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Volume 22 No. 7
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Busch, Boykin shake up business model with new marketing agency

Former GMR Marketing executives Greg Busch and Mike Boykin are launching a new sports marketing agency called Bespoke Sports & Entertainment. 

The agency will be based in Charlotte and look to distinguish itself in a crowded, competitive field by building a small team of experienced executives who will be involved in everything from pitching new clients to servicing their business. 

Mike Boykin and Greg Busch chose the name Bespoke to signify customized marketing advice.

In describing it, Busch and Boykin characterized Bespoke’s structure as an upside-down pyramid where there will be more senior staff and few junior employees rather than the typical agency model that features senior staffers who rely on junior and entry-level employees to manage clients. They conceded that structure would reduce profitability but said that it was feasible because the agency is designed to be smaller and less focused on profit margins than its peers. 

“There is a trend in the marketplace with brands moving away from large agency models toward more service and attention — higher-level counsel,” Busch said. “Brands increasingly want agencies that can provide ideas and concepts, and the agencies that do that have more top-level relationships and deeper relationships, which allows them to remain on the roster if there’s any attrition.”

In addition to investing their own money in the agency, Busch and Boykin attracted investments from former PepsiCo President John Compton and former Host Communications CEO Gordon Whitener. Compton and Whitener, who declined to share the size of their investments, will serve in advisory roles and have monthly meetings with Busch and Boykin. They’ll also assist with business development. 

Both Compton and Gordon said they were motivated to invest because of their interest in sports and their knowledge of Busch’s and Boykin’s work at past agencies. 

“I thought, ‘These are people who remind me of PepsiCo people, they’re going to be doing brand work, and they’re involved in the most important area of marketing, sports and entertainment,’” said Compton, who spent 29 years at PepsiCo and led an agency review at the company before he departed in 2012. 

Whitener, who said his relationship with Boykin goes back 15 years, added, “I always think you out-people the competition, and I can’t think of two better guys to saddle up with.” 

Busch and Boykin expect the majority of their work to involve advising brands on sponsorship strategy and assisting them in developing marketing, creative and promotions to support those sponsorships. They anticipate roughly 25 percent of their business will be project-based work consulting for properties interested in evaluating their sales and marketing structure and operations. But the agency will not sell on behalf of properties.  

They have retained one client but said they couldn’t name it because the work is tied to a product launch. They are pitching for a handful of other pieces of business. 

“We want the right clients,” Busch said. “We’re not going to take strictly execution work. We’re going to look to be involved in strategy.” 

In addition to securing client business, they are hiring a senior strategist to assist with operations and someone to assist with administration. They also plan to hire a digital strategist and creative chief. They plan to subcontract execution, digital and other work. They estimated the overall staff could swell to nearly 20 depending on business.

Bespoke will have to differentiate itself from other sports marketing consultancies. It joins a crowded field of established agencies such as IMG, GMR, CAA, Team Epic, The Marketing Arm and Wasserman Media Group, and a number of smaller independent agencies such as Glideslope and Excel Sports Management. 

Former IMG Consulting executive David Abrutyn said there’s room for another independent agency but said Bespoke’s success will come down to how well its business model works. 

“I would never bet against smart, talented people, and both Mike and Greg are good at what they do,” Abrutyn said. “They’ve shown they can build a business. Even thought it’s a tough environment, I would give them a leg up. It will come down to who their clients are and how they differentiate themselves.”

Busch and Boykin chose the name Bespoke because they want to offer customized marketing advice and thought “bespoke,” which is usually reserved for custom-made clothing, captured that aspiration and also provided “a little intrigue,” according to Busch. 

“We found you either understood the term and what we wanted to do or didn’t understand it and that immediately led to a discussion of what we wanted to do,” Busch said. 

The duo has worked together on and off for 20 years. They first met when Busch was head of research and consulting at Joyce Julius and Boykin was with the Charlotte-based agency Morris International. Boykin hired Joyce Julius to do research on behalf of Craftsman brand. 

They subsequently started an agency called Sports Plus International. Boykin left to join GMR in 1998 and Busch joined him there. Over the course of 15 years, they helped build GMR’s sports practice. They worked with brands ranging from Lowe’s and MillerCoors to Visa and Procter & Gamble on properties ranging from NASCAR and college sports to the NFL and Olympics. 

Both departed GMR early this year. Their departures followed GMR’s merger with SportsMark. 

They spent the last five months meeting with agencies and potential investors before deciding that they wanted to launch their own business. They decided they would prefer working together, independently, over joining another agency or existing company. 

“We’re a good team. Very complementary. We have great debates and great trust and respect,” Boykin said.