It’s February 2020, the phone rings and it’s Jon Mackenzie from Brentford FC calling me to see if I’m interested in exploring a partnership with the Brentford Bees. Jon Mackenzie works for the Bees Commercial team and is enthusiastic, so I’m instantly intrigued: PensionBee and Brentford Bees, how did I not click sooner that they go together?! I live in Brentford, I should have known but I didn’t make the connection.
Since that phone call over two years ago, we’ve been on a journey with an English football club, ending up as one of their main sponsors in the Premier League. So how did we get to this place? And why is there so much more to this partnership than just the name gimmick?
Building a financial consumer brand is not easy
Anyone who works in financial marketing will agree that building a financial brand from scratch is hard. How do you convince customers to move your pensions to a startup? I wouldn’t be easily convinced, so why would you? Another element of complexity is the fact that we don’t sell a fancy car: it’s a pension product. Although taking action to improve your pension as early as possible in your life is important, consumers tend to disagree. Complacency in pensions is rife and pension companies are guilty of not engaging with their savers as they should.
So how do you turn a cold purchase into a warm and exciting experience? How do you build trust? A good product is one element to this, but a distinctive brand that’s advertised on TV or on a billboard equally contributes to trust and helps bring a financial product to life. Once you’re on TV, you’re not being seen as a one-day-fly, you’re a brand that is here to stay.
After PensionBee became a public company, listed on the London Stock Exchange in April 2021, it was time for PensionBee to reach as many customers in the UK as possible. Suddenly sport advertising became an option and we joined the Brentford Bees on their journey.
Pensions and football don’t have many similarities but PensionBee and Brentford FC do have a lot in common. These similarities go beyond the Bee association (Brentford Bees and PensionBee).
PensionBee’s TV ad shoot at the Brentford Community Stadium in May 2022.
Brentford FC are the new kids on the block, bringing a 2022 spin to fantastic football. After 74 years Brentford were promoted to the Premier League in 2021, a huge achievement. As newcomers they’ve shown what great football looks like and that they’re here to stay as a Premier League football club.
PensionBee is also well under way to becoming a household brand in pensions. We started PensionBee in 2014 to make pensions simple so everyone can look forward to a happy retirement. That has meant approaching pensions in a completely different way. We’re showing what a modern pension product should look like. In everything we do with Brentford FC, you can see a challenger and a ‘new kids on the block’ mentality shining through. Both brands bring a new and refreshing outlook to what they do.
Diversity and inclusivity are hugely important to PensionBee. We have a diverse workforce mirroring the UK population and we fight for gender equality in pensions. When we were looking at sport sponsorships, not a lot of clubs and organisations were matching our values.
A family-orientated club with lots of initiatives in the community through the Brentford Community Trust, we felt that we were aligned. Brentford aims to be the most inclusive club in the Premier League. If you go to a Brentford match you’ll be greeted with an energetic and positive vibe with families and people from all walks of life. It truly feels like a community.
Reach and club willingness
14.5m people in the UK visited a Premier League match in 2021 and an even bigger crowd will watch Premier League matches on TV. It’s no wonder that football is an interesting marketing channel for brands to build brand awareness and to maximise reach.
You could of course pick up the phone to some of the major clubs, but a brand our size would be quickly disappointed. It’s a multi-million pound industry and our modest budget would not stand against big brands with incredibly high budgets. With Brentford FC, we started with a relatively small budget, gradually increasing our commitment when we saw traction with our activity. As we became more ‘Brentford Confident’ we were able to commit to more. The Brentford Commercial team has been crucial in being inventive, flexible and willing to look at ways to work. A big shout out to Charlie Raven, Jon Mackenzie, Adam Ward and others at Brentford.
This spring we recorded our latest TV ad. We always had the dream to feature the club, flying over West London into the stadium (but I don’t want to give away too much). We ended up with a drone above the stadium during the Southampton FC fixture. It’s incredibly difficult to arrange this as you have to contend with a Heathrow flightpath and strict Premier League rules. But we did it, thanks to the Brentford Commercial team. I don’t think this would have been possible with any other Premier League club.
And that’s where we ended up. The intent of a club such as Brentford FC, who were willing to work with a brand like us, combined with the fact that they reach millions of savers in the UK. The result? A pension brand sponsoring a Premier League football club. An unlikely brand marriage some may say, but we’ve been going strong for two years and counting!
As a CMO, it has been such a privilege to make this partnership happen and it’ll definitely go in the books as an experience never to forget.