SBJ/Sept. 20-26, 2010/Opinion

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  • Labor casts long shadow

    If the NFL were a Hollywood summer release, its opening would rank as a blockbuster. Ratings for the league’s kickoff were up significantly in the biggest windows, especially in prime time, and the Back To Football promotional effort matched fan interest in seeing the game’s return.

    Despite this focus on the field, the undertow of the NFL labor talks pulled the league and the players into a story line that bears watching. Many players took to the field before their openers and offered a show of solidarity by thrusting a finger in the air to signify “one” union, together, strong and unified. It could be seen as a public slap at ownership, who secretly believes it can break players’ will after a few missed paychecks.
    Some found the gesture striking; others found it worthless. Fans in at least one market booed. When asked about the reaction, Vikings player rep Steve Hutchinson said, “I don’t know if they just misunderstood what that was supposed to mean. Maybe they thought that was a different finger being stuck up there.” Fans got what the players were inferring, but to their credit, they don’t want it rubbed in their face.
    When will players and owners understand there is no public appetite for disputes over money? The public won’t be a constituency that will take a side. The public won’t be a vocal advocate for either group. So don’t court them with antics that you feel may be powerful. They might deem them demeaning. If the labor tensions continue to creep onto Sunday story lines, the NFL’s blockbuster opening may quickly lose its legs.

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  • Successful leadership DNA includes a few common strands

    Successful leaders who have devoted themselves to a career in the world of sports share a common thread of DNA. But if you Google up “Theories of Leadership” there are only 8,300,000 to choose from.
    Role models don’t always make great leaders. We care more about the latest skinny on “Jersey Shore’s” Snooki and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” than doing something about the growing epidemic of childhood obesity. We spend more time breaking down our upcoming fantasy league drafts than building up a broken educational system. We live in a world of nano-second affirmation and even speedier deconstruction. It would have been instructive to have heard what John Wooden thought about the antics of the LeBron James “Decision.”
    The only leadership consistency that I have seen is inconsistency. When successful organizations go under the microscope, you will see that there is consistent high-quality leadership at all levels. That successful leadership DNA strain is composed of the Eleven T’s. Think of the sports industry’s best and brightest — these should fit them to a T.
    1. AFFINITY: The hours and pressures of the job mean that you can’t fake the way you get along with colleagues. The compatibility factor always shines through between leaders and their co-workers when times are the toughest.
    2. AGILITY: Today’s world calls for incredible changes of pace to keep up with changing market conditions. If you can’t go to your left, then work on that move. If you are a winner-take-all negotiator, try beating your opponent senseless with a carrot instead of a stick every once in awhile.
    3. CREATIVITY: Sports is a business that is defined by a herd mentality. A good idea causes the line to form. Leadership shouldn’t get stuck in a “Groundhog Day” thinking. Changing how you approach the business of your business is critical. Look to the outside world of creative business solutions, not just the best practices of your sport.
    4. HILARITY: Working in sports is a marathon, not a sprint, whether it is a season or a career made up of many seasons. It’s a job with serious goals and objectives, bottom lines, wins and losses, hirings and firings, promotions and demotions, elation and deflation. In the end it is only a game. I have seen many leaders lose their way by weaving a web of woe. Show a sense of humor and a bit of wackiness every once in a while. It will lighten the load for everybody.
    5. HONESTY: The most respected leaders tell the truth, good, bad or ugly. Think of the hardest teacher you had in high school or college. They never let you slide as you cursed them under your breath. A few years after graduation you realized they gave you the best education. The same is true with great leaders: They can pat you on the back and kick you in the gut without compromising the organization’s view on how to succeed.
    6. HUMILITY: One of the many potential addictions in the sports industry that befalls leaders is defining themselves by what they do, not who they are. When they lose their way they can take their organizations over the edge. Your business card and title should never control your true sense of self.
    7. LOYALTY: Leaders ask their staffs to invest their loyalty for the greater good of the organization. When a season goes wrong there is usually collateral damage in the form of terminations. Loyalty Street should always be a two-way avenue for team success.
    8. MOBILITY: Mobility is leadership by walking around. Many executives barricade themselves in their office castles with a moat, a closed door and a fire-breathing executive assistant. The simplest way to lead is to walk around the office every day. The two-minute face-to-face is usually more productive than the 90-minute conference room agenda-driven meeting. At your venue, it makes sense to get out and walk around, sit with fans, and visit with game-day staff.
    9. OPPORTUNITY: As a leader, everyone is going to want a piece of you. Think of those who mentored or spent time with you when you were banging phones trying to sell season tickets or breaking down video until 3 a.m. Every young person in your organization who wants to spend a few minutes with you deserves your attention.
    10. SIMPLICITY: Between multitasking, social media of the moment, meetings by the moment and crisis management, the life of a leader is growing more and more complicated. The great ones create simplicity without dumbing down the product. If you can’t explain what you are up to in two or three sentences, it probably isn’t worth explaining. Many great leaders get people to do what they want while having others think it’s what they want.
    11. UNITY: Most sports organizations are split into quarters with ownership, business operations, team operations and finance existing on different planets. “Ubuntu” is an African term that is generally defined as unselfishness and team unity. The spirit of Ubuntu that teams on the field strive for can become even more powerful if the entire organization lives it.
    I don’t know which of those 8 million-plus leadership styles guarantees success. There are no magic wands, lanterns, carpets, silver bullets, secret handshakes, codes, Rosetta Stones, catchy phrases, or best-selling books that guarantee leadership success. It stands the test of time that human beings working together have accomplished far more than the sum of their individual efforts and capabilities. They have committed themselves to something larger than the individual. Leaders live teamwork every day, and the great ones make it happen.
    Andy Dolich (andy.dolich@gmail.com) has more than four decades of experience in the professional sports industry, including executive positions in the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL.

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  • This week's cartoon

  • How marketers should plan with a potential lockout looming

    Players demonstrationThe players' demonstration was a stark reminder to marketers of the NFL's labor uncertainty.
    Ronald Martinez

    The on-field demonstration by Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints players before the first game of the NFL regular season, and by other players before the season’s first Sunday games, was a stark reminder that the long offseason of negotiations and posturing between the league and the players association will continue to be a topic of conversation. Most corporate marketers are already deep in planning for 2011, making it imperative that they prepare for multiple scenarios as we head into the uncertainty of a new collective-bargaining agreement or potentially a lockout for 2011.
    Can a lockout be avoided? Sure. We all would love nothing more than to have fears dissipate and the lockout averted. However, the NFL has negotiated its television deals to maintain revenue levels in the event of a stoppage, and concurrently, the NFL Players Association has told its members to put away 25 percent of their 2010 salaries and increased association dues in preparation for a long standoff.
    The deep entrenchment of both sides, the amount of money involved and the short- and long-term contractual legacy indicates that there is a strong potential for a lockout. It’s abundantly clear that both sides are already deep in preparation for that possibility.
    Marketers need to also be prepared and develop their game plans for the 2011 season. Regardless if you are a league sponsor, team sponsor, use players in your campaigns or some combination of the aforementioned, your brand will be affected by a work stoppage. Do you continue down the path of activation planning in the hope that a new CBA is reached? Do you scale back your programs so you have less exposure in the event of a lockout?
    The players’ demonstration was a stark reminder to marketers of the NFL’s labor uncertainty.
    There is no boilerplate solution, but marketers need to be looking at all potential scenarios and timing around their NFL marketing campaigns and their business objectives.
    The following are some of the steps that brands with NFL investments should be considering:

    1. Conduct a legal review of your current NFL agreements.
    With a potential lockout looming on the horizon, it is critically important that you analyze your current league, team and player endorsement deals to fully understand the contractual language or force majeure provisions (a clause that suspends or terminates contracts due to acts that cannot be controlled) and how your organization may be affected.
    The question, in absence of specific lockout language that may be in your sponsorship contract, is how your organization may be affected or protected by your agreement. Are you working with your general counsel to determine what the implications might be?

    2. Protect yourself from a competitive blitz.
    As a league sponsor, your brand has had the luxury of the sponsorship agreement with the NFLPA and its protection on player usage by competitors. When the current CBA expires on March 4, the players association’s sponsorship agreement will expire as well.
    The players association has already put its stake in the ground with a letter to all league sponsors, making it clear that they will now be free to speak to any companies they like, and will aggressively pursue competitive deals should you not come to a new separate deal directly with the association. Your competitors might have an opportunity to circumvent your league deal to do a player association deal during the lockout. Another question to ask is whether a player-only deal has any merit with no games being played.

    3. Audit other sponsorship platforms within your portfolio and determine if other sponsorships can fill the promotional void without the NFL.
    Does your brand have other national/local sponsorships in its current portfolio that cover the promotional windows and, perhaps more importantly, can you ramp those up to cover the loss of NFL programming? Those agreements are in place with activation and your internal organization already has familiarity with activating around them. They may have been complementary to your football programming, but now they may need to take a lead position with increased budget support and promotional activation. Can another property replace the NFL in your promotional calendar?

    4. Review potential sponsorships that may fill the gap on your portfolio if there is a lockout.
    There’s a very good chance that the NFL is the largest priority or only sponsorship in your portfolio, so you may need to evaluate other platforms or properties that you don’t currently partner with. Do you look toward college football or do the other major professional sports hit your target audience or geographies? Do you look outside the sports landscape for partnership platforms around music, entertainment or cause marketing?
    There’s much work to be done — and some of it is likely under way. Protecting your investment requires a dedicated effort with a sincere focus. It won’t be easy, but in the end, it will provide the best safe haven for your brand in the event of a lockout.
    Once you’ve done your analysis, planning and built your playbook for 2011, sit back and enjoy this NFL season.
    Greg Busch (gbusch@gmrmarketing.com) is executive vice president of client management for GMR Marketing.

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  • FIFA, Coca-Cola build excitement with World Cup trophy tour

    Fan experienceThe Coca-Cola and FIFA brands take center stage in Red Square.

    Before Spain celebrated its first FIFA World Cup championship in July, nearly 1 million fans had already gotten closer to soccer’s most prized possession than most of the players who competed.
    The 2010 FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour by Coca-Cola was one of the largest and most ambitious experiential marketing campaigns ever mounted, bringing the trophy to 94 cities in 84 countries across five continents over 225 days. The tour, managed by experiential marketing company Ignition (Editor’s note: where Dao is vice president of special projects), was a monumental celebration complete with music, dancing and cause marketing tie-ins all designed to create a global celebration.
    The experience was a high-energy manifestation of Coca-Cola’s “What’s Your Celebration?” theme. This global marketing campaign was inspired by the goal celebrations seen in soccer and invited fans to express their own passion and excitement for the FIFA World Cup.
    Qualitative research studies in select trophy tour markets showed upward of 79 percent of consumers reported an increase in excitement for the FIFA World Cup. Most markets visited also showed an increase in overall sales of Coca-Cola products compared with the same period last year.
    While these points of measurement are important, it is impossible to quantify the value of a campaign that had people dancing in the streets. Sports has a unique, emotional, unifying effect. Creating an experience that allowed people to realize a sports fantasy tapped into the joy and passion people have for the FIFA World Cup and for Coca-Cola.
    The campaign, though unique in scale, used several strategies to create brand experiences with authentic, personal and lasting meaning that are relevant to campaigns of all sizes.

    The game plan

    As campaign manager, Ignition worked with Coca-Cola and its partner FIFA to ensure the execution met their brand and campaign vision at every step. The goals were clear: grow brand love, drive sales, enhance the credible association between the Coca-Cola brand and FIFA World Cup, and bring the trophy to as many fans around the world as possible.
    Planning began in the fall of 2008. The planning team conducted regional road shows to share the plan after it was set and help each local Coca-Cola partner develop local activations to engage and excite members of their communities.
    Partners in Thailand put in place a very strong promotional program, giving media special access to the tour in order to reach consumers. Special attention was also paid to engage event employees and build the same level of excitement shared by attendees. In Moscow, the campaign made history as it was the first time a brand was allowed on Red Square. The combination of a strong central group (to plan, create materials and ensure consistent messages) and an expert and diverse network of local-market teams (who know their communities better than anyone) made the tour a success. The approach was to empower local markets to build buzz to seed pre-tour excitement, rev up the interest in the experience and capitalize on good will even after the big celebration.

    Staying flexible on the field

    The best teams excel by preparing effectively and adapting to what comes at them on the field. The same goes for managing events and campaigns. The ideal way to address challenges is by identifying and preparing for them in advance, but often, that’s not enough. Creativity and flexibility are also essential.
    Transportation was one of the biggest hurdles facing the tour out of the gate. There were few direct flights, and the luggage didn’t exactly fit in an overhead bin. Essential pieces of the experience included a specially designed 3-D movie, a 4-by-8-meter projection screen and newly developed photo-imaging equipment that allowed consumers to instantly take home pictures taken with the trophy. A chartered plane and close cooperation with local airport officials in advance helped to avoid any travel interruptions.
    Unforeseen obstacles such as political instability, natural disasters, and the security risks of carrying around a priceless asset like the FIFA World Cup trophy required organizers to have contingency plans for every conceivable issue along with a tour schedule with built-in flexibility to prevent the tour from getting derailed. The tour was forced to leave Kazakhstan a day early due to the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland’s Mount Eyjafjallajokull making its way into Middle Eastern airspace. Also, due to overwhelming excitement, several stops saw attendance higher than expected. Not wanting to provide a bad brand experience, the tour was able to accommodate and involve all who arrived.

    Giving back

    Too often, mobile tours blow through a city with no consideration of the impact they have on a community. Aligning your campaign with a relevant cause not only helps build brand loyalty, but most importantly, it leaves a legacy with the local community.
    To ensure a positive legacy, Ignition worked with Coca-Cola to incorporate support of a cause: building awareness to bring clean drinking water to people in need through a program called Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN). Local clean water projects were highlighted in each market through VIP events and press conferences. While the primary focus was building awareness, some stops even sold merchandise, donating all proceeds to RAIN water projects.
    Sports marketers are fortunate to have a built-in audience of fans. With the trophy tour, Coca-Cola gave fans an experience you can’t put a price tag on: the opportunity to see the FIFA World Cup Trophy up close — a luxury typically reserved for FIFA World Cup winners.
    Focusing on the human element is critical to creating immediate and long-term benefits for any event or campaign. Engaging in meaningful ways with local communities, playing “good defense” and giving back along the way can help make any event or campaign a success.
    Because ultimately, brands don’t just want “consumers.” They want fans.

    Daniel Dao (daniel.dao@ignition-inc.com) is vice president of special projects for Ignition and managed the campaign logistics of the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour, presented by Coca-Cola.

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