Sep 25, 2009 at 05:55 PM
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Sports, Sponsorships, & Social Media

Sports Media Challenge CEO, Kathleen Hessert interviewed Tim McGhee, AT&T’s Executive Director of Corporate Sponsorships, about how their brand approaches sport sponsorships with social media in mind. Following is the transcript of yesterday's twitterview.

[Note: The interview was conducted over the phone and translated into 140 characters for distribution on the Twitter platform. Please keep the character limitations in mind if when encountering abbreviations and succinct explanations. Enjoy!]

Kathleen Hessert (KH): How has AT&T used social media to impact sports sponsorships?

Tim McGhee(TM): AT&T is both medium & message b/c of iPhone. Social media enables AT&T to engage more deeply w/consumers & passionate fans.

KH: Tim, you have such diverse offerings, how does AT&T fit with social media & the variety of niche communities?

TM: AT&T works to connect w/working moms, sports fans, etc. Social media provides tools 4 laser-like approach to target niches. Because social is low cost marketing communications tool we can laser focus to particular audiences to engage.

KH: Please discuss the issue of authenticity in social media.

TM: We have responsibility/obligation to be authentic & take that seriously. Every message builds on that credibility & trust. When fans follow golf tweets, we won't sell products or talk other things. Our responsibility is to talk only golf.

KH: You’ve said it’s not enough for AT&T to act cool in social media. You want the company to be cool. Have you accomplished that?

TM: Not yet. It’s easier to lose than gain credibility. Misstep & you can lose trust. Every tweet builds on it.

KH: AT&T is often trending topic. Is this by design or are you the benefactor of having a talk-worthy product/service?

TM: AT&T ‘s social media strategy includes designing talk-worthy product offerings & generating conversation in communities.

KH: How does Twitter fit into your sponsorship and activation strategy?

TM: Brand ambassadors tweet from football games, talk signings, see you at AT&T truck. Driving traffic to games helps partnership.

KH: Social media can provide virtual access to athletes and teams. Could this lead to a viable sponsorship model?

TM: Probably not strictly on social media, but definitely built into larger endorsement deal. Cohesive strategy is critical. We're definitely building social media into our asks. AT&T has been for a couple of years with blogs. It's important. It's one tactic. It’s re:engagement not re:brand impressions. We want consumers to know what our brand stands for.

KH: Does an athlete/property endorsement online carry as much weight as a traditional approach?

TM: There’s certainly a newness factor. Don’t know if social media carries as much weight, but certainly can break thru clutter. With ad, or POS fans see the person & know it’s him. Consumers don’t have that validation with a tweet.

KH: Instead of up-front payments, would AT&T make athlete a core part of the business and pay as brand value increases?

TM: AT&T doesn't do many personal endorsement deals. It’s a lot to ask a young Olympians to lift the brand.

KH: Viral campaigns will continue to emerge as inexpensive way to promote brands. Has AT&T made good use of viral efforts?

TM: Yes, and will continue to use viral campaigns more. It's inexpensive and gives ability to effectively reach influencers.

KH: In sour economy, what compelling touch points does AT&T use to drive sponsorship sales and activation?

TM: Ads continue to be important and are most easily measured. Sports drive viewership and are very effective. Social media will probably never reach as many people as 30 sec ad. But social media enables us to engage people in ways no 30 sec ad can. Intend consumers to walk away from AT&T with a social media experience that's as real as a souvenir hat or pen.

KH: Thanks for your insights. See and hear more from Tim & other brand leaders here and at next week's SBJ Sponsorship Symposium in NY.

Check out for original content and interviews leading up to, and at the conclusion of the Sports Business Journal and Relay Worldwide's annual Sports Sponsorship Symposium.