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For ABS, the "Skybox" is not the Limit

10 Aug, 2004 By: Ray Weiss imageSource

For ABS, the "Skybox" is not the Limit

When Bill Wallace
decided to start his own business in 1979, he faced issues common to other
entrepreneurs who choose to venture out on their own—a shortage of capital and

But Wallace quickly
learned that even the slightest of actions can turn into a stroke of marketing
genius. Soon after Wallace started White Marsh, Maryland-based Action Business
Systems, the copier dealership began serving as a youth soccer league sponsor.

“At the time, our
motivation was purely to be a good corporate citizen,” Wallace said. “The league
needed a sponsor and we were in a position to help.”

Wallace admitted that
he didn’t fully realize the marketing implications of that team sponsorship. It
turned out, he said, that sponsoring the soccer league brought ABS increased
visibility, corporate credibility and created the perception that the company
was a player in the local business community.

More than two decades
later, ABS, which is now the largest Toshiba dealer in the Washington-Baltimore
region, continues to use marketing as a major tool to generate sales. The only
difference now is ABS sells itself on a much grander stage.

Instead of youth
soccer, the company has put its name on the player uniforms of the Major Indoor
Soccer League’s Baltimore Blast and during the NFL and NHL seasons ABS has video
screen sponsorships at home games for the Baltimore Ravens and the Washington
Capitals along with hospitality suites to wine and dine customers.


Do your research-
Begin by
checking with your local recreation council, chamber of commerce or civic
organization to determine who needs help and how their needs might mesh
with what your company can offer.

Find the right opportunity-

What opportunities will get you in front of the
right audience?  Take into consideration visibility factors, cost and
where your company best fits.  If you sponsor a local youth soccer team in
your community, would your target audience see your name on the jerseys? 
If so, the parents of the team members may opt to patronize your business
because of your community support. 

Meet their needs-
Once you
have found a program that is right for you, make sure you fashion the
sponsorship to meet their needs.  For example, ABS wanted to help students
and discovered the local school district needed office equipment.  Instead
of just donating equipment, ABS fashioned the “Fax of Life” program, which
created an opportunity for executives to mentor students.  This not only
met the schools need for equipment, but also created an opportunity for
ABS to meet and work with other businesses in the area.  And those
businesses represent ABS’s target audience.

The cost factor
There is not a set price in sponsoring programs.  In
doing your research, you will find various price points accompanying the
programs.  Some companies find it more cost effective to donate products
or services while others find it more beneficial to simply underwrite
costs.  This is entirely dependant on what your company can afford and the
most effective way to get in front of your audience.

The bottom line-
In an ideal
world, a well-placed, strategic sponsorship will benefit both your company
and the organization you are sponsoring.  It will help you to advance your
business goals, but don’t lose sight of the fact that often sponsoring a
community organization or activity is simply the right thing to do.

But ABS’s principal
marketing tool, and what possibly has to be one of the most extravagant copier
dealership showrooms around, is a skybox at M&T Bank Stadium, home of the NFL’s

Wallace readily
admitted that he wasn’t entertaining the idea of a new ABS showroom when he
initially met with Ravens team officials about becoming a skybox holder. But
when they mentioned the skybox could be accessed 24 hours a day, 365 days a
year, Wallace’s marketing light bulb went on.

“I began to see the
skybox as something that could be used for more than client entertainment during
Ravens’ home games,” he said. “Today, we use the skybox primarily during the
year when there aren’t games going on.”

And it’s worked.
According to Wallace, ABS has landed a number of large accounts by bringing
people to the skybox, both for entertainment and product introductions. Because
the skybox is large ABS has been able to load its full-color copying systems,
four faxes, laptops, three digital products, and several shredders into the
space, and still have space to accommodate up to 34 people.

“The only thing we
have to adjust on game days is moving the fax machines to make room for the food
trays,” Wallace laughs. “We are fully operational and often do product
demonstrations before, during, and after the games.”

Although his
marketing methods have become much more elaborate, Wallace has not lost sight of
one of the key components that initially helped his company move toward
success—community involvement.

ABS continues to get
its name out in the community by committing itself to a worthwhile cause such as
the Easter Seals Campaign and creating its own “Fax of Life” program, which
links students in Baltimore County Public Schools with more than 100 volunteer
professionals throughout the area. The program gives the students access to a
real-world perspective on the careers that interest them. ABS designed the
program, donated the equipment and recruited the volunteers.

In addition, since
September 11, 2001, ABS has donated a percentage of all sales to the American
Red Cross and, upon learning about a Maryland National Guard unit stationed in
Afghanistan that needed supplies, ABS responded by sending shipments of
magazines, newspapers, food, and other items to remind the service men and women
of home.

But while such
pursuits clearly have a marketing dimension, Wallace views community involvement
as simply an extension of the ABS “We Care” philosophy.

involvement is as much a part of the ABS company culture as office equipment,”
Wallace notes.

Thinking outside the
box from a marketing sense has not only given personal satisfaction to Wallace,
but has enhanced his company’s bottom line as well.

- - -

Ray Weiss is executive vice president and managing
director for Baltimore-based public relations firm Stanton Communications.

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