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The Research Behind the Industry — the Journey of T. Bettina Cornwell

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September 21, 2023 | Podcast
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By: Katie Willis, @_KatieWillis

T. Bettina Cornwell, Edwin E. & June Woldt Cone Professor of Marketing in the Lundquist College of Business at the University of Oregon

Front Office Sports is honored to have sat down with T. Bettina Cornwell, Edwin E. & June Woldt Cone Professor of Marketing in the Lundquist College of Business at the University of Oregon. Bettina was kind enough to have offered up her time and insight into her journey through the sports business industry. Her research focuses on marketing communications and consumer behavior, often including international and public policy topics. Bettina looks at indirect marketing, such as sponsorship, celebrity endorsement and brand placement in addition to how memory influences consumer behavior. She is author of “Sponsorship in Marketing: Effective Communication through Sports Arts and Events”, a book that makes a decade of research on sponsorship more accessible.

As a professor of marketing, research has played an important role in your work. What are you most interested in learning more about?

My interests are very much about supplying evidence for decision-making. My academic career is built around understanding subtle marketing communications, and contexts where it’s sometimes difficult to understand messages and where they may have unintended consequences. It also applies to public policy situations. A good part of my research has been on corporate sponsorships in sports marketing and entertainment. In that situation, you have a very deprived communication environment where a lot of people only see logos as a backdrop to competition or the flicker of a brand as it travels past them. That difficult communication context is what a lot of my research is based around. On the public policy side, children receive brand communications today at a young age and I am interested in how this shapes their behavior and their future. This part of my research is more public policy oriented and isn’t so much about sports but about health.

I am interested in a range of topics and for me, they all fall under the same umbrella. I enjoy understanding difficult communication contexts and even more, how people are thinking about things due to these minimal but repeated communications. In sponsorship, how do people gain information about a sponsor during a sporting event with everything else going on? In a similar fashion, young children learn a great deal in cluttered contexts and very young children pick up on brand messages about food whether it’s coming from commercials, products or restaurants. That’s the policy side.

At times, research on sport sponsorship and public policy come together. If a company is utilizing sponsorship in communicating about their brand and wants to be viewed as being healthier, they might sponsor sporting events even though they don’t have a healthy offering. Is that a bit problematic? We’ve been researching this and that behavior can be destructive to brand meaning clarity. It applies to oil companies sponsoring nature preservation and to fast food restaurants sponsoring sport. When you are on the environmentally unfriendly or unhealthy side, sponsoring environmentally friendly and healthy things cannot shore up your image. Moreover, we show these sorts of combinations are actually detrimental to the sponsored object- whoever is being sponsored.

My objective is to bring research evidence forward that is helpful to society and to the brand. If sponsorship is not authentic for a brand they should not want to raise skepticism. Likewise, sports must think carefully about their relationships. While the financial support that comes with sponsorship may be attractive a sport property, they must be careful about their own positioning and the authenticity of their brand.

Like companies who try and build an authentic relationship with their brand, how do people build a personal brand that is authentic? How does it apply when looking at various job opportunities?

I think that you cannot choose a better criteria for your own personal brand than to be authentic. You have to present yourself as you are on your social media, on your LinkedIn page and in everything you do. Try to be authentic and true to who you are. Don’t try to be something you think people want to see.

You have to think a little bit about the receiving side also. If you apply to three different companies and write your resume three very different ways, who are you really? You have to be the authentic you. It’s really better for you and the employer if you are honest about who you are, where you want to go and who you want to be in the future. They make a better choice about hiring you and you make a better job choice because you learn if it’s going to meet your needs and goals. Don’t try to form yourself into something you’re not. Be your best, but be you.

How can young professionals set themselves apart and distinguish themselves when entering the industry?

One of the things the market needs is analytic ability. If you want to make sure you stand out, have additional analytical skills, an understanding of statistics, software programs, customer relationship software, etc.

Another thing to distinguish yourself is to learn a second language — really, truly knowing how to speak a second language beyond your high school and college learning experiences. Actually, go to another country and develop your speaking skills to interact and to take it to the next level. This can be done while volunteering in the sport space or while interning.

Experience is your number one gig but it’s not experience that will set you apart. It’s your distinguishing characteristics that will set you apart come interview time. You have to get out there, volunteer, work part-time, be entrepreneurial, innovative–whatever you have to do to distinguish yourself from others. What are you going to do other than just having an internship? Most everyone has internships. What more are you going to do?

In the sponsorship space, there is a great deal of job movement amongst sport, intermediaries-like sport marketing firms, and brands. If you’re going to work on the sports side of sponsorships service, collaborate with brands to achieve both their goal and your goals. It helps to know what they want and need. Get your mind inside of their brain. Put yourself in their shoes to better understand the sports properties and their value.

What is a characteristic someone can highlight about themselves when walking into a job interview?

Quality. If something is worth doing, do it to the best of your ability. Have a sense of what quality is, how to implement projects, and then, measure your outcomes. That applies to a Ph.D., to an MBA to an undergraduate [degree]. Invest in quality experiences and make sure you complete them. There are so many things that are left undone. Before you ever start it, look forward so that you can later measure. What is it you’re trying to accomplish? Make those goals so that you can measure them at the end and ask yourself, ‘Was it successful?’

At the end, you now have talking points. You can talk about what goals you had and the outcomes you experienced. You don’t need superlatives, fluff or puffery. You can go straight to: here is what we set out to do, here’s how we did it, and here’s the success story. That speaks so much louder than claims.

How important is mentorship? What can a young professional do to make sure they are establishing those relationships in a good way?

A lot of people talk these days about having your own personal board of directors for several different areas of life. You gain knowledge from a variety of people. I fall back on authenticity and quality. You want to engage with people who are meaningful for you and not just develop more friends on Facebook or connections on LinkedIn. You want to have deeper quality relationships. They have to be organic, look to people you can respect and can admire. Some mentoring programs place you with a mentor. While this may be a good person if their personal style is not good for you, it won’t work. You have to have faith in the relationship or it will not have value into the future.

There’s also sometimes value in ending relationships. Don’t stick with people or jobs that drain you. Go for jobs or relationships that fuel you. Just because you’ve been with someone for a long time doesn’t mean you have to continue along that path. You should cultivate relationships that fuel you, build you up and inspire you. If it’s not working, then that’s okay. You can end them on a good note and move forward.

Additional wisdom/advice:

Be thankful for family, friends and colleagues. Research is a team sport. My journey is tied to the journey of my research collaborators, my colleagues, my students and the support from my home team. In particular, my PhD students inspire and question me, and convince me every day that I made the right career choice. There really is not a better job in the world than to get to explore new ideas with people you enjoy.

We would like to thank her for her time and insights and we wish her all the best in her future endeavors!

You can follow her on Twitter here!

This interview is another edition of “Winning Edge Wednesday” in congruence with our partnership with the Winning Edge Leadership Academy. Every Wednesday we will be featuring the story of a woman or minority working in the sports business industry. If you know of a professional you would like featured, drop us a line at

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