Following the tragic bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon, the event’s 30-year sponsor John Hancock reflected the significance of the 2014 race with a campaign focused on connecting those involved and featuring their unique stories.
With a focus on social media marketing, lead Boston Marathon sponsor John Hancock brought together 30,000 people through a digital mosaic that fronted a picture and story campaign called #WeRunTogether that celebrated the strength of the event and the city.
‘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,’ explained Jim Bacharach, Vice President of Brand, Marketing and Creative Services at 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.
For the North American insurer the Boston Marathon sponsorship is a significant undertaking as, unlike most other sponsorships, John Hancock is highly involved with the actual planning and execution of the marathon.
The communication around it is complicated 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,” adds Bacharach.
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 in harness with AMP Agency thought a picture and story mosaic an opportunity for people to express how they felt and what the marathon, this marathon in particular, meant to them.
The community that makes up The Boston Marathon is multidimensional 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,’ said Bacharach, 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: one centered in Boston, but which ripples out far beyond our city limits (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: the marathon happens in April, and in late May the sponsor runs a review and evaluation process where the team discusses the overarching objectives, communication objectives in particular, take form then, which begins to translate itself into an overarching theme’.
Coming up to the 2014 marathon, the theme was determined to be ‘We Run Together’ and 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 that include not only the John Hancock marketing team and board, but also the company’s partners at the Boston Athletic Association, plus The City of Boston and the Mayor.
— John Hancock (@JohnHancockUSA) March 20, 2014
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.
A hashtag for the first time.
Step #2. Implement the theme throughout first social media campaign
Promotion for the campaign ramped up to full speed in early April.
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’ , while ‘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’.
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,’ adds Bacharach.
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.
John Hancock is also responsible for recruiting, compensating and hosting the lead runners in the marathon, which it does 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 am to accommodate the race, so the MLB team also promoted #WeRunTogether by putting up a message on the scoreboard intermittently throughout the game, encouraging people to contribute to the mosaic.
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.
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, John Hancock will donate $1 to The One Fund #BostonMarathon.’
The post also embedded a YouTube video explaining the campaign and a Twiotter post reading ‘Show your Boston Marathon love! $1 goes to #OneFund for each #WeRunTogether tweet appearing at.’
‘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.
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.
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!’
John Hancock YouTube:
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Boston Marathon Twitter:
The Boston Athletic Association & Boston Marathon: