Skechers Keeps Winning with Quirky Sponsorship Approach

Snags Plenty of Publicity Thanks to Deals With Keflezighi, California Chrome

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California Chrome
California Chrome

Skechers is on a roll.

The footwear company has racked up several big wins this spring, simply by being where other marketers are not. Let the Nike's of the world pay big bucks for Tiger Woods and Roger Federer, Skechers prefers "quirky" deals and well-loved sports icons that other brands would dismiss as past their prime.

Skechers recently added Pete Rose and Joe Namath to its roster. And when elite runner Meb Keflezighi found himself without a shoe deal in 2011, Skechers scooped him up -- and reaped the rewards when he won the Boston Marathon in April. It's a strategy Skechers CEO Robert Greenberg has been employing for years, dating back to his days at L.A. Gear, which he founded in 1979. L.A. Gear signed on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after he split with Adidas.

"We get a deal, it's not signing LeBron [James]. But there's respect involved too," said Mr. Greenberg. "We love them, and the world loves them."

Likewise, just days before the Belmont Stakes, as the country's excitement over a potential triple crown winner mounted, Skechers signed the horse California Chrome.

"If you take out a sign in a stadium, it's a billboard. [California Chrome] is a billboard a couple hundred million people saw," said Mr. Greenberg. "It's brand exposure, and it's quirky. I like quirky things."

Skechers doesn't have any explicit plans to work with California Chrome going forward, but the company will continue to look for unusual deals. Mr. Greenberg said now that Skechers has earned a reputation for the offbeat -- it did put a French bulldog, known as Mr. Quiggly, in its shoes for a Super Bowl spot in 2012, after all -- it gets pitched a lot of unusual deals. Deals that other brands might not be offered.

The company's marketing philosophy is "unseen, untold, unsold," said Mr. Greenberg, noting that he is heavily involved in the company's advertising and sponsorship deals. "Everything is perception. I perceive the company as a marketing business."

One that just happens to sell a lot of footwear. Earlier this year, Skechers surpassed New Balance to become the fifth largest athletic brand in the U.S., according to SportsOneSource. The company's stock is up 33% this year and hit a 52-week high earlier this month. In the first quarter, sales jumped 21% to $547 million, while earnings more than quadrupled to $31 million.

Skechers spent $118.5 million on advertising last year, according to its annual report. It works with Siltanen & Partners Advertising, Los Angeles, though the bulk of its marketing is handled by a robust in-house team. Speed is one major advantage to producing ads in house, Mr. Greenberg said, though he's not opposed to tapping outside sources for help. "There's a lot of genius around the planet," he said.

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