by Courtney Eckerle
, Manager of Editorial Content
John Hancock has been the principal sponsor of the Boston Marathon since 1985, and while "every year is significant, [the 2014 race] was especially significant in light of the bombing in 2013," Jim Bacharach, Vice President of Brand, Marketing and Creative Services, John Hancock.
For the 2014 race, the marketing team wanted to assess the content of the campaigns to strike the right balance, while "certainly acknowledging what had happened but do so in a respectful and sensitive way. But, at the same time, help and recognize that people wanted to and needed to move forward," he said.
"The Boston Marathon sponsorship is a significant undertaking for our company," said Bacharach, adding that unlike some other sponsorships "where it really involves writing a check to whatever you're sponsoring, John Hancock is highly involved with the actual planning and execution of the marathon."
The communication around it is complicated, Bacharach explained, as there are a full variety of events associated with the marathon, ranging from a fitness expo where the runners pick up their numbers and information, to a wide range of community relations activities.
"Our sponsorship of the marathon is multifaceted and multidimensional and one that we're especially proud of," he said.
There was so much attention around "Boston Strong" immediately after the race bombing in 2013, and the company knew that 2014 would be especially significant and meaningful to participants.
John Hancock and the organizers of the marathon, The Boston Athletic Association, felt that people would be ready to turn the page, and in this campaign, the company wanted to celebrate the spirit of strength that the race embodies.
Connectivity was the launching point for the campaign, and John Hancock wanted to promote a sense of community between runners, friends, families and the city of Boston. Knowing that each individual connected to the marathon had a unique story to tell, the marketing team created a hashtag to collect them — #WeRunTogether.
For the #WeRunTogether campaign, the marketing team thought a picture and story mosaic was "really an opportunity, we felt, for people to express how they felt and what the marathon, this marathon in particular, meant to them," Bacharach said.
The community that makes up The Boston Marathon is multidimensional, he added, and the event is a celebration of all of them.
"We wanted people to be encouraged to share that with us. That was what was really at the heart of the hashtag, #WeRunTogether," he said, explaining that it has multiple meanings. "Whether you talk to an elite athlete or someone who is running for charitable purposes, while they're running by themselves, there is a sense of camaraderie and sort of common challenge and purpose in running a marathon."
#WeRunTogether was a cross-channel campaign supported by paid social across Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The marketing team encouraged custom content to be submitted to the Mosaic at jhextramile.com/weruntogether
"All these different constituencies come together not only on that day, but in the weeks leading up to it to, again, create this special day, this special occasion. That yes, it's certainly centered in Boston but [it] ripples out far beyond our city limits," he said, adding that the route even involves six different cities and towns.
Step #1. Develop an overarching theme through review process
John Hancock's sponsorship of the marathon is about an 11-month cycle, according to Bacharach.
"I guess you can say [the sponsorship is] it's own marathon … Seemingly no sooner does the last runner cross the finish line that we begin thinking about next year. As you would expect, there's always sort of a review of how things went, what would we do differently, what could we do better, what could we add in," he said.
The marathon happens in April, and in late May, he said, a review and evaluation process begins where the team discusses, "the overarching objectives, communication objectives in particular, take form then, which begins to translate itself into an overarching theme," he said.
Coming up to the 2014 marathon, the theme was determined to be "We Run Together." From that point, the development work for all of the sponsorship events and assets began. In November, they began designing the overall digital look, which then had to go through a series of iterations and approvals.
"Those approvals extend beyond John Hancock. Our partners at the Boston Athletic Association have an opportunity to review them. The City of Boston and the Mayor do too, so it's not an insignificant process to get to what the overarching theme, look and feel will be for it," he said.
In 2014, this process had an extra element added to it, as John Hancock decided to incorporate social media elements as design elements in all those assets.
"It was really the first time that they were included. So, a hashtag for the first time and, again, actively promoting engaging about the Boston Marathon on social media with us was a first time," he said.
Step #2. Implement the theme throughout first social media campaign
Promotion for the campaign ramped up to full speed in early April, Bacharach said. This was the first time that John Hancock had ever used a hashtag with the Boston Marathon Sponsorship, so the team wanted to be thoughtful about it. Coming up with the official hashtag was the fruit of a detailed group brainstorm session.
The team initially focused on recognizing "the multiple constituencies involved in the 'We,'" Bacharach said, explaining that 'run' was chosen not only for the literal meaning of the word, but also to represent a blending of the runners, volunteers, spectators and communities that would represent 'together.'
"Together" was also chosen "in recognition of the sense of spirit that frankly was, despite the tragedy, strengthened by those events, by the response [in] Boston and beyond, how we collectively responded in the aftermath," he said.
The team had to be especially cautious regarding the approval process because not only was social media presence new for the sponsorship, but it was relatively new for the company in general.
"It's highly regulated so that any hosts or response that we make as a company, if it has to do with our business, has to be pre-approved by a legal and compliance functions," he said.
Even though John Hancock was in new territory when it came to social media, Bacharach said, the marathon sponsorship was the perfect opportunity to "learn [about] and grow our capabilities because it doesn't have to do with our products and our business."
Participation in the #WeRunTogether campaign entailed posting to the mosaic, and for every donation, John Hancock would make a one dollar donation to the One Fund, which was the fund established after the Boston Marathon bombing to support the needs of the victims and their families.
Step #3. Coordinate social media aspects across all channels
From November to the race in April, there are a series of key communications, including press releases, and the team had to also push out these messages via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn using #WeRunTogether.
For instance, John Hancock is responsible for recruiting, compensating and hosting the lead runners in the marathon, and "It's always a big deal announcing who those runners are going to be," Bacharach said.
They do this through traditional press releases and incorporate social media via a series of videos on YouTube, which are sent out in both traditional and digital channels.
For instance, the Boston Red Sox traditionally have a game the day of the marathon, which begins at 11 a.m., to accommodate the race. The team also promoted #WeRunTogether by putting up a message on the scoreboard intermittently throughout the game, encouraging people to contribute to the mosaic.
"They've been a great partner with us. For them, this is how they support the marathon as opposed to maybe taking advantage of the marathon for their own purposes. So they actively promote … the hashtag and the mosaic campaign over the course of the series of games leading up to [the marathon]," he said.
Because there is so much social media traffic surrounding a live athletic event like a Red Sox game, with users interacting that are probably also interested in or somehow connected to the race, "being able to have our hashtag under a big scoreboard was just one small, but I think very nice, aspect of it that they contributed to this campaign."
Also on the day of the Marathon, the marketing team was standing by
to monitor and engage with #WeRunTogether, tweeting out race news and finishing times. A large screen
was also placed at the finish line, where people's #WeRunTogether tweets would be streaming as runners crossed.
Click here to see the full version of this creative sample
Strategically placed paid social
The marketing team created promoted tweets and Facebook posts that were targeted to people associated with the Boston Marathon as well as individuals with ties to the financial services industry, who also expressed an interest in running. The Facebook post
read, "For every #WeRunTogether upload at [website link], John Hancock will donate $1 to The One Fund. [website link] #BostonMarathon." The post also embedded a YouTube video explaining the campaign. The Twitter post
read, "Show your Boston Marathon love! $1 goes to #OneFund for each #WeRunTogether tweet appearing at [website link]." It also had a picture of the mosaic.
Click here to see the full version of this creative sample
"I think that certainly for us internally, we learned that we can do this. There were a lot of things done for the first time … But it was significant beyond the results it generated for us as an organization because it required a level of collaboration across many functions and organizations that hadn't been done before," Bacharach said. The finished mosaic
had over 33,000 posts, and the donation ultimately made by John Hancock was $52,400 — twice their original goal.
Click here to see the full version of this creative sample
The hashtag was used over 42,000 times across social media channels and was a trending topic nationally on Marathon Monday. It was picked up by Yahoo Sports, Senator John Kerry (then retweeted by The White House), actor Kevin Spacey and Sports Illustrated
writer John King.
"We had higher participation than we had projected and happily so. Consequently, we were more than happy to make a larger donation than originally planned," he said.
"It's not enough for a hashtag to be fashionably accurate, but that it has to have some form of resonance for people to want to participate, to remember it and then to actually contribute," Bacharach concluded.
John Hancock also produced a 'thank you' effort after the #WeRunTogether campaign closed. It included a video, which pulled some of the more inspirational pictures and stories out of the mosaic while intermittent copy thanked people for participation. It then informed people about the results of the effort.
The team also tweeted pulled out stories and thanked individuals who sent them in. One from runner Amanda Rodgers
read, "Good luck to everyone running on Monday. I was near Boylston last year and will be back there this year to cheer everyone on! Boston is strong and everyone will see it on April 21!"
- Marketing team tweet
- Finish line screen tweet
- Facebook promoted post
- Twitter promoted post
- Finished mosaic
- Thank you tweet
Jim Bacharach, Vice President, Brand Marketing and Creative Services
Mariya Levchenko, Social Media Strategist, Brand Communications and Creative Services
Breanne Diorio, Editorial Manager
Lauren Heerlein, Creative Director
Jen Dorman, Social Media Engagement Manager
Jennifer Shaw, Marketing Research Analyst AMP Agency
Related ResourcesInbound Marketing: Pinterest-based strategy leads to 77% new site traffic Social Media Marketing: An inside look at Neiman Marcus' Pinterest and blogger relations strategiesSocial Media Marketing: How New York Public Library increased card sign-ups by 35%Social Media Marketing: Which type of content is appropriate for different platforms?MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2013: Social media is email with fresh paint