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Published November 10, 2003
The only thing Chris Weil wants to do more than be chairman and CEO of Momentum Worldwide is to demonstrate his sailing acumen.
The voyages Weil took during a year off after college included a 2,800-mile boat delivery from Hawaii to Alaska. His first jobs in sports were in and around sailing. Someday, he said, he'd like to run an America's Cup syndicate.
For now, however, he's happy charting the course of one of the largest sponsorship/marketing/activation agencies. IPG's Momentum seems to be one of those exceptions that proves the rule. While the many roll-ups of the late '90s are struggling, Momentum has grown from 57 people to around 1,500, with $1 billion in billings and $150 million in revenue, during the past six years.
At a time when the squeeze on marketing budgets has cut into every agency's performance, Momentum is standing tall and has four of the biggest and most demanding brands in the world as its core clients: American Express (U.S. Open, NBA, Tiger Woods), Anheuser-Busch (varied retail activation), Coke (NASCAR, NCAA) and General Motors (Buick's many golf tourneys and Tiger Woods).
For years, ad agencies had the upper hand when it came to creative ideas. Now that clients the size and scope of Coke have come to the conclusion that ideas should take precedence over an agency's reputation, Momentum has been in a good position to prosper.
Madison Avenue has been talking about the value of full-service shops for years. Momentum is one of very few shops that could negotiate talent deals and plan retail activation for Coke, along with producing some spots for its "Football Town" thematic.
For a man who works with some of the biggest sports properties in the world, Weil is much more intrigued by music. The agency has done huge concerts linking clients such as AOL with the Dave Matthews Band in Central Park, or Sting with the recent launch of an American Express product in Chicago's Grant Park.
"Sports is very expensive and crowded, and it is really hard to recommend it right now," Weil said. "There's a lot more room for creativity with music."
Momentum's clients have such strong in-house marketing and sports marketing expertise, its ideas better be good. His advice for dealing with clients of that size and scope?
"It's a balancing act," said Weil, who was brought in to run Momentum's New York office in 1997, left on a mission to unite the company's 28 European offices in 2000 and returned as chairman early this year. "You have to listen and at the same time not be afraid to pitch new ideas that activate brands that are often independent of any particular medium."
Accordingly, Momentum has 192 "creatives" in North America. Sponsorship marketing, event marketing, promotional marketing and retail marketing are Momentum's core services. Still, there are two things that really make Weil happy.
One is seeing an idea grow from an inspiration to a sponsorship and a full-fledged retail program. The other is watching an agency crafted by more than 30 acquisitions work together.
So, yeah, the fact that Momentum will be the master licensee for next year's UEFA Cup in Portugal is nice, but for Weil, the really intriguing part is who's behind it.
"We've got an Israeli office and a German office working on a pan-European project," Weil said. "It doesn't get much better."
With 62 offices around the globe, that ever-elusive synergy is Weil's top priority. Those who know him say he's the right man for a task that every agency finds difficult to accomplish.
"He's a hands-on manager with an ability to take the pulse of a lot of cultures simultaneously," said Mark Dowley, the former chairman of Interpublic Sports & Entertainment Group, who hired Weil to run Momentum's New York office. "Chris has a good touch with people; they want to follow him and succeed with him — that's what makes a good leader."