Businesses in Tulsa Building Client Relationships the PGA Way

Article excerpt

PGA officials estimate several thousand spectators could take in today's start of practice rounds at Southern Hills.

Among them will be hundreds if not thousands of corporate guests.

The 2007 Professional Golfers' Association Championship presents one of the state's biggest marketing events in years. A variety of pricing packages will allow dozens of state and national companies, from giants like BOK Financial and the Nordam Group to small mom and pop operations, to use the seven-day tournament to woo and wow not just prospective clients and good customers, but loyal employees and contractors.

"If they're golf enthusiasts, that makes it a pretty easy sell," said Doug Huber, vice president with the architectural and engineering firm Crafton Tull Sparks. His firm bought four grounds tickets to take prospective clients to the course each day.

Oneok Inc. expects to entertain several hundred guests at a chalet it's sharing with another firm. GDH Consulting of Tulsa will host 60 at a table it bought along Southern Hills' famous par-four 12th hole.

"I don't know if it's so much as measured by return but in entertaining our clients," said JJ Hurley, who opened GDH in 2001. "It's a really draw for our clients down in Texas, down in Arkansas, to be able to come here and see this."

Williams Cos. will entertain more than 300 in the sponsor hospitality tent, mixing with Flintco, Cherokee Nation Enterprises and others.

"We see it as a way to build up relationships with our customers," said Amanda Hollon, Williams community relations and customer events partner. "Business is business, so we're hoping that by building stronger relationships we'll continue to have good business relations with these people."

Shared experiences

That focuses on the key attraction most marketers see in the PGA.

"Our business is a relationship business," said Derek T. Blackshare, chief executive and president of Blackshare Environmental Solutions. "There are other people out there who do what we do, but they use us because the know us, they like us, they know our reputation."

Blackshare acquired six grounds-only tickets to share the day with both potential and ongoing clients.

"The tickets are relatively cheap; I think they're about $300 bucks a week on the grounds-only," he said. "What's that? Two grand, total. A couple of jobs from these people way more than pays for these things. The return is much higher than the investment."

In a world where 90 percent of business comes down to personal ties, Huber said sharing experiences at the tournament provides an ideal foundation for cementing long-term relationships.

"It's like seeing Michael Jordan playing basketball or Babe Ruth playing baseball," said Blackshare. "To some people it's a dream, a one-time dream come true."

Since tee times begin before 8 a.m., even the grounds tickets give executives a chance to walk the tree-lined fairways and follow icons like Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson pursue Sunday's title presentation, all under the scenic splendor of one of the world's most treasured courses.

"You spend four to five hours on a golf course, wandering around and visiting," said Blackshare. "There's no pressure, no stress, but you get to know them and they get to know you and there's a relationship there."

If anyone gets tired during that, there's always the PGA Golf Shop or several other tents available to provide a restful break.

All that helps the experience transcend the sports world.

"How many times do you have eight hours to spend with a client?" said Huber. "Even if they may not be died-in-the-wool golf enthusiasts, they would do anything to see Tiger."

And if they are into golf, it can be a learning experience as well as a joy to watch.

"I'm anxious to see how the pros play," chipped in Hurley, a Southern Hills member who will also serve as a volunteer at the tournament. …