Deeper Partnerships Yield Additional Advertising Revenue at Ontario Int’l

Deeper Partnerships Yield Additional Advertising Revenue at Ontario Int’l
Nicole Nelson
Published in: 

Establishing relationships. Building relationships. Sustaining relationships.

This simple, yet effective, approach recently helped Ontario International Airport more than double its in-house advertising revenue.

The change in strategy was implemented at the Southern California airport as part of a COVID reset. “When the pandemic happened, we used that time to really reevaluate every single aspect of our business,” explains Chief Executive Officer Atif Elkadi. “One of the things that our board of commissioners was very specific about is they wanted to ensure that we are building deep relationships and not just creating transactional relationships.”

To this end, the Authority Board approved an agreement with Fuse Advancement LLC to collaborate with airport staff on a new advertising and sponsorship sales model. The new partnership, which began in 2021, emphasizes continual growth by building on joint relationships.


Project: Increasing In-House Advertising Revenue

Location: Ontario (CA) Int’l Airport

Strategy: Establishing & developing deeper relationships with advertisers; leveraging cross-promotional opportunities

Advertising Consultancy: Fuse Advancement LLC

New Advertisers: Santo Spirits; Hawaiian Airlines; Barclays Bank; Brewery X; University of Redlands

Additional Partnerships: Sammy Hagar, famed rock musician & part owner of Santo Spirits, recorded welcome announcement for airport

Results: Ad revenues more than doubled to $1.7 million during first 18 months of strategy change & collaborating with Fuse

Gone are the days when airport personnel would tell companies how much it cost to advertise at the terminal, and then never speak to them again until the contracts expired. “We were very deliberate in saying that we wanted to build relationships with partners and continue building those relationships even as the advertising is going up within our terminal,” says Elkadi. “Fuse’s focus has been finding the relationship, building the relationship and helping us sustain it. That is really where the genesis of all of this came about. It is a completely different mindset.”

Test Run

The team at ONT connected with Scott Jacobson, founder and chief executive of Fuse, during the throes of COVID, when passengers were by and large not traveling.

“Based on what Scott saw at different airports during his travels, he approached us with the idea of taking a look at relationships a little bit differently,” Elkadi recalls. “We decided if there was any time to try something new and different, this would be the time.”

From that conversation, ONT decided to give the Fuse method a shot, and considered the first year a test run. Elkadi describes the results that have transpired as nothing less than astounding.

“There are companies that are advertising in our terminals we never thought would ever consider being in there, from Audi and Porsche to Sammy Hagar’s Santo Tequila,” he relates. “And those are all because of Fuse and their relationships. Once we got that momentum built, we just capitalized on it, and it just took off from there.”

Spirited Beginning

Santo Spirits, a business collaboration between rock musician Sammy Hagar, television chef/restaurateur Guy Fieri and one other owner, is a prime example of ONT’s new relationship-oriented approach. Jacobson leveraged his pre-existing relationship with the third partner of the alcoholic beverage company to approach the company about advertising at ONT.

“Sammy [Hagar] is from the Inland Empire and calls the Ontario International Airport his home airport,” Jacobson explains. But when the advertising consultant approached his contact at Santo Spirits about advertising there, he received a predictable response: “This is a pandemic. Why would we advertise at the airport?”

Undeterred, Jacobson talked to the company about a more robust partnership beyond advertising; and soon the dialogue changed. When presented with the additional opportunity for introductions to food and beverage operators at the airport, Santo Spirits agreed to the proposed advertising opportunity.

“I did not promise (Santo Spirits) anything at all, because that’s completely separate,” Jacobson specifies. “I just tried to make relationships.”

The networking/matchmaking worked. Santo began advertising at ONT—and selling product to airport concessionaires it met through introductions made by Fuse and ONT. “Santo quickly became the second best-selling spirit in the terminal,” Jacobson reports.

From there, the relationship-building effort continued to snowball. Because Hagar is a well-known musician from the area, Jacobson asked him to record a welcome message for ONT to play in the baggage claim area.

Hagar was happy to help. Now, after passengers land, they hear, “Hey, this is rocker Sammy Hagar. Welcome to Ontario. This is my home airport. Enjoy your stay in Inland Empire.”

And There’s More

Parlaying that success, Fuse turned its focus to the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture in nearby Riverside. Jacobson negotiated a stand-alone agreement that enables the use of Cheech Marin’s voice for audio recordings that publicize the accredited museum at the airport. 

“Again, it started with just advertising,” he remarks. “But through building that relationship, Cheech Marin lent his voice to welcome everyone to Inland Empire and talk about Chicano and Latino art and highlight their museum.”

Jacobson notes that having ONT leadership behind the new model has been important. Now, the airport’s advertising program is about much more than one-time ad placements and associated monthly revenues. 

“We are always looking at how we can build and layer on to other interesting and unique opportunities to partner to do cool things,” he explains. “Then, what happens is other brands and other companies quickly catch on and want to do the same.”

Using that approach, Fuse has not only dramatically increased in-house advertising, it has also has broadened and elevated the brands in ONT’s portfolio to include more national and international companies. In addition to Santo, Hawaiian Airlines and Barclays Bank now advertise at the Southern California airport. From the local area, Brewery X in Anaheim and University of Redlands also recently joined the mix, along with Good Day L.A. and the local Fox TV affiliate. “The level and quality of people who want to be a part of what’s going on here is really awesome,” he remarks.

Elkadi says he is beyond happy with the progress ONT has made since establishing a relationship with Fuse. Revenue from in-house advertising and partnership programs increased to $1.7 million from February 2021 to November 2022, and even more growth is expected as demand for air travel in Southern California surges. ONT is not only the primary airport for the Inland Empire, but also one of the fastest-growing airports in the United States, he advises.

“As cliché as it might sound, we are all in this together as we continue to grow the airport in a very competitive region in Southern California,” Elkadi concludes.

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