Erica Kerner, SVP and head of marketing strategy and commercial partnerships for ONE Championship, had a fight on her hands.
Both of the activities the brand is involved in, mixed martial arts (MMA) and esports, tend to be viewed as masculine by the public. It was logical to assume that people would also perceive the company's internal culture to be one of testosterone saturation. However, the company actually has a longstanding culture of equal treatment, compensation and promotion for all of its female athletes. In addition, the leadership team at ONE is nearly 50% female—although its male leaders tended to dominate in the public eye.
Kerner won the Women Leadership Program award in the 2020 Women Leading Change Awards for a program she devised to attack this problem head-on. Women@ONE aimed to reach both internal and external audiences with the company's story of equality for both athletes and staff.
The program included a wide range of initiatives and, under Kerner’s leadership, touched every part of the organization, leading to fundamental changes in the culture and actions of the team.
The program included:
- A series of internal events, as well as external events in all key APAC markets promoting and empowering women's equality and addressing business leaders, agencies, CMOs, and women’s networks in each market.
- Outreach to commercial partners to counter the perception that ONE was only male-oriented and therefore not a good partnership opportunity for female-focused brands. This effort, which involved female leaders from many functions—media rights, analytics, business development, performance marketing and client success—helped change the perception and signed many brands targeting women, including L’Oreal.
- CSR activities promoting women’s empowerment and fighting bullying. Initiatives here included an International Women’s Day activation and a partnership with Evolve Gyms to develop programs that help girls use the skills they learn practicing martial arts to grow their confidence, awereness, and both physical and mental toughness.
- Centering female athletes in marketing and social media. As one of the only mixed-gender sports to have female athletes as the title bout in many events, ONE frequently features female athletes as the key message in global communications, showing fans of any gender that the female athletes are on equal footing with the men. With 20 million Facebook fans and a typical audience of 30 million for event broadcasts, the company believes this is one of the best ways it can help change attitudes.
The Internal International Women’s Day (IWD) campaign mentioned above saw the Women@ONE leaders program working with United Women (formerly UN Women) to participate in its Each for Equal global campaign. Kerner led the team to work with ONE's internal CSR team to build the concept, its ONE Elite Agency to enlist top female and male athletes, and its ONE Production unit to film them all over the world sharing their support for women’s empowerment. The marketing team then amplified the campaign across all ONE's channels.
The company asserts that Women@ONE had significant impacts both outside and within the company. The program has changed the culture at ONE, which now sees inclusion as a fundemental right and has taken ownership of its power to change attitudes and make lasting change with its commercial partners and fans around the world.