SBJ/June 6-12, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

Under Armour tabs Optimum Sports for media buying

Sports apparel and footwear brand Under Armour has tabbed Omnicom Media Group’s Optimum Sports to plan and execute its media buying, along with some strategic and activation assignments. It marks the first time Under Armour, which passed $1 billion in revenue last year, has used an outside media agency.

Company insiders said it was a step fueled by the brand’s success under founder and CEO Kevin Plank.

“Kevin has us maniacally focused on our second, third and fourth billion, and beyond, as well as scaling for much bigger things, so this is a step in that direction,” said Steve Battista, Under Armour’s senior vice president of brand. “Optimum and [Managing Director] Tom McGovern know our industry and the sports media landscape well.”

Under Armour’s previous media planning and buying for its brand campaigns was handled in-house.

Optimum’s first assignment will be to fashion a media plan for a back-to-school campaign. Under Armour joins a roster at Optimum Sports including State Farm and Gatorade.

Sources said Optimum won an agency shootout that also included Interpublic Group’s Initiative Media.

Optimum prides itself on offering sports marketing advice beyond just media planning and buying, and Battista said the agency will help with sponsorship and retail activation.

“So much of the media plan is with partners, and we have launches with our big retail partners that have media components as well,” Battista said. “As we get more partners and more assets, media and nonmedia, we need to do a better job coordinating them all, and Optimum will help us there also.”

McGovern said, “We’ve spent a lot of time understanding the athlete as consumer, especially the high school athlete.
“Under Armour has a lot of assets, from Cal Ripken Baseball to the NFL, and we hope to create deeper engagements and find more and better ways to leverage them across social and traditional media.”

Like archrival Nike, Under Armour has a strong corporate culture. Also like Nike, that vibrant culture is insular enough that some outsiders find it difficult to contend with. The latest was Mark Dowley, who left in April after joining as executive vice president of brand and president of international in January.

“It’s like a family-run, publicly traded company,” said a marketer familiar with Under Armour’s inner workings. “Inside, they recognize now that outside advice and counsel would be helpful, but they also know that they have a culture worth preserving.”

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