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There are agencies that thrive because the founder is well-connected from years in marketing, and there are agencies that succeed because of expertise in agency management or an early reputation for creative wizardry.
Atlanta’s CSE can’t point to any of those as reasons for its success.
Lonnie Cooper started CSE 27 years ago without any agency experience. But he had enough foresight to see that a sub-6-foot NBA player would be highly marketable, and he was a talented enough schmoozer to successfully cold call the player outside the Atlanta Hawks’ locker room in 1986. The result was a promotion tying together Coca-Cola, Church’s fried chicken and Spud Webb.
Lonnie Cooper (left), who started CSE 27 years ago, chats with marketing president Adam Zimmerman. Clients say the firm is good at anticipating their needs.
Photo by:MARC BRYAN-BROWN
From his mother, now 86, Cooper took some enduring values: “Treat people right, use your gut, and trust yourself.’’
Those words have been the foundation of a corporate culture that’s permeated the agency.
“They’re just smart,’’ said Daryl Evans, AT&T vice president of consumer advertising and marketing communications, about CSE. He’s been working with the agency since 2001. “Lonnie has a gift for growing and maintaining relationships, and you can see that’s permeated the company. He’s just as human as he can be and he hires that kind of people.”
Early on, Cooper gravitated from being in the scrap-metal business, to working as a DJ, to selling desk-blotter coupons. It’s the coalescing power of his personality that eventually allowed him to build up from running a coaches representation firm to having a multiservice marketing agency with brand clients that are household names, including AT&T, Aflac, Coke, Kellogg’s and The Home Depot.
Cooper is mum on billings for his privately held shop, but other indicators of growth are impressive. CSE has mushroomed from 52 to 186 employees over the past three years and next spring will move into a new space in Atlanta’s Cobb Galleria area that’s almost twice as large as the company’s current 31,000-square-foot office tower home.
The agency’s offerings have increased with client demand, especially in fertile areas like marketing analytics, content creation, social and digital — a sector that has grown to have a staff of 36 on its own.
The force of Cooper’s character was evident years before he was “The Boogie Man of Rock & Roll” on Georgia radio. Cooper’s leadership abilities and innate social talent boosted him to class president every year he was in high school.
So maybe CSE is best described as a cult of personality. In a marketing world where the attrition rate is only slightly less than what’s seen in the world of pro sports teams, with their annual roster overhauls, CSE’s continuity is an anomaly. Clients and employees are in it for the long haul.
Former MLB pitcher and current broadcaster John Smoltz has been represented by Cooper and CSE since 1991.
CSE started working on Aflac’s sports marketing around 10 years ago. Today, CSE handles a variety of marketing duties for the company, including events and some advertising.
“Lonnie’s an amazing judge of talent, which has made him a great team builder and leader,’’ said Aflac Chief Marketing Officer Michael Zuna. “That probably came from his days evaluating sports and coaching talent. I want my agency to think, create and execute; they do all three of those well. So many agencies can only do one or two of those things.”
Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark has done work with CSE since his days at NASCAR more than a decade ago. “They’re smart and great relationship people; all that comes from Lonnie,” Yormark said. “It’s not a typical agency/client relationship with them. They can anticipate the needs of their clients before the clients do.”
Over the years, an agency that started by representing Webb and NBA coaches like Mike Fratello — and counts among its current clients Kevin McHale, Doc Rivers, Frank Vogel and Randy Wittman — has flipped the businesses around to where marketing is more than 80 percent of total revenue. The feeling within is that CSE’s legacy as a representation firm built a strong foundation.
“We started with people and learned about relationships that way,” said CSE Marketing President Adam Zimmerman, a 15-year CSE veteran.
As sports and business in the Southeast have grown, so too has CSE’s marketing business. It’s become multifunctional to include multicultural, experiential campaigns — including work on Coke’s sponsorship of the Mexican national soccer team and AT&T’s ties to the historically black colleges and universities. It also boasts an impressive amount of media production/content, event management, brand identity and design development, along with advertising, hospitality, strategic consulting and analytics, one of the many fields in which Cooper tired of using talent from outside the agency.
“Lonnie’s entrepreneurial enough that whenever we hire some vendor three or four times, he always asks about bringing them in-house,” said Doug Manning, senior vice president of marketing and a former CSE intern who has been with the firm since 1997.
Even those moves are made with long-term vision. Such is the value of being independent: CSE’s size and independence work in tandem to provide a base of discipline, even in the face of what might appear to be a gravy train of new revenue.
“Mobile and digital marketing are catnip for clients right now,” Zimmerman said. “It’s a gold rush, and you are irrelevant if you don’t have it. Give Lonnie credit for seeing that the discipline of analytics will be a real strength here in the long term.”
CSE runs a mobile tour that travels with NBC’s weekly “Sunday Night Football” telecast.
Photo by:VIRGINIA SHERWOOD / NBC
Other media clients include Turner Sports, CBS Sports, Fox Sports, Yahoo Sports and USA Today.
Down the road, Zimmerman sees continued growth in digital, social, mobile and multicultural areas. Cause marketing in general, and sustainability in particular, are areas in which he sees a growth in demand from corporate marketers and a likely melding of budgets.
“You see so much cause-related kept separate from the marketing side of many clients,” Zimmerman said. “We’re wondering how long that will continue.”
CSE recently hired Flo Bryan, former American Cancer Society managing director of corporate marketing alliances, as the agency’s first senior vice president of cause marketing. “Brands always wanted to be relevant to consumers; now they want to be likable,” Cooper said.
Cooper is an involved CEO, and he’s as enthusiastic about the three inter-CSE marriages as he is any other part of his business. His employees speak rhapsodically about a management style that allows employees an extra day off each month that doesn’t count against their vacation time, days known as Lonnie Days.
“I don’t want a ‘culture,’ but if I can create an atmosphere where people are excited to come to work, I’m happy,” Cooper said.
As one of the largest independent agencies in the business, CSE gets frequent inquiries from large agency holding companies seeking a beachhead in Atlanta. Usually those conversations are short, Cooper said, because the idea of relinquishing any interest in a company he owns 100 percent isn’t appealing.
“When you are building something, do you ever get to the point of, ‘I’ve done it?’” he said. “As an entrepreneur, I’m not there yet. I enjoy the business too much, and we’re still growing. This book’s not finished.”
Grey Goose vodka, a French brand with a substantial footprint in golf, has signed a three-year agreement to become an official marketing partner with the PGA Tour.
Grey Goose is a longtime title sponsor of the “19th Hole” talk show on Golf Channel, and it sponsors golfer Matt Kuchar as the brand’s golf ambassador.
The official marketing partnership with the tour “will enable us to have a deeper level of engagement” with golf fans, said Shane Graber, vice president and managing director for the brand.
Grey Goose will have brand positioning at all PGA Tour-owned and operated golf facilities, and the vodka will be highlighted at client functions and select tour events. In addition, Grey Goose will be featured in the PGA Tour-branded restaurants inside airports — the PGA Tour Grills.
Among the ad buys to which Grey Goose has committed are PGATour.com, “Inside the PGA Tour” on Golf Channel, and network specials produced by PGA Tour Entertainment.
Subway has extended its sponsorship deal with Michael Phelps, and the record-breaking Olympic swimmer will be featured with new Subway endorser, soccer legend Pelé, in a television commercial that will debut in the U.S. soon.
Neither Subway CMO Tony Pace nor Phelps’ agent, Peter Carlisle, Octagon’s managing director of Olympics and action sports, would reveal the terms of the extension other than to say it was a multiyear deal. Phelps first became a Subway endorser in 2008, and Carlisle said the agreement to extend the deal between the brand and the swimmer was completed this fall.
New endorser Pelé (below) will appear in ads with returning pitchman Michael Phelps for a new Subway product.
Pace, in an interview last week, said that a 15-second commercial featuring both Phelps and Pelé would air “in the next week or so” during a sports broadcast in the U.S., but would not provide any other details on where or when it would run. But Pace added that he could not think of another brand that used two global sports icons from different eras in the same commercial.
“Michael is one of those few guys who can be correctly characterized as the greatest of all time, and Pelé is correctly characterized as the greatest of all time,” Pace said. “So having the two of them, from the different sports, from the different time periods in which they competed, we think is a pretty powerful and almost universal message, which is positive for our brand.”
The first commercial will be used to unveil a new Subway product, Pace said. He would not disclose what the product was last week, although he dropped a hint. “Michael, in the pool, obviously, has got to have a good kick, and Pelé knows something about a good kick, too, and we relate that to a certain product we have coming out,” Pace said of the commercial.
Subway is the third major brand to renew a multiyear deal with Phelps following his retirement from swimming after the 2012 London Olympics. During four Olympics, Phelps won 18 gold medals and 22 medals overall, both of which are records. The other two major brands that extended multiyear deals since Phelps retired from competition are Visa and Omega, Carlisle said. Phelps’ other sponsors are Under Armour, Master Spas, Sol Republic, Ping and Speedo.
Many pundits predicted after the London Games that Phelps would soon fade from memory and his marketing deals would go away. “This is just proof positive that he has transcended the Olympic space and geography,” Carlisle said.
Carlisle said the Subway deal is especially good for his client, who he has represented since 2002, because Subway, which has more than 40,000 restaurants in 102 countries, activates all over the world. The association with Pelé, and with the 2016 Olympics set for Rio, only helps Phelps’ marketability, Carlisle added.
“An ad that pairs Michael with Pelé … to me that is so much more valuable than whatever cash component there is to that deal,” Carlisle said. “Because we are trying to establish a foundation in Brazil, which is not easy to do, and you take the greatest legend that country ever produced — it’s almost like you are having Pelé endorse Michael, in a way.”
Pace said he expected to use Pelé and Phelps together in advertising internationally but was mum on how Subway might use them in and around the Rio Games. Phelps has been rumored to be coming out of retirement for those Olympics.
Asked what he expected to achieve with the Pelé-Phelps campaign, Pace deadpanned, “Total brand dominance.” Then he added, “Every brand aspires to be truly differentiated and unique. That is why we try to do things of this magnitude.”
“Everyone from David Stern to Bud Selig to Roger Goodell is seeking to generate a better fan experience and make sure they keep people coming to the stadium, because otherwise with $300 and a credit card anyone can buy an HD screen and sit at home,” Knapple said. “This is a consulting-driven business model to create better fan experiences at a time when new builds are fewer and renovations are greater.”
Jeff Knapple is building a consulting-driven business model around the fan experience.
Photo by:SHANA WITTENWYLER
As an example of Van Wagner’s new model at work, Knapple cites the Minnesota Vikings, who have Van Wagner working in a variety of areas with the team’s $975 million stadium that’s scheduled to open in 2016. Van Wagner is helping with sponsorship strategy and marketing, among other things. Jordan and his team, a group already assisting MLBAM with Wi-Fi conversions in Major League Baseball parks, are helping with technology and infrastructure in the Vikings’ new stadium. Van Wagner also helped to design a marketing center for the facility, and it will help market and sell more than $125 million in seat licenses and premium seating.
Knapple said he’s looking to beef up Van Wagner’s corporate consulting, which counts Pepsi, Sanofi, York and MetLife as clients. Third-party rep business continues with national governing body U.S. Figure Skating as a principal client, and he’s hoping to expand the digital content business through an equity investment with CineSport.
“This is about trying to row the boat in the same direction as our clients when it comes to team and venue,” Knapple said.
> NAME GAME: Along with new ownership for the NHL’s beleaguered Phoenix Coyotes franchise has come a search for a new naming-rights sponsor for the hockey team’s home. Sources tell us that employment site Jobing.com, which has had its name on the not quite 10-year-old Glendale, Ariz., arena, is looking to get out of its deal.
The Phoenix Coyotes may be searching for a new naming-rights sponsor for their home.
Photo by:GETTY IMAGES
The real question is how much money there is in the Phoenix market. We recall that the neighboring University of Phoenix Stadium, home to the local NFL team, was not an easy sale and opened as Cardinals Stadium in 2006. Jobing.com was Glendale Arena for its first three years. Certainly, there’s some value in the Coyotes’ home rink being proximate to the home of the 2015 Super Bowl. And having been named and then lost two prior opportunities to host the NHL All-Star Game, the Coyotes should be near the head of that queue.
The Coyotes are hoping for a 10-year deal. Rob Yowell at Gemini Sports Group in Phoenix, who’s orchestrated naming-rights deals, including the Honda Center in Anaheim and Oracle Arena in Oakland, said the building is worth between $3 million and $4 million a year. Other sources tell us team officials are hoping for $5 million a year. It will take a lot of howling to get there.
> GOLDEN LINEUP: Rawlings’ annual Gold Glove awards ceremony returns to the Plaza Hotel New York this week, with headline talent including “King of Queens” star Kevin James. Mike Thompson, Rawlings senior vice president of marketing, said sponsors include Gold Sport Collectibles as the title, along with American Airlines, Bank of America, Baseball America and Sony.
Jamie Robinson’s Alliance Marketing Partners, Wynnewood, Pa., is Rawlings’ sports marketing agency of record.
> NEW BALANCING ACT: Two-time American League home run champ Jose Bautista is back as a New Balance endorser. The Toronto Blue Jays outfielder had earlier switched from New Balance to Reebok but is back with New Balance now in a head-to-toe deal that will make him the “face of New Balance in Canada,” said Radegen Sports Management President Alex Radetsky, Bautista’s marketing agent. Other high-profile New Balance MLB endorsers include Dustin Pedroia and Miguel Cabrera.
Terry Lefton can be reached at email@example.com.