T-Mobile Takes Over Cafe From Yahoo at Sundance

Entertainment Head Says Film Festival Helps Marketer Meet 'Influential Set'

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Who: Mike Belcher, T-Mobile's director of sponsorships and entertainment marketing

Why you need to know him: Mr. Belcher is the liaison at T-Mobile for sports and entertainment partnerships, shepherding deals between the wireless company and the National Basketball Association and stars such as Dwyane Wade from the Miami Heat and Charles Barkley, a TNT commentator. Mr. Belcher also has been front and center for the marketer in Hollywood, putting T-Mobile's products into Fox's "The Devil Wears Prada," TV shows such as "The Office" and "Gilmore Girls," and online games such as Mark Burnett's "Gold Rush."
T-Mobile's Mike Belcher says of the marketer's presence at Sundance: "Gifting works for some companies, but for us it's about building relationships with actors, producers, talent agents, mangers, crews."



Credentials: Mr. Belcher is a veteran of the Walt Disney Co., having worked at the Disney Stores, Disney Interactive and Disney's corporate alliance group, where he focused on a long-term deal with Coca-Cola Co. He left Disney to work for one of its partners, McDonald's, meshing the two companies during their 10-year alliance. He then dabbled in the internet start-up world for a time before ending up at T-Mobile about five years ago to start the marketer's sponsorship, events, promotions and entertainment-marketing division.

The Sundance Film Festival is just around the corner. How has T-Mobile participated in the festival in years past? "We were at Sundance last year, mainly to show off our MDA [a Windows-based device]. We had an alliance with Gwyneth Paltrow and her film 'Dealbreaker,' where we loaded trailers onto our device and showed how it worked. The first year, we really were just beginning to explore Sundance. We met the 'Entourage' folks, and out of that meeting, our product made it into a scene of an episode set at Sundance. We realized there was a unique opportunity for us there."

What are you planning this year? This year we're creating an experience and showcasing the breadth of our product. The T-Mobile Cafe will be at the Village at the Lift complex. We'll focus on the T-Mobile HotSpot Wi-Fi, the Sidekick 3, MyFaves and other products that are relevant to this audience. The cafe will have things like tables and chairs in groups of five to reinforce the message of MyFaves [which allows T-Mobile customers unlimited calling to their five most frequently dialed numbers]."

Of all the ways you can spend your sponsorship and event dollars, why does Sundance make the cut? "This is a unique one-on-one environment that will give people an opportunity to experience our products. It shows how these products can influence their lives. It's a very influential set of people who go to Sundance, and that's what's important to us. Gifting works for some companies, but for us it's about building relationships with actors, producers, talent agents, mangers, crews."

The cafe at the Village at the Lift used to be sponsored by Yahoo. What are the challenges of taking over an event or space that once was associated with a different marketer? "Yahoo did a good job to getting people to come to that area, so it kind of sets the stage for us to be able to reach a pretty significant group of people. We don't think it's a problem that the area had another brand on it before us."

How important is celebrity outreach to the brand? "It's definitely important. These people have become great brand ambassadors for T-Mobile. They are passionate about the products, and Sidekick is a great example. A lot of times those people use the product in their everyday lives. That influences what gets on camera, on TV shows and entertainment magazines. It's critical to us that it's not forced, that it's natural."

How do you see the Sundance situation with its "official" sponsors and its increasing proliferation of brands along Main Street and elsewhere? What are some of the challenges you face in trying to stand out? "If we were just at Sundance to gain awareness, it might be difficult for us. We don't look at the festival as a traditional event sponsorship. We look at it as a way to gain deeper involvement with the people who are attending. You certainly have to be really creative and innovative to break through the clutter. But we focus on the experience and the more intimate setting we've set up. It's an exciting place to be, and we're among a lot of great brands. It's important to create a compelling, positive experience that adds value and doesn't detract from the reason people are there to begin with."

Have you considered being an official sponsor of Sundance? "We've considered it, but this route makes more sense for us based on our strategy."

Since the company is in the midst of expanding in the U.S., is entertainment a part of that growth strategy? "It is. Entertainment helps define and shape people's personalities. We look for opportunities to embed our products in films, TV shows, music videos, video games. We take it a step further, too, looking for opportunities to embed our brand in the storyline. It has to be a natural fit that doesn't take away from consumer experience. We've been able to do that a lot with the Sidekick."

Are you considering creating and financing your own entertainment, as other marketers are doing? "It's not something we're looking at right now. There's so much good entertainment out there on so many different platforms. We're focused on embedding our products into entertainment that already exists."

How does sports sponsorship, specifically your relationship with the NBA and some star players, figure into your overall marketing strategy? "We use the NBA as a way to drive brand consideration and relevance. There are 80 million NBA fans, and we want to be relevant to them. We sponsor the halftime show on TNT and ABC, and we have themed advertising with Dwayne Wade and Charles Barkley showcasing the MyFaves product. We also do local-team sponsorships and high-school tournaments. It's all about driving brand consideration."

How do you measure overall success when it comes to branded entertainment? "The two key ways are total impressions and brand interactions. We look at ROI based on that. We go back to the Sidekick that had so much success at its launch. We tracked impressions and total exposure. It was in lifestyle magazines and on the street. It's also about sales results, and there's definitely a correlation. We know it works because we use entertainment marketing as a primary strategy to promote the product, and it's been a very successful product. We try to be more and more diligent in making sure these are quality impressions. It's not just about having the device in a TV show. We want to connect with the people who matter most."

What kind of results did you see from "Gold Rush"? And how important is something like that as a marketing tactic? "It's very important. We're still evaluating results from 'Gold Rush,' but there was a high level of participation. The way we integrated into that show felt very relevant. There's no exact science to measure this type of program. Sometimes it's a gut feel. We do tracking on impressions, total exposure for the cost of doing the program, and we've found that it's extremely successful."

There's still a lot of debate about exactly what branded entertainment is. How do you define it? "It's embedding your products and services into entertainment -- film, TV, videos. Make it part of the experience. That's the core of what it is."

What's on your TiVo? "I'm a big sports fan, so the NBA on TNT, and not just because we're a sponsor, but I love basketball. 'CSI' -- all the versions -- and '24.'"

What do you do in your downtime? "I like to read. I run about three to five times a week. I like to play golf, but I live in Seattle, so that's sometimes tough. In this weather, I see a lot of movies."