SBJ/March 20 - 26, 2006/Forty Under 40

Ellen Lucey

ELLEN LUCEY
COCA-COLA CO.

By Bill King
Senior writer

Ellen Lucey
Age: 34
Title: Senior manager, sports marketing
Company: Coca-Cola Co.
Education: B.S, kinesiology, Indiana University, 1993.
Family: Husband, Stefan Manford; son Quinn, 3; daughter Norah, 3 months
Career: An internship with the U.S. Olympic Committee led to first job as an associate at Lang & Associates from 1994-98; worked as a project manager at Coca-Cola from 1998-2000; managed NASCAR marketing for Coke from 2001-03; promoted to senior manager, overseeing relationships with the NBA, NHL and LeBron James, in 2003.
Last vacation: St. Maarten and St. Barths in February
Last book read: With a new baby at home, it’s been awhile, but I have “Three Nights in August” by Buzz Bissinger on my nightstand.
Last movie seen: “Walk the Line”
Pet peeve: Being late
Greatest achievement: After my children, I’d say the swim scholarship to college and my relationship with LeBron James.
Greatest disappointment: Not winning an NCAA title with my college team
Fantasy job: Swim coach for the U.S. Olympic team
Executive most admired: Bea Perez (vice president, media, sports and entertainment marketing for Coca-Cola). She has been a mentor for me.
Business advice: Focus on your objective and stay true to the brand.

To swim competitively while in her last two years of high school in suburban Washington, D.C., Ellen Lucey had to rise at 4:04 a.m. for practice. It was an improvement over the years before she could drive, when she set the alarm for 3:55.

Her parents insisted that if they were going to drive her, she had to be the one to wake them up. She had to prove she wanted to go.

"When that clock hit 4:04 every morning, it was kind of ugly," said Lucey, who swam her way to a scholarship at Indiana University, where she was captain of the team her junior and senior years. "But it taught me that if I wanted something, there were things I had to do to get it. So I just did it. It wasn't something I questioned. I just did."

Lucey says that experience as a competitive swimmer serves her well today in her role managing Coca-Cola's sports marketing relationships with the NBA and NHL, along with its endorsement deals with elite pitchman LeBron James, who is in the third year of a six-year deal to pump Sprite and Powerade.

Last year, Lucey took James to an unlikely locale — a NASCAR race held in the mountains of Tennessee — to promote FLAVA 23, the Powerade flavor that mirrors James' jersey number. There, Coke unveiled a special paint scheme, with Powerade FLAVA taking the place of Interstate Batteries on the car driven by Bobby Labonte. James showed up to promote the brand during prerace, then spent 55 laps in the pits before heading up to Coke's suite. He even fired a high-arcing jumper at a rim perched atop the steep bank of Turn 2 — and made it with cameras rolling.

The payoff: more than 75 million consumer impressions, including 31 national TV hits, for FLAVA. The program, which also included a King James superhero comic produced by DC Comics, was nominated for a Horizon Award in the category Best Sports Business Integrated Marketing Plan.

"LeBron really understands the business of branding himself, so he was quite excited," Lucey said. "He saw it as a huge opportunity not only for Powerade, but for himself.

"That's the power of the relationship that LeBron saw. We had an interest in building a LeBron brand as well as the Powerade and Sprite brands. He saw the power of combining all those together."

One of Lucey's successes managing Coke's NASCAR sponsorship also involved promoting across properties. In 2003, Coke brought seven finalists from "American Idol," which it sponsors, to Lowe's Motor Speedway to sing the national anthem before the Coca-Cola 600, the race that is the signature of its NASCAR portfolio. Coke has brought Idol's finalists back to the race each year since then.

"It was really the start of the whole idea that Coke could bring unique things together and exploit that," Lucey said. "The whole melding of entertainment and sports is where we see the future."

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