SBJ/April 4-10, 2011/People and Pop Culture

New ESPN marketing exec has lifetime affinity for the Masters

Carol Kruse joined ESPN last October to oversee the sports media company’s marketing strategies. Kruse, who joined ESPN from Coca-Cola, describes herself as a big sports fan, one who has a special connection to the Masters. She has attended the event for the past seven years thanks to a rare pair of lifetime badges. Kruse spoke with staff writer John Ourand about the role social networking is playing on her marketing plans.

Title:
Senior vice president, marketing, ESPN

Previous title: Vice president, global interactive marketing, Coca-Cola Co.

First job: Commercial lender in Los Angeles Garment District

Education: Pomona College, B.A., international relations; MBA, University of Southern California

Resides: On the Delta shuttle between Atlanta and LaGuardia

Grew up: State College, Pa.

Brand most admired: Patagonia — for never compromising on quality and performance

Business executive most admired: Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page — for their constant innovation

Favorite vacation spot: Costa Rica

First album: My first 45 was “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen

Last movie: “Rango” with my daughter, Katherine

Favorite food: Sushi

Best commercial jingle: Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun — because I still remember it 30 years later

What’s it like marketing a tournament like the Masters, which seems to eschew all marketing?
You get the approval of Augusta National for everything you market. They’re really excited about airing the Masters in 3-D. It’s one of sports’ traditions embracing the new world with 3-D.

What challenges does your job present?
My world is really about building brands. When you have a brand that is as iconic as ESPN or Coca-Cola, the challenge always is to continue to make the brand relevant and appeal to the next generation while not doing anything that would alienate your current fans.

How has social media changed how you do your job?
When you get to the social world, consumers like to participate and own brands. That’s a change. Marketers are used to being able to control the message. Now, it’s really about leading a dialogue. Some of these new communications channels let us play up that personality. But it is a change.

How did your background prepare you for this job?
I did classic brand management at Clorox. Then I went to Silicon Valley and worked at a bunch of startups. Then, when my company got bought by Coca-Cola, I went back to a major iconic brand. I felt well prepared when I came to ESPN because it touched on all my different work experiences.

You’re a badge holder at the Masters. What does that mean?
For the rest of my life, I will have a pair of badges. You cannot pass them down. When my father dies, the two badges he has will not be passed down to anyone in the family. That’s why the wait list gets so long. I’m really fortunate to have them because they’re mine for the rest of my life.

Growing up, my father was always a big golf fan. He’s gone to the Masters 55 of the last 57 years. He started going to the Masters when they were begging people to go, which is hard to think about now, when the wait list to get badges exceeds people’s lifetimes.

Sometime in the early 1980s, golf hit a real dip in popularity. For a brief time period, they opened the list for badges. My father put my name down for two badges. Sure enough, 25 years later, I got my own set of Masters badges. While I’m not personally a golfer, I’m a big sports fan. The Masters is right up there with the world’s greatest sporting events every year. This is my eighth year that I’ll be going. For the first several years, I would go with my dad, which is kind of a special time. He’s not going as much now, but it’s an amazing sporting event.

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