Brand Strategy

The executive leading MassMutual’s charge into women’s sports

The women’s sports space could soon see a lot more of the financial serices firm, thanks to Jennifer Halloran, CMO and head of marketing and brand.
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Jennifer Halloran

5 min read

This story is the tenth in a series on women leaders in sports and sports marketing. Read the rest of the profiles here and keep reading Marketing Brew for more profiles to come.

Jennifer Halloran sits at the intersection of two industries that are both largely male-dominated: finance and sports.

As CMO and head of marketing and brand for insurance and financial services company MassMutual, Halloran oversees sponsorships with some of the biggest pro sports leagues in the country, including the NHL and MLB. Prior to MassMutual, she worked in marketing for Fidelity Investments and Putnam Investments, and started her career working with finance clients at Digitas and Hill Holiday in the ’90s.

Like in sports, there have been signs of progress toward achieving gender parity in financial services, but Halloran said there have been moments in her career when she’s been the only woman in the room.

“I worked at one place where there actually was still a professional dining room that was men-only for a number of years,” she told Marketing Brew “It was a very old-school, very male-dominated industry. It usually has been, as long as I’ve been in it. I’ve learned how to play in that space, and I think that, in many ways, makes you a lot stronger…It teaches you where your strength is when you’re in a space where you understand how you can add value in a different way.”

For Halloran, part of the way she’s added value in her current role is by beefing up MassMutual’s sports marketing program. Now, she’s turning her focus toward tapping into her background as a former athlete to up the brand’s involvement in women’s sports.

Investing in sports

Halloran dabbled in sports marketing during her time at Fidelity and other companies, but really dove head first into the space at MassMutual, where she was tasked with growing brand awareness with relatively fewer media dollars than the company’s competitors, she said. As a lifelong sports fan, Halloran knew the value of the live sports audience.

She was raised in Boston, a city that’s been blessed with many championship parades in recent decades, including one for the Celtics just last Friday. When Halloran was growing up, though, the Patriots weren’t quite in their championship era yet, so her Pennsylvanian parents raised Halloran and her twin brother as Pittsburgh Steelers fans.

Live NFL and NHL games were a big part of Halloran’s early sports marketing efforts at MassMutual, she said, and eventually, pro leagues started approaching the brand about sponsorship opportunities. That led to its sponsorship of the NHL, which is now in its sixth year.

Last summer, MassMutual became the first jersey-patch sponsor of the Boston Red Sox, a 10-year deal that is “basically the equivalent of a stadium naming-rights deal, although no one would ever rename Fenway Park,” according to Halloran. Sponsorships account for almost 40% of her budget, with the biggest ones being that and the NHL deal, she said.

Building the portfolio

Under Halloran’s stewardship, MassMutual has begun to enter the women’s sports space. Halloran is no stranger to the game, having played lacrosse in high school and at Boston College, where she got her bachelor’s degree in economics and political science before earning an MBA in marketing from Babson College. It runs in the family: Her daughter played Division I lacrosse, while her son plays Division III football.

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Two years ago, MassMutual ran a campaign celebrating major moments in women’s history in honor of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which really got women’s sports on its radar, Halloran said. It was around that same time that women’s leagues like the NWSL and WNBA started to pick up momentum with audiences, which presented an opportunity for MassMutual; the company had wanted to gain traction among potential women clients for years, Halloran said.

“Women’s sports fans as an audience were always out there,” she said. “We knew we were always talking to them, we were just talking to them in men’s sports.”

This year, MassMutual is working with women’s sports firm Deep Blue Sports + Entertainment to further develop a strategy for connecting with fans of women’s sports, including serving as a sponsor of Deep Blue and Axios’s TN50 event series about the future of the women’s sports business. It’s still fairly early days; Halloran said MassMutual and Deep Blue nailed down a strategy in early June.

MassMutual has already doubled its investment in women’s sports this year, from 5% of its media spend to 10%, according to Christa Perry, its head of advertising and sponsorship. It’s a small step, but the brand is intentionally taking things slow to perfect its strategy and messaging for the women’s sports audience as much as possible, Perry said.

“We know that this audience in particular is so authentic,” she said. “They are ready to call BS on brands just trying to glom onto the cultural relevancy that is women’s sports, so we felt it was important to have a dedicated partner that really knew the space.”

Ideally, Halloran said she wants MassMutual to have a year-round presence in women’s sports, much like it does with men’s leagues, and has her eye on the NWSL in particular. For now, the plan is to focus on working with athletes across generations to help them with their financial plans, and use their journeys to “elevate the need for financial planning” among the growing audience for women’s sports.

“This is a growth market,” Halloran said. “We’ve got work to do, but the gross ratings points and the numbers are there.”

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