Why Sports Marketing Is the 'Sweet Spot' of Marketing

Q&A: Catching up With Former A-B Creative Chief Bob Lachky

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Former Anheuser-Busch creative executive Bob Lachky recently teamed up with Chicago-based sports-marketing agency Revolution in a senior advisory role. In the time between his consulting role with Revolution and a two-decade-long tenure at A-B, he started his own consulting company.

Bob Lachky
Bob Lachky
Mr. Lachky has consulted as a creative director on a Scottrade campaign, as well as on "Lombardi," the eponymous and soon-to-be-Broadway play about the late football coach Vince Lombardi. (The play is co-produced by Tony Ponturo, a former media executive at Anheuser-Busch.)

While at A-B, Mr. Lachky helped to create some of the most memorable and iconic ad campaigns of the past two decades, including "Wassup?!," the Budweiser frogs and "Real Men of Genius," the most-awarded radio ad campaign in history. He also worked on the development of A-B's Super Bowl ads.

Mr. Lachky spoke with Ad Age recently about his new consulting business, his musings on live TV and sports marketing, and his plans for the future.

Ad Age: You recently joined Revolution in an advisory role. What will you be working on? Will you continue to consult on other projects?

Mr. Lachky: I've had my own consultancy, RCL Group, for about a year. After being in a high-pressure corporate environment for 20 years, which I truly enjoyed, I wasn't about to just stop participating in the marketing world. I enjoy marketing strategy and creative development. Those are the things I did a lot of at Anheuser-Busch and it's been wonderful to be able to transfer that on a consultancy basis. It gives [me] variety: I have something as different as online brokerage, which Scottrade gives me, and then I have Tony Ponturo from the A-B days, who's in Broadway. I work more as an intermediary with the clients ... and make sure that the strategy is correct, that the idea is the right idea and that we execute it properly.

Revolution is a different prospect for me. I started my career in the agency business. ... They are looking for my perspective on marketing strategy and how to make their agency more marketable. It's the marketing of an agency brand. Having been a client for 20 years, I can give them my perspective.

Ad Age: Do you have any plans to work with any beer or spirits clients?

Mr. Lachky: I can't yet because I'm still under [a] non-compete [agreement], but once that non-compete runs out, we'll see. I do love the beer business. The alcohol arena is a very fun, totally image-driven category.

Ad Age: What do you think about A-B spending $1.2 billion to be the next NFL official beer sponsor?

Mr. Lachky: To spend that kind of money makes a lot of sense for a brand that is a natural complement to watching football -- whether in a stadium, or at home, or during the Super Bowl. When I was at A-B, we were able to avoid buying the official beer of the NFL because we did a superb job marketing around it. We owned the Super Bowl. We bought all the local sponsorships for local teams. We looked like we owned the NFL. The only thing we didn't have was the rights to the NFL shield. But now that they have the rights, they can do a lot more local grassroots marketing. That says they are truly a partner. ... It really is a good investment for a brand in a category that complements the viewing of that sport.

I can't comment on whether the price is right or wrong. I know how competitive it can get when you try to buy it. When I was at A-B, and we tried to seriously go after it, we lost it to Coors. We were shocked the [NFL] just didn't come to us because we had some good marketing going on at the time. But it's never a given when you're in a competitive bid situation for these sponsorships.

Ad Age: Regarding the changeover with A-B being the next official beer sponsor of the NFL, do you think that kind of official sponsorship will change the sports-marketing landscape, at least for the NFL?

Mr. Lachky: I think you're just going to see a different primary sponsor doing their spin on what an official product of a category would look like. ...I think the landscape will be changed to the degree that A-B intends to activate the sponsorship on a much more aggressive level locally.

Ad Age: Live network TV -- particularly sports -- has been doing well in the upfronts lately. How do you think the sports-marketing landscape will change with live TV doing so well?

Mr. Lachky: I think it's why Revolution, and a lot of companies like it, are in the sweet spot of marketing: because everybody is immersed in some form of sports or lifestyle activity. I think sports marketing as a term is limited -- it's more like lifestyle marketing. ... Everything that's going on in the sports world has become more of a lifestyle, and so to me any kind of an increase in the upfront on live sports really is a continuation of what has always been there -- one of the strongest buys for an active consumer category. People want live, prime sports. It's entertaining, it's competitive, it's immediate and it's real. ... The various wide range of sports and the various opportunities for activation is a positive trend for anybody with an expertise in the sports marketing/lifestyle marketing industry.

Ad Age: How do you think it affects media spending?

Mr. Lachky: The problem with media spending right now is that people are very much afraid to do any investment marketing because the economy is so uncertain. There's a lot of nervousness, and entire categories have disappeared. ... Entire financial institutions that used to invest in golf tournaments are gone. So I think you'll see more and more people migrating slowly away from pure reliance on traditional media and getting more into events, more into social -- and doing it in an intelligent way. If you can measure it, it's got a chance of taking dollars from traditional media. But it's not either/or -- nobody's going to walk away from traditional media for a mass-marketed product. ... But you're going to start to see more and more spending going into media that are more immediate and can sell consumers one-on-one: Event marketing/sports marketing is very much a one-on-one experience.

Ad Age: You're consulting on Tony Ponturo's play "Lombardi," and the NFL is involved. What will the NFL do for the "Lombardi" play?

Mr. Lachky: They're a marketing partner. They've been in meetings with us and approving the way we're going with certain things, the way we're depicting some of the archival shots in some of the promotional materials to some of the staging. Everything's not finalized. We're just getting out of our summer run, and we don't go to Broadway till October, but the NFL shield will be the seal of approval on some of the marketing. That to me is like an endorsement from the greatest professional sports leagues I can think of. ... The platform the NFL provides is perfect.

Ad Age: What are you plans for the future?

Mr. Lachky: My goal is to stay with clients for a long period of time. I know there are going to be ebbs and flows, so I continue to look for things that are exciting that won't pose a conflict with existing clients. I want the experiences I get from one client be transferable to another. I also want to do work for personal reasons. I'm working a few with not-for-profits: The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, St. Vincent de Paul Society and Beyond Housing -- all St. Louis based. I'll certainly add to my client list as I can, but I won't jeopardize the current business I have. I want to have a long-term relationship with everyone I work with.

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