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Volume 20 No. 42
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Brands find new ways to tell their stories

Going through my notebook from the inaugural SBJ/SBD Intersport Activation Summit:

We’re all publishers and storytellers — not just individuals, but brands, teams, events, properties, any entity. We can all play the role as mini-media companies. It’s not a new trend, but it was a dominant and prevalent theme coming out of the inaugural SBJ/SBD Intersport Activation Summit in Chicago earlier this month. I was struck at the relentless focus and emphasis to generate content, in any shape, size or form, and the opportunities for distribution and growing mind-share. Tony Weisman, president of the Chicago-Boston-Detroit region for Digitas, laid it out in stark terms. “Whatever organization you are in — whether you’re a brand, company, [or a holder of] rights — think like a newsroom,” he said. “Track all these screens in real time and figure out what piece of content to push to a consumer at what time and in real time. As long as you can embrace the idea of real time, then I think these opportunities open up to you.”

Blaise D’Sylva, vice president of media, sports and entertainment marketing for Anheuser-Busch, agreed and stressed that one of the key themes he sees in today’s activation for the beer brand is “social broadcasting,” where brands generate various pieces of content and “broadcast out [that] content to their consumers.”

One avenue for distribution of content is, of course, YouTube. But few sports properties have utilized it effectively. Frank Golding, YouTube’s director of pro, college, high school sports and channels, said the issue for sports is that there is a vast quantity of content uploaded by users, yet only a small percentage of that is consumed. “We have roughly 800 million uniques every month on YouTube,” Golding said. “A lot of the content that gets uploaded is sports related, but the quantity of content that gets consumed which is sports related is very low. I would say it’s less than 2 percent. So either we have found the only 800 million people who don’t like sports, or you guys are staring at a gold mine.”

In his job for only six months, D’Sylva made a forceful impression on the sports business attendees. The former ESPN executive was very frank in saying that A-B increasingly is looking for more ideas and flexibility from the properties and leagues it sponsors. He wants thought leaders, not order takers. “We need our properties to be less administrators and more idea generators,” D’Sylva said during a one-on-one interview. “What works today may not work three years from now.”

I’ve always found Greg Via, Gillette’s global director of sports marketing, to be one of the best brand-side executives in the business. He brings an experienced global view, working with athletes and properties worldwide, and is a good negotiator who is not afraid to ask about things he doesn’t know. In explaining how the company activates its naming-rights deal in New England, Via explained that Gillette signed the deal for the Patriots’ stadium in 2002 when it was a stand-alone company. After Procter & Gamble’s acquisition in 2005, he said, “The dynamics changed, the sales forces changed. We can’t activate properties locally so we have to activate nationally. … So it was a little more complexed operation.”

With that view in mind, he said, the naming-rights deal was renegotiated a few years ago, adding years and thinking ahead. “[W]e also went back and tried to add the elements we had missed. Getting the practice jerseys, adding the interview signage, getting opportunities to really think ahead a little bit — as far as we could — in the digital space and what that was going to look like,” he said. “We’re a global company. How could we use this to benefit us not only in the U.S. and even in Boston, but how could we benefit our entire company on a global platform?”

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at