Sports PR and Sponsorship guru, Kassey Belluigi, vows to write a book about her exceptional career in the industry and expand her wealth of knowledge to develop future sports marketing graduates.

30 years ago, Belluigi broke into the industry, working for a PR and Promotions company as she dabbled in sports sponsorship, utilizing the brands Benson and Hedges, JPS and Winston.

At the time, sport was not considered part of the marketing mix and there were no long-term tracking records to prove sport could provide a meaningful and enticing Return on Investment.

Belluigi reveals that the current economic climate does not lend itself to easy sponsorship seeking, but the situation is different as compared to her earlier days in the industry.

To date, the Director of Intune Communications and Entertainment has been privileged to increase her sport experience to include numerous other sporting codes such as rugby, netball, hockey, formula 1 motor racing, road running, athletics and karate to her list.

One of her highlights was working on the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

Speaking with Celine Abrahams, Belluigi reveals what keeps her motivated to remain on top of her game and give advice to young girls who are eager to make a mark in the PR and Sponsorship space.

Kassey, thank you for chatting to us! Over the years you have championed your way in the PR and Sponsorship space within the sports industry. What made you decide to work in sports?

I would say that sport found me as opposed to me making a conscious decision to go into sports marketing and make it my career. It all started over 30 years ago. I was working for a PR and Promotions company and one of our clients, United Tobacco (now British American Tobacco), started dabbling in sports sponsorship, utilizing the brands Benson and Hedges, JPS and Winston. We set up a Sports Marketing department with two of us managing both the event and PR portfolios for the Benson and Hedges Cricket Series, the JPS Knockout Soccer Competition and motor racing. Our client at the time was quite a marketing maverick and was keen to try new ideas, concepts and campaigns which made it exciting, hard work, nerve-wracking but lots of fun and we had plenty of laughs. I am pleased to say that most of our campaigns worked exceptionally well, and as for the others, let’s say they proved to be valuable learning experiences.

“I have been exceptionally lucky and privileged to increase my sport experience to include numerous other sporting codes such as rugby, netball, hockey, formula 1 motor racing, road running, athletics, karate and many more.” – Director of Intune Communications and Entertainment, Kassey Belluigi

Fast forward 30 years later, I have been exceptionally lucky and privileged to increase my sport experience to include numerous other sporting codes such as rugby, netball, hockey, formula 1 motor racing, road running, athletics, karate and many more. I can include international experience on my resume such as the 2010 FIFA World Cup in SA and I have travelled to many countries around the world attending sporting events for clients.

 What were some of the challenges you faced in the early stages of your career?

The world was very different back then. Sport was not considered part of the marketing mix and there were no long-term tracking records to prove sport could provide a meaningful and enticing ROI. Persuading marketing and brand managers was not easy. The current economic climate does not lend itself to easy sponsorship seeking, but the situation is different. In those days marketing budget was almost exclusively spent on traditional advertising such as TV, radio, print billboards and posters.

Another challenge was the fact that sporting codes had limited staff members with no PR department, so it was exclusively up to sponsors to promote the sport and the brand as well. However, having said that, it was a massive learning curve for me.

The game changer was the introduction of the internet, Google, digital and social media, the ability to use CRM programmes and there is a wide range of AI offers to help strategically and tactically track ROI.

What motivated you to continue striving to make your mark in the industry?

I am passionate about sports marketing and have proved many times over that sport has the unique ability to pivot brands and create valuable brand recognition and drive brand love. Further, I have never shied away from a challenge and I thrive on creating and conceptualizing unusual and different campaigns that bring brands to life, are cost effective and ultimately drive sales.

“I see this as a massive opportunity for brands to get involved in a meaningful way in the latter part of 2021 going into 2022.” – Belluigi on the PR and Sponsorship space during Covid-19.

Covid-19 has been a major hiccup in the world of sport. To make matters worse sport will be the last to see large crowds return. However, I see this as a massive opportunity for brands to get involved in a meaningful way in the latter part of 2021 going into 2022. Brands will be looking to get involved with good news stories to set them apart from competitors, drive sales and reach quality audiences and this can be done through sport. Further, Covid-19 has opened us up to accepting continuous change, seeking new opportunities, allowing ourselves to try something new and this is where I believe sport will be a great benefit to brands to come on board.

You are the Director of Intune Communications and Entertainment. Please tell us how the company came about.

In 2006, I was working at a company that specialized in hospitality and I chose to specialize in PR, which I felt was the most misunderstood and under utilised element within the sports marketing mix. My experience showed me that effective and efficient PR gets a measurable return on investment that is critical in a world where brands need to prove to leadership that the decision to venture in a new direction worked and my maverick thinking wanted to specialize and expand on this thinking. I therefore chose to set up Intune Communications. Why Intune?  Because we are just that, in tune with cutting edge, innovative, creative and integrated communications strategies that combine traditional, online and social media that give a meaningful return on investment.

 What does the company offer clients?

Our offerings within sport focus on all things PR and communications. With the world evolving fast and competition mushrooming at an exponential speed, PR is becoming critical in being the differentiator brands need. It is all about creative and diverse thinking, which we offer our clients.

We tell meaningful brand stories through sport and communicate this through traditional media as well as online, digitally and one of our specialities – social media.

Having worked with many sports personalities over the years, we work a lot with these dynamic and important influencers and bring in the micro influencers as well.

In a nutshell we offer a 360-degree offering in PR, not to forget bringing sport to life within the company through internal communications.

With regards to reputation management, sport can be embroiled in a bit of this, but we have the expertise to help the brands through this.

Who have been some of the top female athletes that you have partnered with?

Brands have only recently started utilizing female athletes, which is exciting, and Intune will be introducing more women athletes to our clients in the future.

One athlete I have worked with over the past few years is Banyana Banyana ex-professional, Amanda Dlamini.  She has been a pleasure to work with. Professional, always on time, very approachable and goes that extra mile for sponsors.

We took her to Barcelona with us last year when Danone took their first-ever girls under-12 team to compete in the 20th anniversary of the Danone Nations Cup world finals. She was perhaps the most valuable member of the team!

Traditionally 12-year-old girls in South Africa compete with boys (which is the same in many countries around the world) and the numbers are low. What we had to do was persuade schools to start playing girls teams only. The team we took to Barcelona were inexperienced and recent to soccer. What happened in Barcelona was that these girls then had to face girls that were much bigger than them and played for top clubs around the world. After losing a couple of games it came down to Amanda to chat to them, motivate them and build their confidence. She became the mother, father, coach, psychologist and friend. She rose to the challenge and they won their final game with Amanda on the sideline as their most ardent supporter.

What are some of the benefits athletes receive from working with Intune?

There are numerous benefits in working for Intune. We have a great team, our experience has to come into play; no re-inventing of the wheel but rather taking what has worked and make it exceptional. We are passionate about everything we do and pride ourselves for our creative thinking and tenacity to make things work.

What projects have you worked on over the years that are the highlights of your career so far?

Wow, this is a hard one as there are so many! Working on the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa was exceptional. We worked with many of the sponsors as well as working for the FIFA Communications department where our role was promoting ticket sales in SA. I must admit it was challenging and a lot of hard work but extremely rewarding. Then, there was the 1996 African Cup of Nations where I was on the organizing committee which was exceptional.

“Intune has been working in the school sport space and we have really enjoyed fulfilling the communications role for the Under-12 Danone Nations Cup for over 10 years and the Under-19 Sanlam Kay Motsepe Schools Cup soccer tournament.” – Belluigi speaks on the projects her company has been working on.

More recently, Intune has been working in the school sport space and we have really enjoyed fulfilling the communications role for the Under-12 Danone Nations Cup for over 10 years and the Under-19 Sanlam Kay Motsepe Schools Cup soccer tournament (both tournaments could not take place in 2020).  I have always vowed to write a book on my career in sport sponsorship and PR and all our escapades we encountered so watch the space. I haven’t even mentioned the earlier projects!

What advice would you give to young girls who aspire to be in the PR space one day?

I would tell young aspiring PR candidates not to be taken in by the perception of PR being about glamour, meeting celebrities and going to functions. This is far from the truth. It is hard work, long hours and weekend work. The PR landscape is evolving continuously, and you have to be on top of this. PR is in the forefront of the fourth industrial revolution and your clients are relying on you to help them navigate through the maize of uncertainty and evolution ensuring brand reputation is not only untarnished, but growing in popularity, expanding into new markets and your job is also to communicate with internal workforces. A communicators key role is creating compelling, appealing, truthful, inspiring and thought-provoking stories.

Research and monitoring competitors is at the forefront of PR and at the back end it is about finding and utilizing effective AI to gain valuable and actionable insights to monitor ROI. PR is very creative and requires critical and out of the box thinking.  Sometimes even persuading clients to introduce over the top campaigns to reach those valuable targeted generations. This might sound daunting, but it is exciting, and no day is the same. If you are an exceptional storyteller, then PR is a great avenue to put this valuable skill to good use. Keep believing in your dreams and go out there and help make the world a better place. Finally, look after the planet for the future generations.

What keeps you motivated to stay on top of your game?

I would say my passion for PR and sport, my tenacity, the excitement of seeing a plan come together and no day is the same. I enjoy waking up to face a new day, different opportunities, a different story to tell, campaigns to conceptualise, different people to chat to and help as well as motivate.

While Intune faced challenges during lockdown with sport closed, we did not sit back but rather pivoted and moved online. Reworked the website, rebranded and our most exciting project is our new In Tune with Sport Coaching webinars which we started in July and now have over 3 500 coaches on our books who either attend our webinars or watch the recordings. It started with coaches calling us lamenting lockdown. We heeded their call and decided to sponsor these webinars to help them upskill and also give them different ideas to think about and possibly look at including in their coaching programmes when sport opened. We have now moved on and we incorporate all coaches.

What is your greatest ambition?

That is a tough one. One of my key ambitions is to write a book, put some courses together, particularly after lockdown as I believe the PR landscape has shifted substantially. I am passionate about education and believe that you can never be overeducated so I continue to attend courses, seminars giving me a wealth of knowledge which I would like to impart onto the younger Sports marketing graduates.