Rocket Mortgage, 3M Golf Tourneys Test CEOs’ Marketing Strategies

Both Quicken Loans founder and chief Dan Gilbert and 3M Company CEO Michael Roman have a lot invested in new golf tournaments that are being sponsored by their companies this weekend and next weekend. The results could be instructive for other CEOs who might consider corporate marketing gambits centered around major professional golf tourneys, at a time when the game still holds strong appeal for a vast swath of American consumers and business-to-business customers.

Each of the companies is taking an important flier on sponsoring an addition to the Professional Golf Association tour. Quicken is launching the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit this weekend, while 3M is initiating the new 3M open in suburban Minneapolis on the first weekend in July. They’re attempting to elevate their corporate profiles for various reasons by insinuating their new events into a pro-golf schedule that provides openings because suddenly it’s in flux this year.

Interestingly, neither CEO is able to be front and center at these important events. Gilbert has been recovering from a recent stroke as top lieutenants put finishing touches on yet another economic-development accomplishment spearheaded by the peripatetic billionaire: the first PGA golf tournament to be played in Quicken’s hometown of the City of Detroit. And Roman has been preoccupied taking what he called “aggressive” cost-cutting actions at the diversified industrial manufacturer based in Maplewood, Minnesota, as 3M struggles with deteriorating markets and global job reductions.

The $6.4-million 3M Open at TPC Twin Cities Blaine, Minnesota – not to be confused with the 3M Championship a PGA Tour Champions event held at the same site for the last 18 years – will be the first PGA Tour event in a decade. Y.E. Yang upset Tiger Woods in the PGA Championship at the Hazeltine National club.

The Rocket Mortgage Classic at the Detroit Golf Club this week is the PGA Tour’s first regular event in Motown and picks up a decade after Michigan’s previous tour event, the Buick Open in nearby Grand Blanc, Michigan, ended its half-century run in 2009. Detroit’s last taste of tour golf was the 2008 PGA Championship and the 2004 Ryder Cup, both at iconic Oakland Hills.

The PGA threw its schedule this year into upset mode by moving the annual PGA Championship from its traditional August slot three months ahead to May, immediately after the Masters in April and before the U.S. Open in June. The new Rocket Mortgage and 3M Open events also have scrambled the picture; among other things, they are serving as important practice events for the fourth and now-final major of the professional men’s golf year, the British Open, in mid-July.

Both events have attracted solid fields despite being brand new. Much of the hubbub leading to this week’s tournament surrounded the quality of the Rocket Mortage lineup. Woods opted out, but Rocket Mortgage executives noted that the tourney field does include 11 of the top 50 players in world golf rankings, including the new U.S. Open men’s champion, Gary Woodland. Also prominently featured is Rickie Fowler, a tour favorite who also happens to have a long-term endorsement deal with the Detroit-based company.

Commitments to the 3M Open include tour stars Brooks Koepka, Jason Day and Phil Mickelson.

Over the last few weeks, Quicken and Rocket executives have been rallying to make sure the entire Detroit event serves, among other things, as a sort of homage to the stricken Gilbert. While a number of executives were responsible for converting Quicken’s title sponsorship of the annual The National tournament played in suburban Washington, D.C., into a bid for a new event in Michigan, Gilbert reportedly aimed to make sure that any tournament landed inside the city that he has blessed with the investment of billions in business and philanthropic endeavors.

“We’re well positioned to be a must stop for the tour,” Casey Hurbis, chief marketing officer for Quicken Loans and Rocket Mortgage, tells Chief Executive. “And quite honestly, you can’t imagine the amount of exposure and goodwill that we’re going to be able to show these PGA tour players and their families and influencers – most of them probably haven’t been to the city, at least a long time … We’re going to be able to showcase all the amazing things going on in the city to very influential groups, as well as on the Golf Channel and CBS.”

What’s more, the Rocket Mortgage Classic provides an unprecedented marketing showcases for Quicken Mortgage, which last year rocketed past an enfeebled Wells Fargo to become America’s largest home lender and already had become an impact marketer in major venues including Super Bowl TV advertising.

Quicken Loans has devoted up to 30 percent of its advertising budget, estimated at up to $400 million, to sports. And clearly the company’s four-year deal to sponsor the Rocket Mortgage Classic will eat up a huge portion of that amount.

“It’ll be great to showcase Rocket to a national audience, and we’ll be able to do lots of storytelling not only for the Rocket brand but also about what Quick and Rocket have been doing in the [Detroit] community,” Hurbis says.

Dale Buss: Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other business publications. He lives in Michigan.