SBJ/February 28 - March 6, 2005/Forty Under 40

Jon Podany

JON PODANY, PGA TOUR

BY NOAH LIBERMAN
STAFF WRITER

Jon Podany’s early marketing training was pretty common for the sports world: He was a brand manager at Procter & Gamble, which has graduated hordes of brand managers into sports marketing.

Jon Podany
• Age: 39
• Title: Senior vice president, brand development and integration
• Organization: PGA Tour
• Education: B.S., finance, Miami (Ohio) University, 1987
• Family: Wife, Julie; daughters Nikki, 10, Morgan, 8, and Kelli, 5
• Career: Began as a cost analyst at Procter & Gamble, rising to brand manager of Safeguard and then Pert Plus; joined the PGA Tour in 1995 as a director of business development, switching over to the brand-development side in 1999 and reaching the senior vice president level last year.
• Last vacation: Aspen, Colo., in January
• Last book read: "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown
• Last movie seen: "Million Dollar Baby"
• Greatest achievement: 13 years of a happy marriage and three wonderful daughters
• Greatest disappointment: Not becoming a starting quarterback at the collegiate level
• Fantasy job: NFL quarterback
• Executive most admired: John Wooden (OK, so he's a coach)
• Business advice: Treat people the way you would like to be treated and give your best effort in everything that you do and things tend to fall into place.
But what happened after that wasn’t as predictable. Podany came to the PGA Tour in 1995 to sit on the other side of the table, selling the property into the sponsorship world. The tour was looking for someone who knew the workings of the sponsor mind — especially in categories outside of cars and financial services — and Podany filled the bill. But it was eye-opening at times.

“Certainly it’s a challenge, because having been on the other side, I know there are so many opportunities a company can consider, getting 50 or 100 proposals in six months and weeding through to find what’s a good fit for your brand,” he said. “But the toughest part I found was just getting to the right people at the right company to make your case. What we had to offer, once we got that far, was pretty good.”

But a few years after Podany arrived, something else unpredictable happened. The tour got interested in spicing up its own brand image, and it turned to Podany, putting him back in the role of brand steward. Today he is one of only two senior vice presidents under the age of 40 at the PGA Tour, an organization that is not known for having young guns in management positions or for having a lot of turnover at the top.

“He really is one of the bright lights at the tour,” said John Von Stade, a vice president at Velocity Sports & Entertainment, which has numerous corporate clients in golf sponsorship. “Jon has the understanding of the consumer marketplace to raise the PGA Tour brand profile beyond the standard target.”

Podany is behind the tour’s increasing use of clever, edgy self-promotion. The current “These Guys Are Good” campaign is the longest-running campaign of any major sports property, but it gets regular updates that always put a little extra backspin on the message. A campaign set to break in late February had the tour’s No. 1 golfer, Vijay Singh, trudging out onto a frozen lake past ice fishermen, drilling his own hole in the ice and practicing his putting.

One of the fishermen tells his pals, “I hear the greens are pretty slick on the tour this year.”

Even the tour’s “Drive To A Billion” campaign, touting its imminent charitable milestone, has an artsy feel. Tour players known for their success in various tournaments will appear in front of road signs with the city names and — instead of the population — the dollar amount given to charity by the local tournament.

Every tour partner feels an investment in the PGA Tour brand, and that means roughly 300 title sponsors, umbrella sponsors, retail licensees, tournaments and tour-branded retail outlets, then another 700 or so players.

“The most vexing thing is that everyone seems to have an opinion on advertising and the brand,” Podany said. “So weeding through the range of opinions to try to put out a product that we think delivers the right message can be a challenge.”

Podany’s notable rise at the PGA Tour shows he’s meeting that challenge.

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