Several weeks ago, I received an email from Lori Favre, Loyalty Marketing Coordinator from JetBlue, inviting me to participate in the Inaugural Champions for Arnold's Kids Latrobe Classic, a fundraiser for the Arnold Palmer Medical Center Foundation, and the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, an event that she had no way of knowing, had personal significance to me. As we taxied over to the edge of the Latrobe airport on Monday morning, I could see Mr. Palmer there waiting to greet us. It was a dream come true.
Thirty-six years ago, as a lad of 14, I had the opportunity to caddy for Mr. Palmer at The Beaconsfield Golf Club, near Montreal, Canada, where I had the chance to spend 5 hours inside the ropes, carrying his clubs, giving him yardages, and on request (and with trepidation), clubbing him. Watching him interact with the gallery and involving me in many of these interactions (“I don’t know Marty. Are you sure it’s a six-iron?” Yes, Mr. Palmer, it plays longer than it looks.” Well OK, if you say so.”) was an amazing experience. This picture appeared on the front page of the local paper with the heading, “Dream Come True”, a succinct description of how I felt.
One of the stories that I shared several times on Monday was about the year following my day spent caddying for Mr. Palmer. In both years, I had my choice of bags. In 1977, the big three “names” playing at our event were Mr. Palmer, Lee Trevino and Ben Crenshaw. Despite being near the end of his competitive playing career, Arnold Palmer was “The King”, and it was an easy decision. The next year, Jack Nicklaus was playing in the event, and I picked his bag.
I was working the reception area as the limos were pulling up, and as I was taking Mr. Palmer’s luggage and clubs out of the trunk, he approached me. “Marty – good seeing you again. are you caddying for me again this year?” Can you imagine how I felt when I told him that, “No Mr. Palmer, I’m not. I’m caddying for Jack Nicklaus.”? But he laughed it off as he said “Well at least you’re moving up in the world!” If it’s possible to feel bad about having chosen to caddy for Jack Nicklaus at the peak of his career, this would be that time.
As we boarded the JetBlue flight home on Monday night, I had a chance to reflect on the day, the experience and the nature of loyalty. Bear with me…
In a world where fame and celebrity are too often equated, what is it that makes Mr. Palmer so special? Arguably, Arnold Palmer is one of the most recognizable names and faces in the world, and everyone who has had the chance to meet the Man, has their own story. But as he made sure to greet us individually and to thank-us personally for coming to visit Latrobe, you understood completely the nature of the man. Can anyone imagine Justin Bieber, Alex Rodriguez or Tiger Woods waiting on the tarmac to shake your hand and to thank you, making you feel like somehow we were doing him a favour for being there?
Latrobe Country Club is where Mr. Palmer learned the game. His father, Deke Palmer was the greens superintendent, and you can imagine the young Arnold walking these fairways, losing balls, making putts. This was, and still is, his back yard.
If the golf course was his yard, the clubhouse felt like his home, an incredibly intimate setting, where you are enveloped by so much history. And there we were, invited into his “home”, where Mr. and Mrs. Palmer made us feel as welcome as if it was their living room.
Arnold Palmer is a man, but he is also a brand. In fact, the event was a fundraiser for one of the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando. How are brands valued? It’s no accident that companies carry a line on their Balance Sheets called “Goodwill”, the value associated with that intangible, their brand. When you think of Mr. Palmer, the lives he’s touched in his 84 years, but more importantly, the way in which he has touched these lives, you realize that the goodwill associated with “Brand Palmer” is unique and on a level that no one else can match. This is an important lesson for all of us, as we think of building our own “brand”.
Goodwill = Value.
Another “brand” that has captured the essence of goodwill is JetBlue. I have been a very frequent flyer for the past 25 years, having flown ~3 million miles. But in all those years, all those airmiles, and all those “loyalty programs” that have sent me gold coloured bag tags, I had never had both the CEO and COO thank me for my business, as I had on Monday, when David Barger and Rob Maruster did so. My playing partners, Warren Christie and Scott Suter, both JetBlue pilots, did so as well. Prior to this week I was a loyal JetBlue flyer, but after this week, I will forever be a JetBlue evangelist, as will the other hundred or so participants in Monday’s event.
Goodwill = Value
The goodwill generated by JetBlue, on a micro and macro level, based on their association with Mr. Palmer and their support of his cause, is a large multiple of the out of pocket. Of course, there is a commercial calculus that takes place when committing to a sponsorship, but when two brands agree to collaborate, their brands must be compatible or it feels contrived. The association between JetBlue and Arnold Palmer feels genuine, and I am sure that the incremental goodwill created will extend far beyond their sponsorship dollars.
Mr. Palmer has created an immeasurable amount of goodwill in his lifetime, and as a result, his fans have been loyal for decades. I’m in my fourth decade of being a fan, but it’s an admiration based on respect and personal accessibility. I feel like the loop has been closed, as the memories of that 14 year old boy are now combined with a whole set of new memories of this 50 year old man.
Thanks to Arnold Palmer and the team at JetBlue for making this dream come true.
That’s my .02!