Vidic and Anders Lindergaard, they just couldn't seem to find Ramli, with several near misses. In the end, however, their perseverance pays off.
Asked whether TM will be more cautious in advertising spending this year due to the global economy, Rozalila replies: “I won't say it's cautious, but we'll be more cost effective. We are driving effectiveness and efficiency in terms of our advertising spend. Online will be one of the core platforms that we will invest a lot in.”
She says TM's overall ad spending will see a slight increase. “This is because of the SEA Games in Myanmar this year and that we are driving products and services such as HyppTV under our UniFi brand,” she says.
Online spending, specifically, is expected to grow by 15% to 20% this year.
Rozalila says TM has done pretty well in the sponsorship and marketing of its products and services.
“The next phase for us is in terms of customer service. We are passionate about customer service excellence so we are trying to improve ourselves and benchmark ourselves against global standards if possible,” she says.
TM has surpassed the global standard based on the TRIM Index, a measure of customer service at customer touch points.
“However, there are areas where we think we can do better. We will strengthen the customer experience so that they'll continue to be our loyal customers,” she says.