Exclusive interview - ING CEO Michel Tilmant 27 Jun 2007
When sponsorship first became part of Formula One racing some 40 odd years ago, decisions were made primarily with the heart. Now, with the sport transformed into a global media platform, the decision making has moved north - to the head. Dutch financial giant ING, one of the newest title sponsors - both of Grands Prix and the Renault team - has a clear and analytical vision of what it wants to achieve with its involvement. However, when watching a race like Monaco, CEO Michel Tilmant admits its hard to separate the heart from the head
Q: ING sponsors arts and cultural events, community development and sports. In sports, your focus is marathons and - since this season - Formula One racing. Can you explain the reasons for the new addition?
Michel Tilmant: Of course. ING is one of the leading global financial institutions; we operate in over 50 countries and have over 60 million customers. However, our brand recognition does not quite match the scope and size of our business. Sports sponsorship is a powerful mechanism to connect to sports fans. We looked at a number of sports and F1 presented a clear global platform with access to 17 GPs around the world and a global TV audience of 850 million fans. We believe that Formula One can help raise INGs brand awareness, and ensure that we are known as one of the leading global financial institutions active in banking, insurance and asset management. We see our F1 sponsorship as a complementary to our other sponsorship activities, but very much in the lead to position our business globally.
Q: Were other sports an option?
MT: We conducted extensive research into which sports would offer ING the global audience and reach we required. We looked at football, the Olympics and tennis amongst others, but all the research proved conclusive - F1 was the best choice. It offered us an unrivalled blend of a large global audience, with a profile that closely matched the needs of our business. The global fit between ING and F1 is also very strong - of the 17 countries holding F1 races, ING is active in 15.
Q: How long did it take you to decide to participate in Formula One racing?
MT: Once colleagues on the ING Board and I decided that we wanted to look at sports sponsorship as a vehicle for improving our brand awareness, ING conducted intensive research into the sports available to us over a six-month period. Once we analyzed the data it quickly became apparent that F1 was the only choice, enabling the board to make a quick decision.
Q: Did you have a clear vision from the outset of what you wanted ING to get out of Formula One racing?
MT: Yes, absolutely clear. We were looking at a sport that would offer us access to a global audience, with the objective of improving our brand awareness and recognition. We undertook extensive research which helped us to make the decision to go with Formula One, and we have a number of tracking and evaluation tools in place to determine whether we are achieving our goals.
Q: How did you arrive at the decision to partner the Renault team?
MT: We wanted to sponsor one of the leading F1 teams, and we initially approached McLaren, Ferrari and Renault. All three are strong teams, with proven track records. McLaren and Ferrari couldnt quite match the opportunities we saw in partnering with Renault. We are delighted with our title sponsorship of the ING Renault F1 team - the strength of the synergy and partnership between the team and ING are everything we had expected.
Q: Have you any plans to connect INGs Formula One involvement with the banks retail activities?
MT: Not just plans - we are already doing it! ING has six global business lines, including Banking, ING Direct and our Insurance businesses in Europe, Americas and Asia, all of which are retail focused. Each business line is using the F1 sponsorship to connect with its customers, via a series of competitions, invitations to races, marketing and interactive experiences. For example ING Direct in the UK has launched a competition to win Renault Clios and tickets to the British GP if customers open an account; ING in Belgium has launched an ING Renault F1 debit card; and we have an F1 themed credit card in the Netherlands. These are just a few examples, but there are many more in the 50 countries that ING operates in.
Q: Your competition is using Formula One racing as a platform for wealth management marketing. Does ING have similar plans, or does ING envision a multi-level marketing programme?
MT: In the first year, the main aim of the F1 sponsorship is to connect all of INGs businesses with its customers - whether they are a multi-billion dollar international company, or a customer with an ING savings account or a mortgage. So, whilst we will be marketing to private banking clients, this is part of a much larger marketing effort. Connecting with our retail banking activities is a core part of our F1 sponsorship, but connecting all of INGs businesses and customers with F1 is at the heart of what we are doing. We are not just here to provide VIP hospitality to a select few - we are providing hospitality opportunities to thousands of ING customers. At Spa, for example, we will be welcoming over 13,000 ING customers. ING has launched its first ever global advertising and marketing campaign to support the F1 sponsorship - we are tapping into the global audience that F1 gives us access to.
Q: You went to this years Monaco Grand Prix. Was it your first visit to a race? What did you know about Formula One racing beforehand and what is your opinion now that you are involved?
MT: Monaco is always a very special race, in fact it goes beyond being just a race - it is an occasion. Although I have seen it on TV previously, to be at Monaco for the first time was an amazing experience. Until you are there you cant imagine the noise of the cars and how narrow the circuit is. I have always followed F1 over the years, but to be involved now on the inside reinforces the fact that this is one of most exciting, and global, of sports. The breadth of skill on display - the engineering, the teamwork, to the driving skills, is truly amazing.