Brands and Properties Must Navigate a New Cultural Landscape
At Endeavor’s cultural marketing agency, Ed is responsible for managing all aspects of the business and for setting the global growth strategy. A key element of his role is to help establish and build relationships with major global clients, as they seek to utilize all areas of culture as a business-building platform.
Prior to joining Endeavor, Ed spent 15 years at the NHL involved in and overseeing the majority of the global league business, including marketing, sponsorship, media, licensing, communications, fan development and events. Prior to the NHL, Ed was with the NFL and Clarion Marketing.
Some of Ed’s most notable professional moments include helping to negotiate the first-ever Super Bowl halftime show sponsorship; playing a primary role in creating the partnership with the IOC and relevant NOCs and NGBs that saw NHL players participate in the Olympic Winter Games; and leading the re-launch of the NHL brand after a full season work stoppage while realizing revenue of $2.5 billion dollars in the first year back. Ed was also an on-ice referee at the Olympic Winter Games in Calgary.
Joining podcast host Jim Andrews, Ed assessed the competitive landscape for sports, entertainment and culture marketing agencies like his, and identified what brands and rights holders can do to be successful in connecting with consumers through their passion points. Below are edited highlights of the conversation.
Jim: I’d like to start by discussing the current landscape for agencies like 160over90 that have strong practices in sponsorships and partnerships. On the one hand, the market is a multibillion-dollar one and growing, but on the other, it’s relatively concentrated in terms of the players, making it a pretty competitive environment. Within that, 160over90 has carved out a pretty unique identity as a creative agency. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you position yourselves?
Ed: You’re completely correct in that it is a crowded marketplace, and so much of what we all do can be viewed as a commodity offering. Somebody will do it cheaper; somebody has a relationship that is valuable to them and they don’t want to make a change. We are totally cognizant of that, so we talk about ourselves as a cultural marketing agency and that is very purposeful.
The reason for it is we believe that sport is very much a consumer passion. Sport is part of culture, along with film, fashion, music, art and culinary—all things that people care about and which are implicit to how brands are able to attract and retain audiences, customers, consumers or whomever their end users might be.
We think there are really two key points of difference that 160over90 has. One is that we have all of the resources of a global agency—creative is a big part of what we do, but we also have PR and experiential, we have social and digital, and certainly the partnership and sponsorship space.
We describe this as holding-company-like assets and resources, but without the structure that a traditional holding company would have. It’s all one P&L here; it’s all unlocked. That gives us the ability to really leverage for our clients’ benefit the services they need at any one time. We can scale up or scale back and just be more flexible.
The other key point of difference, and I would say the biggest point of difference, is the fact that we are part of the world of Endeavor. While we operate completely objectively and agnostically for our clients’ benefit, with so many of the problems they are looking to solve we have the solutions in-house. That could be talent we represent, properties we own or operate, content creators we work with, etc. We’ve got the ability to bring our clients in way upstream, or early in development—whatever language you want to use for it.
Jim: What you are describing makes perfect sense on paper, but do you have a tangible example of how that has worked with some of your clients?
Ed: I like to think they hire us because they think we are smart, strategic and creative, and we activate really well, but I believe increasingly part of the reason they hire us is that ability to look around the corner and see what’s next. Anyone can pitch a great idea, but sometimes the most difficult scenario is when the client says, “Great, go do it.” Most organizations walk out of the room and say, “What do we do now? Who represents the talent? Whose got the relationship with the studio or the network? Who knows the person at the property? We’ve got that ability and it’s what we do for our clients every day. We can present ideas that on most days when we’re good, we know we can deliver on those ideas.
That is why our presence in the marketplace has been growing and why our client roster is growing, not only in terms of number of clients, but in terms of the depth and breadth of services we are providing to them.
Jim: Are there a couple of examples of recent work that you are particularly proud of and would hold up as examples?
Ed: AB InBev is a big client of ours and now has a deep and meaningful relationship with Serena Williams, who’s a client in the world of Endeavor and WME. Our ability to marry a need that AB InBev had with an interest that a client like Serena Williams had put everyone together in a way that was strategically correct. It wasn’t trying to force one opportunity on either the brand or on the talent client, but rather it was allowing us to bring those pieces to together in ways that make sense.
Marriott is another of the clients that we have that gets involved with opportunities, events, properties and activations that the world of Endeavor is able to leverage.
But for us, it is about operating completely objectively. So while so much of what we can solve for clients are things we have in house, we always operate in a way that is best for the client. If the best opportunity sits outside the walls of Endeavor, that’s what we are going to do for the client. The first time we have a client that feels we are trying to jam something down their throat, or act in a conflicted manner, that’s when we would get fired. So we are very careful that the things we recommend are based on good research, analytics and data and that we leverage the qualitative knowledge that we have across the organization for our clients
Jim: Often when we talk about “creative” we think of it as the opposite of data driven, but is there a synthesis of creativity and data that has to exist today?
Ed: We describe it as the combination of art and science, the qualitative and the quantitative. Within 160over90 and the world of Endeavor we place a high value on our research and analytics team. We have about 75 people across the world of Endeavor that are focused day in and day out on research and measurement, and that gives us an incredible advantage in the marketplace.
Our ability to take the data and marry that with what’s coming next through all the trends that my colleagues around the world are not just following, but literally creating across music, fashion, sport, culinary, art and all those other things, allows us to view creative through a very broad lens—not just what does a 30-second spot look like. We produce those too, for a number of clients, but we are channel agnostic in looking at what’s the problem.
It doesn’t matter how we solve it, unlike traditionally when the ad agency would start with the 30-second spot, or the experiential agency would start with the on-site activation, or the PR agency would start with what’s the earned opportunity. Since we have all of that in house, we can just solve the problem.
Jim: The pace of change in the business recently has been nothing short of staggering. What do you consider the biggest current challenges to brand partnerships in sports, music and other cultural areas?
Ed: On a macro level, it is the notion of purpose. Brands for so long were able to sit on the sidelines, identify which way the wind was blowing and tepidly maybe take a position on societal or cultural issues.
Brands no longer have that luxury. One of the biggest challenges that all types of brands have is aligning their values in ways that are consistent and appropriate for the consumers they are trying to reach.
All of our research shows that consumers are voting with their wallet, especially Millennials and Gen Z. They are looking to ensure that the brands with which they interact and spend money on are aligned with their views, their personal preferences and how they feel about particular issues.
Brands today have to be purposeful in how they are stepping out into the world. They have to be genuine, authentic and real in how they are doing that.
Jim: That leads me to a tough question with no universal answer, but what should brands do when geopolitics and the events of the world come into play and consumers want companies to act with purpose and take a position, but these are companies that have to balance that with the reality that they are operating in different countries throughout the world and need to be responsible to shareholders.
Ed: I don’t know that the two are mutually exclusive. I think the notion of doing good and doing well is real. Brands that at the corporate level establish what they stand for, who they are, what those values are and who commit to that and maintain it are going to win.
Those that try to react to any issue of the day that they haven’t thought through prior are the ones that get themselves into trouble. I don’t think there is really a bifurcation of those two. Brands who know who they are, identify who they are, articulate their values and mission and who live by that are those who ultimately are going to win.
Jim: Beyond being purposeful, what do brands need to do differently to be successful in this new environment? In other words, what makes a brand an ideal client?
Ed: We talk a lot about what are the types of clients we would like to have in a perfect world, marrying the values, the mission and the approach of the brand with the same of the agency. I think this whole notion of cultural connectivity really matters.
The world we lived in was “Create the 30-second spot and they will come.” And while there will always be a role for the 30-second spot as part of an effort, it’s now more about doing things and showing up in places that are relevant to a consumer’s own beliefs, values and passions.
So our job now is to find our consumers and customers where they are as opposed to expecting or waiting for them to come to us. We have to think of consumers as multi-hyphenates. None of us are one thing. If someone is a sports fan, it doesn’t mean sports defines them. They have other interests such as food, music and other things that define them.
The mistake we sometimes make is we try to segment audiences and think about them in a sort of monolithic way, as opposed to thinking on a more horizontal basis and cutting across all of these things that relate to culture. Culture is the new creative in a lot of ways. Culture is what drives their interests, their passions and ultimately their pocketbooks.
Jim: On the other side, what do rights holders need to do differently to be better partners to brands?
Ed: The key word is partners. The industry sometimes uses the words sponsor and partner interchangeably. I think it’s a distinction that matters. Sponsorship suggests a transactional relationship. Somebody’s going to write a check and somebody’s going to deliver the assets or some value in return versus partners, which is how do you marry businesses together? If I’m writing a check to a property, how will it truly work with me to showcase my business, my brands, my technology, whatever I have to offer, in ways that allow us to show up in a genuine and real way.
The sponsor sometimes shows up and the audience says, “Why are you in my way? You’re creating friction in my experience.” As opposed to a partner, who makes the experience better and creates a reason why the viewer, the audience, the consumer would want them to be there and can understand why they are there.
Properties need to think about it through that lens. If a property helps a partner make its business better, that brand will be a partner for a long time.
Jim: That reminds me of Steve Koonin’s remarks when he was at Coca-Cola nearly 30 years ago and said the company recognized that it needed to stop “painting things red and start painting them relevant.” Adding to the fan experience and not interrupting it is still so important.
Ed: Our client AB InBev has really taken a leadership role in that approach: creating and structuring relationships in ways that add value to the consumer, but yet structuring agreements where when AB does well, everyone does better. Properties that get behind the whole notion of aligning on KPIs and aligning on what your shared interests are the ones that demonstrate they are in it for real and not just cashing a check.
Jim: What’s next for 160over90? In particular, where do you see growth coming from predominantly?
Ed: I’m wildly optimistic about the future and where our business is going. It cuts across a variety of things. One is our ability to be that cultural resource for more brands and more clients.
The second is expanding the offerings and services that we provide to our clients. With many of our clients we are very deep and broad in what we do and for others we serve a particular area. We have so much to offer that I’m wildly confident we can do more with existing clients.
Third is geographic expansion. The world’s a big place. Endeavor has 7,000 people in 30-plus countries. 160over90 has the ability to grow with our clients because we have infrastructure in so many countries and territories. We can very quickly meet the needs of our clients on a global basis.
Increasingly, scale matters. I like to think that the way we operate is very nimble, very flexible, but also able to use the global scale and reach that we have to meet our clients’ needs.